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Technology Doesn’t Have to be a Distraction

Okay, let’s get something straight about tech: it doesn’t have to be a distraction. Technology is not – by itself – a distraction – we allow tech to distract us. It’s easy to blame boogeymen: but tech companies don’t have a gun to anyone’s head. Does Facebook try to keep you on their site? Sure, but so what? A donut shop tries to entice you with special offers as well… but is it their fault if you buy 12 when you said you’d get just one? How about a little intellectual honesty? We make bad choices when it comes to tech, and these choices are affecting our lives. One of the many surveys out there reported the majority of respondents admitted that they use tech for personal reasons during work hours – and that this was a major cause of lower productivity.  Sound familiar? At the same time, no one needs a survey to tell them that tech is a pretty crucial element of modern work. We need tech, but can’t resist the siren call of shopping offers, Instagram feeds, news sites, sports highlights… etc.  So, is this a classic Catch-22? Not with the help of something called “reframing.” Instead of looking at tech as a trap, think of it as a weapon. Remember the adage “fight fire with fire?” Tech is a weapon that can be turned on itself. Use it.

Employees, students, and even stay-at-home parents are learning the value of what are called ‘blocking apps.’ These apps – such as the highly-rated BlockSite – are shortcuts to productivity. After a fast download, you allow the app to sync across your devices and then figure out what websites you want to be blocked and during which times. This is extremely helpful in learning to retrain your brain. Those wondering how to stop shopping addiction, for example, will find it’s rather hard to shop online if the sites you use are blocked! Viola! Simply block the most common sites that you buy stuff from during work hours – or block them permanently if you choose. For others, it’s constantly reading blogs, or news sites that ends up eating up half a day – block them! Block them during times you need to get something done. Of course, one of the most obvious temptations that many should block is social media. But it’s sometimes needed for work (in fact for some, social media is their primary method of communicating with customers). After downloading the blocking app, however, ask yourself some questions and answer honestly. –Be true to thyself.

Perhaps you do need Facebook or Whatsapp during your workday, for example, but you know you waste a lot of time on Instagram and Twitter… so block them. (Check this out: the average employee spends at least 12% of the working day on social media, which we think is a serious underestimate.) But maybe your problem is that you really need to get stuff done in the mornings, but ‘surfing’ in the later afternoon is fine. Solution? –Have the app restrict you from (insert site here) in the mornings. All the choices on the blocking app are up to you, and that means if you’re truthful with yourself, you can create your own digital fence that reduces the need to rely on willpower. We know we spend significant periods of our lives on digital distractions that have little potential for any meaningful return. We know that this is acting against our own satisfaction; a type of self-sabotage. And it’s nothing new. Greek thinkers such as Socrates and Aristotle asked, some 2,500 years ago – how it is that people do things against their better interests? They were fascinated by this strange human trait. Most of us probably agree we need to develop stronger self-discipline… but how does one develop this?  Some people take digital detoxes or cyberspace fasts, going for 30 days without an internet connection, for example. Some even lock up their devices during certain times of the day. 

These temporary solutions might help, but the root of the problem remains. We need to retrain our brains. As Nir Eyal puts it succinctly, we use our devices as, “psychological pacifiers when we’re looking for an escape from uncomfortable sensations. And if we don’t deal with that fact, we will always find distraction somewhere.” He is completely correct. The root problem is how atrophied our ‘muscles’ for self-control have become. But the fact that most of us clearly need to work on psychological self-improvement doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start with some obvious and easy-to-use solutions for improving productivity immediately. Imagine this: you forget and go to Amazon.com. Then a notification pops up that says, “Sorry! This site is blocked. Please get back to work.” The first time might be jarring, but it might also be just the nudge you need. Each time you get tempted or forget, there’s a barrier. These types of reinforcements can be positive first steps that lead to a realignment of priorities and eventually, completely new habits. Stop blaming technology for your distracted life and DO something about it!

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