We are lucky to live in the 21st century. Through our digital devices, we have access to more knowledge, goods, and entertainment than at any time in history.
But our devices do have a dark side. More inputs mean more distractions, which wear away at our well-being. We get so caught up in the digital world sometimes that we forget about the physical one.
Text notifications interrupt our family dinners. Tweets and “likes” take our attention away from real relationships. Apps that are meant to connect us wind up driving us further apart.
Like it or not, smartphones and social media are here to stay. Embrace them, but beware of their excesses.
Signs It’s Time to Scale Back
Tech may be tempting, but it doesn’t have to rule your life. Learn the signs of overuse, and take steps to solve the problem.
1. You can’t find your focus.
You know the feeling: You’re at work, perhaps already struggling to stay on task, and your phone chirps in your pocket. Another ding comes from your computer — a Facebook update from a friend posting vacation pictures — followed by a third that indicates a new email.
Distractions have always existed, but tech has taken them to a new level. The solution? Find your flow state.
A flow state is when you’re so involved in the task at hand that the world melts away around you. You might experience it while reading a book, working on a passion project, or playing a game.
Flow is an internal state, but external tweaks can help you find it. Stay off Slack. Soundproof your studio or office. If you’re hungry, eat a snack. Whatever you need to do, your goal should be to predict and eliminate distractions before they interrupt your flow.
2. Notifications are driving you nuts.
Apps rise and fall based on how well they command their users’ attention. Each one you download adds another set of notifications to the chaotic choir in your pocket. Although they’re meant to be useful, most notifications are mere distractions.
When someone likes your Facebook status, do you really need to know? Is your inbox so exciting that you truly want to be disrupted by every email that comes in?
Shut off your notifications. Silence everything except phone calls and, if you so choose, texts. If someone really needs your attention, she’ll call you.
Take this a step further by shrinking your app list. The average smartphone owner uses only 30 apps per month but has about three times that many on his phone. If you go whole months without using an app, why not just re-download it when you need it?
3. You mindlessly check social media.
Even if it’s the global average, you shouldn’t be spending 2.5 hours per day on social media. It’s already difficult enough to get everything done in a day, let alone when we spend a tenth of it tending to our online egos.
Social media is a fun way to connect, but it’s no substitute for real life. First, take an inventory of the platforms you can get rid of. If the political rants on Facebook and Twitter upset you, take a break.
Second, take social media apps off your phone. If you want to check them, fine — but make yourself take the step of actually booting up your computer or typing the URL into your smartphone’s browser.
Most importantly, be mindful of your time. If you’d intended to work on that remodeling project, don’t auto-scroll your way through the afternoon. Budget time for social media, just like any other activity in your life. If you repeatedly break the rules you set for yourself, get an app that blocks you from accessing those sites at certain times or past certain usage thresholds.
4. Online shopping is breaking your wallet.
Every day feels like Christmas when you can click buttons online and have packages magically appear on your doorstep. As if that weren’t enough, e-commerce companies have invested in distractions like ad retargeting and smart home devices to make online shopping even more tempting.
Humans beings are impulsive by nature, and e-commerce sites know it. They invest in things that put their products in front of consumers as often and as visibly as possible.
Fight this distraction on two fronts. First, erect as many barriers between your digital accounts and your bank account as you can. Disconnect your smart devices from your credit cards. Take shopping apps off your phone. Turn off one-click ordering. Don’t save your payment data after you make a purchase.
Second, strike back against digital ads. Download an ad blocker. Use private browsing features to make retargeting more difficult. Set your browser to delete cookies every time you end your session.
Taking those steps won’t stop you from shopping online; what it does is make online shopping less tempting. If you aren’t being bombarded by product suggestions, you’re much less likely to go down a shopping rabbit hole. And if you need to enter payment details every time you want to buy something, you’ll actually have time to think, “Do I need this?”
The internet is a wonderful thing, but it’s also dangerous. If you’re prone to distractions, the endless amount of media and products online will only make it worse. Know your triggers, and have the courage to do something about them.