Do you ever have days when you want to throw your phone out the window? Or when you feel like Pavlov’s dog responding to yet another ding alert that an email or Tweet has landed? I do all the time.
My Blackberry, while a lifesaver, is also a distraction. It’s supposed to save me time – because I can answer emails from anywhere, use its browser to look up a quick stat I need for a column I’m researching, and join conference calls from the road – but sometimes it sets me back. I stop what I’m doing to check my email every time it vibrates. I find myself thumbing through Facebook when I’m on a deadline. Sure, it’s two or three minutes at a time, but that could add up to 20, 30, even 45 minutes a day. Add in the time that it takes to regain my train of thought after the interruption, and my smart phone is siphoning hours out of my week.
Dr. David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus and Working Smarter All Day Long, says that technology like this has a good side, and a bad side. “If used well, these things can definitely be positive. But using them well involves being able to regulate your emotions and actions really well, and that’s not something that people, on the whole, are good at.”
I’m working to solve this problem in my own life. I now understand there is such a thing as too connected, and there are actually benefits to being out of touch.
Here’s are the steps I’m taking:
- Understand the problem. You might feel like your life would be even more stressful without your PDA. I certainly do. Just one day of that thing on the fritz is enough to turn me into a ball of nerves: I’m constantly wondering if a business colleague, my assistant, or my mom is trying to contact me. But in fact, Rock says that being constantly tethered to the device can be even more stressful. “Research shows that these things increase what is called our allostatic load, which is essentially how stressed you feel.” The result, he says, is decreased immune function and decreased cognitive capacity. Leaving your devices on all the time can stifle your creativity and reduce your ability to innovate and think outside the box. As a business owner, I don’t need to tell you how important these things are.
- Set limits. To get a handle on technology overload, you have to draw a line. It’s hard because your brain wants to do the opposite. “The trouble is that when you feel connected, you get a reward trigger in your brain that fires up, and that makes you feel good. But you also have a reduced capacity for deeper thinking,” explains Rock. In simple terms, it becomes noisy in your brain, and you can’t get anything done. Continuous Partial Attention, a term coined by Linda Stone, a writer and consultant, says it best: “When you’re constantly connected to your email, phone or PDA, you’re paying a little attention to lots of things, but not a lot of attention to anything. Instead, use your devices adaptively, not mechanically,” says Rock. That means switching them off when you’re working on something that demands your full concentration (major projects come to mind, as does driving) or when you truly want to be “checked out” of work, like at the dinner table. And if you can’t? Well, I’ve recently found a free app for my mac called SelfControl which allows me to tell it what I want to block access to – my email, Tweetdeck, Facebook and, oh yeah, shopping sites – and for how long. But once you do it, there’s no going back. Even restarting your computer won’t do the trick. I love it.
- Use the morning to your advantage. This, Rock says, is the best time for deep thinking (and I agree – I often get some of my best work done in the morning, before the kids wake up). Take advantage by choosing these hours as your time to disconnect. “If you don’t use the morning for deep thinking, sometimes you don’t get any done at all. What happens a lot is we wake up and do email straight away, and fry our brains,” Rock explains. Turn off your smart phone, shut down your email (or at least mute the little “ding” that alerts you to a new one) and work uninterrupted – it may be the only time in your day when you can.
Jean Chatzky, award-winning journalist and best-selling author, is the financial editor for NBC's "Today," a contributing editor for More magazine, and a columnist for The New York Daily News. She is the author of six books, including her newest, Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved. Check out Jean's blog at JeanChatzky.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
American Express OPEN and Courtyard Hotels have teamed up to provide a 5% discount at participating properties across the U.S. To learn more, go tohttp://www.marriott.com/opensavings.
OPEN Savings®: Payment must be made with an American Express® Business Card at the time of purchase; savings will be credited to your account. Maximum annual savings for each Marriott brand is $1,500 per Card account. Other restrictions and limitations may apply. Subject to offer terms and conditions located at opensavings.com. Merchant participation and offers are subject to change without notice.