Getting stuff done in the age of distraction


Distraction has become an epidemic. Once upon a time, if kids were bored, they’d be sent outside to play with a stick and a rock. Now, they’re distracted with an iPad or smartphone for hours. Many parents try to regulate their kids’ device usage, but how many of us as adults do anything to regulate ourselves?

Why are we so distracted?

It’s easy to blame our devices or social media or big tech. It certainly makes you feel better for a moment, but it doesn’t help you regain agency over your behaviour.

The source of much of our distraction is in our minds, not in our devices. It’s a mild form of dysphoria; a sense that something is missing or lacking, that leads us to distraction. We know that our smart phones can deliver us a little dopamine hit, lifting us for a moment from our sense of lack. You can test this for yourself next time you reach mindlessly for your phone. See if you can notice the feeling that preceded your action. You needn’t make yourself wrong for it, simply bring some awareness to it.

So how do we find focus in the face of distraction?

Firstly, measure where you are at. On my iPhone under settings>Screen Time>See All Activity, I can see how frequently I’m using it. If you look under the section “Pick-ups”, you can track the average daily number of times you’ve picked up your phone.

At the time of writing, I’m averaging approximately 100 pick-ups a day. Now that I’m aware of it, I know it’s too many.

Now ask yourself if there is anything in your life right now that you could be doing that you value more than scrolling through your smartphone? This is a question of values; not in the sense of moralistic values, but simply in terms of priorities. Do I value getting on with writing this article more than scrolling on my iPhone? When I’m honest, the urge to scroll dissipates and I get back on with the higher priority task.

Over the next few weeks, see if you can move the needle in terms of reducing the number of “pick-ups” of your phone. I’ll be doing the same, so feel free to check on me.


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