In the age of ubiquitous social media, our society as a whole has become “distracted,” unable to focus on one thing for more than a few minutes without checking Facebook or our smartphones. How extreme is this problem? In New York, there’s a mini epidemic of distracted teens who are getting plowed down in crosswalks; they’re glued to their smartphones and so are many of the drivers who hit them!
In my new book LIFESCALE, I explore this phenomenon from a broad perspective and in a personal way, focusing on my own struggle to put social media in its place while regaining focus, productivity, and creativity.
Distractibility is often linked to the practice of multitasking, a practice we tell ourselves is both necessary and makes us more productive. In fact, it reduces our productivity by 40%, while making us irritable and mistake-prone. Are you chronically distracted? Here are 10 dangerous signs:
- Your usually laser-sharp short- and long-term memory are MIA.
- You even forget what you’re saying midsentence.
- While working on an essential project with a deadline staring you in the face, you’re unable to focus for 25 minutes or more without checking your phone, email, or watching a YouTube video.
- You’re addicted to the practice of Multitasking, even when you know you’re not getting any serious work accomplished. Multitasking is not only a key indicator that you’re distracted, but also impacts your mood, capacity for empathy, and even your productivity (the reason you’re multitasking in the first place).
- It’s the end of a “busy” day of calls, meetings, and responding to emails and you can’t identify one solid accomplishment.
- You’re making more mistakes than usual, especially “dumb” mistakes.
- Tasks that used to feel automatic now require much more deliberate effort.
- It feels like your overall capacity for creativity is diminished or even blocked. This applies not only to people in fields we think of as creative (writers, designers) but also anyone who strategizes or problem solves as part of their job.
- You feel “exhausted” at the end of the day for no obvious reason.
- You’ve lost your capacity for empathy. It feels like you’ve just got too much on your own plate to care about the problems of others, even those close to you.
French physicist, mathematician, and writer Blaise Pascal observed, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”
When examining your own distraction, ask yourself, “Does being alone for an extended period of time make me uncomfortable?” And, by alone, I also mean without access to our computers or smartphones.
If you see yourself in Pascal’s quote or the checklist above, there is hope. I believe LIFESCALE offers valuable short-term hacks and long-term solutions to our distraction epidemic.