Overcoming digital distraction

Overcoming digital distraction

Digital distraction is one of the biggest ways that we resist getting our work done, and it's something that I consciously have to work on daily myself. The more important the work is, the more I find that I am inclined towards scrolling through Insta or pinning on Pinterest.

Getting that little 'ping' of a notification and interacting on social media sends a rush of dopamine to the brain, giving us a reward every single time and it is highly addictive. What's more - smartphone use in general is being linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression. (If you want to know more about the effects of social media and smartphones, I highly recommend reading this Harvard University blog)

It's not that I'm anti-social media or anti-smart phone. Quite the opposite, in fact. There's definitely a place for both and I really enjoy social media. It's a great way of sharing and connecting, and an excellent (and essential) business tool.

However, when I find myself spending 30 minutes endlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook or going down a Google search rabbit hole, I have to question the use of my time and the impact that it's having on my brain. I tend never to feel that great after doing this either - so why do it? And more importantly, how can we STOP spending our valuable time procrastinating on social media instead of getting important things done?

Why we use social media to procrastinate

Firstly, social media is the ultimate distraction tool. If I'm resisting writing the blog, or creating the new project, or doing the client work (whatever it may be), or just generally sitting down to concentrate on something, then social media is the easiest (and most rewarding - in the short-term at least!) procrastination tool. We get a hit of dopamine and loads of distraction (and we could potentially put it down to business use, right?!).

Secondly, it feeds a very natural human urge to socialise with others and/or be part of a community even if we're on our own. By clicking through social media, you're instantly connected with a whole host of people in your personal and professional networks and beyond and have the sense that you're connecting with them. It also feeds our FOMO (fear of missing out) - I know that I want to know what’s happening amongst my network and wider group pretty much as it happens. Social media definitely helps with that.

Thirdly, it feeds our human need to provide context to our lives in relation to others - which can unfortunately lead to comparison-itis - aka comparing ourselves with others.

Please, please… Stop using social media to compare yourself with others.

Way, way easier said than done. But I can guarantee that it’s a losing battle and it truly is ‘the thief of joy’, as the saying goes. Comparing our journey with others’ ensures that we’ll remain stuck in resistance and procastination, and it’s a sure way to feel bad about ourselves. Remember: there’s always going to be someone worse off than you and someone better off than you. Stay in your own lane, on your own journey, and compare yourself only with who YOU were yesterday.

Social media feeds the tendency to compare ourselves with others, but remember that social media is simply a highlight reel of someone’s life - it’s not the whole truth. EVERYONE has problems that they’re facing, and insecurities, and flaws. The fact that they’re not always being highlighted on social media doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. If I’m feeling particularly down or vulnerable at a certain time, the best thing I find to do is stay off social media (even though the urge is there) and practice self-care instead. Go to a yoga class or for a walk outdoors - get out of your head and into your body.

Ways to overcome digital distraction

  1. Turn all social media notifications off on your phone.

    I did this at the start of this year and it was the BEST thing ever. I used to get hammered with notifications all day long and would constantly check them, creating an inadvertent state of anxiety. By turning off notifications you’ll save yourself from needing the self-discipline to avoid checking (never works) and instead, you’ll simply check social media when you’re ready at a time of YOUR OWN choosing.

  2. Take social media apps off your home screen

    I also did this at the start of this year and it was the SECOND BEST thing ever. Previously, my apps were on my home screen so I’d check them every time I had a spare second (e.g. waiting to cross the street, waiting for the kettle to boil, and so on). Now, I have to consciously search for the apps if I want to open them and this is usually enough to remind me that I’ve made a choice NOT to scroll mindlessly through social media.

  3. Turn your phone on airplane mode

    I have my phone on airplane mode generally from 8pm to 8am. I also use airplane mode if I need to fully focus on a task and don’t want to be interrupted, but I do this less. It’s most important for me to have my phone on airplane mode in the evening while I’m sleeping.

  4. Set strict boundaries around phone use in the morning and night

    My general rule is to never look at social media first thing in the morning or after around 8pm at night. This made the biggest difference to me in limiting my social media and smartphone use and also the corresponding benefits - both mentally in setting myself up for better days / nights’ sleep and also physically because I actually DO get better sleep. I do read a lot of e-books on my phone but I tend to have two blue-light filters on plus my phone on airplane mode when I’m reading at night to prevent any potential sleep disruption.

  5. Schedule social media use

    Rather than mindlessly scrolling through social media (like I used to do ha!) while commuting, or waiting at the lights, or as soon as you wake up in the morning, or when you’re in bed at night… Schedule specific times to check social media and stick to it. If you’re anything like me and you use social media for everything from business to chatting with friends to organising events, once a day can be tricky. I aim to check social media three times per day and try to limit myself to that but it doesn’t always happen! Setting the intention is better than checking social media every 30 minutes, however… I know the temptation is there!

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