Time is a precious commodity.  We need to find available hours to complete a project at work, enjoy time with family or our favourite leisure activity.  Unfortunately there seem to be more interruptions than ever eating into our best laid plans and none so compelling as the digital distractions we face each day.

Digital distractions

Smartphones have evolved to more than match the personal computer and become the essential companion to keep us connected to the wider world, preventing missing out on any conversation, trend or breaking news.  The trouble is that as humans we are vulnerable to these constant pings, buzzes, chimes and flashes on our devices.  Without a strong and determined approach to manage we can lose focus leading to a negative impact on performance.

Here’s a review of the top 10 distractions and how you can best manage them.

E-mail – Oh boy this is a big one.  Probably worth a post all of its own so let’s concentrate on the key problems.  “Always on” e-mail responders are those individuals who live online and will reply instantly to any message and expect the same in return.  That’s just not practical. If you’re not offering frontline customer service set aside time to review your e-mail, on the hour or three or four times a day.  If it’s truly urgent and someone needs your response they can call you, the old fashioned way.  This may prove controversial but e-mail is by far one of our biggest daily distractions, if you can control the time you invest in e-mail communication you will benefit from being more productive.  If in a position of authority take the opportunity to build a culture where colleagues develop greater personal communications such as face to face or phone contact, it will improve the productivity of the business.

Google – We’ve all come to rely on the search giant but how often does our essential “Google” become a 20 minute meander through associated and sometimes random topics?  Search engines are indeed essential tools to help us in business but don’t let it take control of you.  Start with a clear objective and keep to it. If something else looks interesting note it, bookmark for later.  It’s amazing how these eyeball grabbers are far less interesting a day or two later.

Text/ SMS Messages/ WhatsApp – Depending on the culture of the organisation you may find colleagues and certain customers prefer to text you.  This is an area that needs to be carefully managed and understood.  Text although technically no different to tweet or e-mail are perceived by many as a personal rather than commercial communication.  There is a generational divide in preference so be mindful when you look to use the medium as sender or receiver.  As with e-mail, turn off alerts and check at intervals that allow you to get on with your life.

Twitter – Despite the frustrations many have with the platform there are plenty addicted to the 140 character challenge. That constant need to check if anyone liked or re-tweeted your last post can result in an obsessive compulsive desire to feed the bird with attention every five minutes.  Be strong, keep the bird in a cage and arrange visiting times that don’t interfere with the more important parts of our life.

YouTube – There are only so many cute cat and dog videos, well so you might think.  Every day millions of hours of content is uploaded to video sites and they can be compelling to watch especially when friends or colleagues comment on them.  As with Google, once you drop-by one of the popular video sites you can quickly be drawn in as the pages are designed to promote similarly compelling content.  Best advice is leave it for a lunch break or better still after work or the weekend.  If work related check the length of the content and set time aside after other priorities have been addressed.

Facebook – Despite the proliferation of similar platforms Facebook remains one of the biggest distractions.  Well it’s obvious, you’ve added all your friends, old school buddies, ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, family and those randoms you just can’t remember adding. You may well have work colleagues, some suppliers or customers too.  A whole bunch of conversations in differing time zones and from people at alternate stages of life.  No problem catching up at breakfast lunch and dinner but during the day it will just cause indigestion and interference with your to-do list.

LinkedIn – The watercooler way to network with professionals but it’s equally capable of taking large chunks out of your day.  Who’s viewed your profile? How many likes of your post? Who’s that person trying to connect with you? If you comment on a popular post you may want to turn off alerts each time someone posts and as with others set a time when you can make the most of the site.

Instagram – We can appreciate a good, arty, tasty, funny or clever photo, even better when we can keep up with a favourite celebrity or our family and friends.  The visual draw of picture sites can be all too easy to distract us via their smartphone apps.  What we don’t need is a Biebergram or Obamagram drawing us into a compulsion to quote or share when we should be completing that monthly report. Set a time and schedulegram your Instagram.

News Alerts – If, like me you need to know what’s happening in the World you’ll have downloaded news apps.  Remember you can set alerts and allow yourself the option of keeping these muted or allow their interruption.  News editors will decide on what they think is breaking and important news but you will need to determine what is really worth taking time out to read and possibly share. More than 75% of the alerts will not need to be actioned so keep a sharp eye on your mental filter and avoid being sucked into the newsfeed.

Snapchat – 10 seconds may sound but a brief moment in time but add the time taken to check out your contacts latest “Snap” and the drive to respond with an equally funny use of the latest filter and you’ve lost 10 minutes or more.  Snapchat can have a business application but it is mostly for light hearted fun.  That’s one for your lunch break or after work.

There are hundreds of sites, too many to mention in this post but as a rule we just need to be clear as to what value they offer to our working day and what we really should be doing to move our business forward.  Each of the above can prove very helpful in developing and promoting a brand and serving to educate and improve internal communications.  The danger is with the proliferation of digital interactions and there unfettered use.  By taking a few direct steps to schedule our use of these applications we can better manage our day and be far more productive.

It may also be an idea to look at your company policy on use of internet, smartphones and social media.  Check to see if the policy wording has kept pace with some of the more recent trends and behaviours associated with this technology.

If you would like help with your policy feel free to drop me a line.