A curbside cafe. A crowded commuter train. The elevator en route to the 34th floor. Wherever we go, we're surrounded by active participants in the distraction economy. Odds are, we're among those participants.
Clicking. Liking. Sharing. Every hour. Every day.
The rise of technology and portable devices have transformed how we both connect and unplug. Yet there is an undeniable truth that we end up disconnecting in our attempts to connect. It has given rise to an entire economy dependent on distraction.
—Patrick Di Vietri, LPC, NCC, director of therapy services, Hope Therapy and Wellness Center
This reality poses several risks to anyone with an eye on the prize.
Let's have a look at the true costs the distraction economy may have on your goals and discover how you can shift behavior back to a more productive and mindful life.
Defining the Distraction Economy
When talking about the costs of the distraction economy, it helps to explain the term up front.
"In today's culture, there are many devices out there that assist us in escaping the doldrums of daily life and finding a moment or two of pleasure," says Patrick Di Vietri, LPC, NCC, director of therapy services at Hope Therapy and Wellness Center. “Social media sites, apps and video games are just a few things that can be fun in moderation, but if taken too far, can become time sucks that snatch our focus away from daily responsibilities."
It's this shift that's created the distraction economy—one where people have prioritized technology over people.
“Many leaders suffer from what I call the 'over- trilogy': overwhelmed, overstressed and overtired," says Neen James, author of the best-selling book Attention Pays. "Attention has become the new currency, and we are operating in a deficit. The hard truth is that distraction decays and attention pays."
Which means all that time we think we're connecting, we're actually taking time away from the goals that matter most.
Risks for Leaders
The distraction economy presents two prominent dangers for leaders: setting poor precedents and failing to establish focus.
“The way a leader invests their attention creates a precedent for their team," says James. “If a leader is constantly distracted and not paying attention, they're telling the rest of their team this is an acceptable standard."
This distracted behavior connects directly to the second risk—failing to establish focus—which can come with its own compounding risks.
“Leaders operating without focus and intentional attention risk damaging relationships, missing key performance objectives, losing top talent to other organizations, [and] customers choosing other companies [and] vendors taking advantage of their distracted state," says James. “Their personal brand and reputation are damaged by their lack of focus."
And you've felt it, haven't you? The compounding effects of opting for distraction over attention? We've all gotten lost in a social media spiral and seen hours slip by as deadlines loom larger.
There's no need to expose ourselves to these completely avoidable risks to our goals and reputation, no matter how tempting the distraction economy makes them.
It's going to take a conscious effort, however, to shift from distracting habits to ones that build you up each time you invest your time and attention.
Transforming Your Role
If you're game to change how you participate in the distraction economy, James and Di Vietri have three tips to help you shift your behavior from distracted to attentive.
1. Prioritize and practice mindfulness.
Di Vietri: “Mindfulness allows you to take control of your time and make intentional choices that reflect your priorities. Taking the time each day to think about your goals can have a profound effect on a person and their ability to handle unexpected challenges."
James: “Create a 15-minute strategic appointment with yourself each day to identify your top three priorities and boost productivity, accountability and profitability."
2. Remove distractions.
Di Vietri: “Turn off all unnecessary notifications on cell phones and social media accounts. You can also unsubscribe from email chains and marketing lists."
James: “Create device-free zones at work to encourage face-to-face communication, collaboration and creativity. This shifts your focus from technology back to people."
3. Reduce time spent online.
Di Vietri: “Remove apps that encourage mindless, simple fun when work should be your focus."
James: “Set guidelines for social media and email hours with your team. Honestly, stop sending emails late at night and stealing minutes from people's families."
That's a daunting list of changes, right? When you consider the time it took for you to become embroiled in the distraction economy, the time and effort it takes to unwind your involvement might not seem so vast.
The true costs of the distraction economy are time and attention stolen—in both an active and ever-so-passive manner—from the goals we whisper to ourselves each night.
But if you're comfortable with taking time and attention from yourself, by all means, continue your scroll-a-thons when more substantial opportunities loom.
Di Vietri sums it up best:
"Distractions have their place, and we all need a break sometimes, but in today's culture, these 'little distractions' are turning into significant detriments."
Read more articles on personal productivity.