If you’ve been distracted lately, it might help to understand the primary reason why. Hopefully, it will inform your future choices as it did mine.
As you might know, tech companies like Google and Facebook measure success by ‘engagement’. They want us to engage as much as possible with our phones; and to that end, they have purposefully integrated forms of ‘persuasion technology’ into computer code… those interruptions (alerts, etc.) on our phones that we generally believe are there to assist us.
Those companies may have started out with a desire to make things easier for us, but once they realized they could distract us and therefore entice us to look at our phones more often, their business models became warped.
The more we look at our phones, the more advertising we see and the more money they make. To quote Johann Hari from his excellent book Stolen Focus: “Our distraction is their (money-making) fuel”.
Persuasion technology is NOT here to help us.
Indeed, all the bells and whistles are not only using us to a point of constant distraction which affect the way we think, they’re also, as a result, making us less productive.
Here’s why you are distracted:
- On average, we spend 4.8 hours a day (1/3 of our waking hours) on our phones. i
- We touch them a shocking 2,617 times every 24 hours. ii
- Most office workers can’t go 6 minutes without checking their phones. iii
- If we’re really focused on something and we’re interrupted, it takes approximately twenty minutes for us to get back to that full state of focus. Twenty minutes!
- Most office workers never get one single uninterrupted hour in a day.
- The average CEO of a Fortune 500 company gets a mere twenty-eight minutes of uninterrupted time per day. iv
- Multiple studies have shown that technological distractions cause an IQ drop on average of 10 points! v
- The average person sends one text message every six minutes they are awake. vi
- Less than 20% of U.S. teens report reading a book, magazine, or newspaper for pleasure. vii
If a friend encouraged you to buy a costly device that was designed to make you and your children less intelligent and less productive; one that – unless you were very, very careful – would end up controlling you instead of your controlling it… would you buy it? And if you did, would you not be extremely vigilant about its use?
So, what can you do to help yourself and others from being distracted?
You, as a leader, can mitigate interruptions for yourself and the people working for you.
Below are a few suggestions to keep from distractions:
- Given that approximately 24% of people attending meetings admit to hiding their phones while texting or checking for messages, consider asking that phones be turned off during meetings or – here’s a radical suggestion – consider even asking people to leave them in a box near the entrance. Perish the thought!
- Use your phone and ask your team to use theirs during well-spaced defined breaks during the day. Once they’re turned off, put them in a place other than on a workstation or beside you on your desk.
- If you have children/teenagers at home who are trying to do homework, have them do the same… unless you want them to lose IQ points as they struggle to concentrate.
As the brilliant writer James Baldwin wrote:
‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced’.
Maybe it’s time we face what distractive technology is doing to us.
i. Jane Wakefield, People devote third of waking time to mobile apps, The BBC, January 12, 2022.
ii. Julia Naftulin, Here is how many times we touch our phones every day, Business Insider, July 13, 2016.
iii. MacKay, S., The myth of multi-tasking, The Neuroscience Academy, 2016.
iv. Colville, The great acceleration. R. 2016.
v. Harriet Griffey, The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world, The Guardian, October 14, 2018.
vi. Colier, The power of off. N. 2016.
vii. Jean M. Twenge, ‘Teens Today Spend More Time on Digital Media, Less Time Reading’, American Psychological Association, August 20, 2018.