Drowning in Digital Distractions? My Fave Strategies for Staying Focused

Technology is a tool that has improved our lives in many ways. Many of us could not imagine what our lives would be like without our computers and smart phones or without Netflix or YouTube. Entertainment aside, there is so much wonderful, accessible, flourishing educational content available online, and I love that. Unfortunately, our dependency on these technologies has become extreme, and many of us are addicted to technology in such a way that it negatively impacts our productivity and even our mental health.

Love it or hate it, we live in an incredibly digital age and continue to move in that direction. With that, digital distractions are everywhere. We’re in the same boat—as I type this, my Internet browser is open beside Microsoft Word, with a bunch of enticing bookmarked websites staring at me. Just a couple inches away from my keyboard lies my phone, which might flash or ding at any time with some presumably pressing notification.

Multitasking can decrease productivity. I always tell students that, contrary to popular belief, focusing on many different tasks at once can impair cognitive ability and take a toll on productivity. In fact, people work slower when they have to switch tasks. This constant interruption brings on higher stress levels. Furthermore, people who multitask have a harder time finding relevant information from irrelevant details. (Source: Very Well Mind)

With that in mind, it’s important to focus on one task at a time. Here are some tips to do so (Source: CoSchedule):

  • Fully devote your attention to one task instead of switching between them.
  • Turn things off, whether it be email notifications or text messages.
  • Limit distractions to minimize the number of times you have to make mental shifts.

Strategies for decreasing unproductive screen time

  • Monitor and limit unproductive usage.
  • Set downtime and app limits, mute group chats, turn off notifications.
  • Make phone calls or use face-to-face communication where possible!

Strategies for staying focused during online learning

  • Block unnecessary websites/apps.
  • Take regular breaks, shutting your eyes or looking away from the screen.
  • Maintain a consistent schedule. Making a daily checklist can help!
  • Set up a comfortable workspace with few distractions.
  • Find online tutors or other assistance if you need outside help.

Practice the rule of 3 when it’s time to be productive:

  1. Your phone should be out of SIGHT. Out of sight, out of mind. If you can see your phone right next to you, you will have the urge to pick it up. 
  2. Your phone should be out of SOUND. Constant notifications greatly increase your temptation to check your phone. Your brain associates the noise with getting a dopamine hit.
  3. Your phone should be out of REACH. Even if your phone is under a pile of books or behind your laptop, your brain still knows it’s right there and will be tempted to pick it up. Placing your phone in another room while you’re studying can significantly decrease the temptation to check it every two minutes.

If you are concerned about your digital consumption, consider going on a digital diet and making some small but powerful changes in the way you use your digital devices and technology. A digital diet can help increase your focus, improve your sleep, reduce your stress, and improve your quality of life.

Suggestions for a digital diet (Source: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)

  • Have no-phone zones in your home such as the dinner table. This helps with the temptation to constantly check your devices.
  • Have a no phone meal with some friends when going out to eat.
  • Try having a screen-free break for a few hours every day.
  • Consider temporarily deleting distracting apps during exam time.
  • Work with your family to create a technology plan together.
  • Keep a log of how much time you spend on different screen-related activities.
  • Dig out your alarm clock, calculator, and camera! Since you’ve avoiding your phone, these things will be helpful to have on hand.
  • Get out in nature. Taking a walk is a great way to get fresh air and resist the urge to look at your phone.

Digital entertainment is everywhere, whether we like it or not, and becoming obsessed with our digital distractions is real. The next time you notice your mind drifting towards those pesky digital distractions, take a moment to sit back and put your phone away. So much easier said than done, I know, but you can do focus on your to-do list instead! Remember that little things can make a huge difference.

If you’d like, take a look at this helpful list of recommended resources that I’ve compiled:

  • Screen Time: built into iOS settings
  • Digital Wellbeing: built into Android settings
  • Other apps: Rescue Time, any other apps you can find that monitor screen time or help limit unproductive usage
  • Netflix Documentary: The Social Dilemma
  • Tips for online safety: https://tlp-lpa.ca/learning-online/security

For information on the services I offer, please don’t hesitate to email me at studywithjoanne@gmail.com or visit my Contact page for more ways to reach me.

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.