It’s a common complaint today that tech causes distraction. Everyday some new “expert” will come out with a very unscientific study and complain that new technology is causing us to…er…have…hum banana. Sorry shorter attention spans and inability to focus and that if we don’t do something drastic we’ll all end up as slobs who do nothing and can’t create anything.
While I have been very critical of this (pointing to the examples in the past where people complained that other forms of new technology were causing a lack of focus and attention) there is some truth behind this and people can be chronically distracted by the modern technology we have and our ever connected world.
I don’t believe this means that we are doomed and bound to fail. There is a large element of personal responsibility and self control in how much we are willing to be distracted by technology. In addition, modern technology can be a real tool to aid concentration, focus and productivity. Let’s look at some ways how.
Automation is one of the great aids of technology. The ability to turn a string of actions into a single action (which can even be triggered without you do anything) is a brilliant tool to let you focus on what is around you. Let’s take the humble voicemail or answer machine. Although it might not seem like a lot, the ability to leave the office and have a tool collect messages for you to address later is incredible valuable. Email inboxes can act the same, except smart ones will allow through important messages not just urgent ones.
More advance automation allows you to take a way decisions and thoughts from your life and focus on more important tasks, thoughts and decision. Using automatic upload with your photos and then having hazel sort them lets you forget about your photos once you’ve taken the photo and yet still be able to find them later on.
One Click Capture
If you use a tool like Omnifocus (or have converted a tool like Evernote) for your todo management then you’ll be familiar with tools for quickly adding tasks such as the web booklet or a specific email address. Where as we used to have to type out a message there and then, spending longer focusing on the task and away from what we were doing, now we can process our inboxes quicker and rapidly add new tasks with as little as one click.
Do not disturb mode
Do not disturb mode is one of the most underrated features in tech. Admittedly, we created it as we were getting more and more notifications and needed the ability to be free from them (without turning off our devices) but it is still newer technology than the notification. In addition, there is something very therapeutic and mindful about deciding that this time is worth switching notifications off for. The shift in mindset can be as important or more than the actual setting.
Life logging tools let you not trust your dumb brain as to how productive or focused you are but see statistics instead. You might think you do a lot of exercise but when you see your statistics you realise you don’t. You might think you only look at websites for your job (and the occasional morning comic) but when you see your statistics, you are amazed that you spend the most time on twitter.
The tool that most people think of when it comes to avoiding distraction are limited access tools. These will block off access to certain applications or websites at certain times. For example, your browser can access Dropbox but not Facebook [using a tool like stay focused]. Some also utilise the “Pomodoro” technique as well and have countdown clocks. While these are great and can help, they address a symptom and not the cause. They only force you to focus but don’t deal with the reasons why you want distractions or the lack of self control to push past the distractions.
Don’t get me wrong, they are a great help and its better to treat the symptom than not, but it’s even better to treat the cause. Using tools like automation and dealing with the fear of missing out to get over the email inbox dilemma is better than blocking yourself from the inbox (but blocking yourself from the inbox can help get over it). using time tracking tools to pick up on how much time you spend on Facebook is better than just blocking it (but maybe you’ll block it afterwards from a more principled decision.)
Technology can aid us in being distracted, it brings the incredible and amazing world to our fingertips, but we still have autonomy over how we respond. And with some of the tools above we can use technology to be even more focused against distraction.