These distractions are hurting our productivity

For every boon to productivity afforded by the digital revolution, there’s an immediate downside: the more distractions we have, the harder productivity is to achieve.

Social media means we’re able to connect with our friends and colleagues, but it also locks us into a very noisy web, bubbling with explosive colours and schizophrenic pop-ups. Belying the Internet’s role as paternal knowledge repository is a hefty price: under its shadow, our concentration is ensnared by information overload. There’s always more to click on, more to engage with and be engaged by.

Personal time is a luxury. The more we see of information, the more deep, innovative thinking escapes us. This is paradoxical to the common view of technology as an enabler – producing tools and services that improve our quality of life. We’re no longer required to visit shops for our favourite products, just about anything can be delivered to our door within a day and we’re less connected to the food we consume than ever. Instead of empowered, we’ve grown detached; our attention is amenable, up for grabs.

There are ways to stay productive, but it requires re-evaluating the value of each tool we use. Not all tools have value greater than their detriment. In fact, many don’t. While we kid ourselves into thinking every email response is necessary, Ccs are handed out like candy and more often than not, the sender has given very little consideration to our time. Especially in a business setting, emails function as an insurance against inaction and accountability; they’re the lazy man’s form of productivity, ostensible progress that sits on the edge of action. 

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport details the history, necessity and difficulty for what he calls ‘deep work’. For Cal, deep work is the uninterrupted state that enables a zen-like focus on the task at hand, revealing our mind’s greater capacity to contemplate, expand upon and reimagine a subject’s boundaries.

It’s been stuff of innovation creativity for the world’s most famous entrepreneurs, scientists and writers – the veritable hermits – who sought ways to ascend to a ‘next level’ of thinking.

We haven’t necessarily become more spiritually aware in the 21st century. Many of us are prone to anxieties and uncertainties; the digital web is communicated in an unending torrent of noise that creates a riptide in our lives – the more we veer away, the more we’re drawn in. Retreating from a computer isn’t enough to withdraw from the web – from messages, advertisements or content. We have our phones, TVs and advertisements to fall back on, each hugely pervasive within our daily lives.

And distractions have a domino effect. Once our concentration is broken, even for a moment, the walls are breached and every other distraction appears temptingly before us.

Deep work is important and distraction free environments are essential for new perspectives, even if they’re only temporary. It’s not only necessary for our professional pursuits but our personal wellbeing. Our new tools have bypassed our ability to filter distraction. We no longer need to leave the house to socialise and every new product is within arm’s reach, creating immediate contrast. These distractions promote the idea of scarcity, so we’re encouraged to look for satisfaction on an ongoing basis.

Our society discourages focus and prioritises distraction. Mitigation is essential; to filter inhibiting tools from beneficial tools. As with any minimalist philosophy, stepping back and assessing what we need over what we have is enormously beneficial to our productivity – and increasingly, it’s imperative for our happiness, success and wellbeing.