About nine months ago, I started to notice how digital distractions throughout the course of my day had a negative impact on both my writing and my life. Every time I got a notification on my phone, it took me away from what I was doing, whether I was watching a movie, catching up with friends, or trying to write. Even if I knew I could wait until later to respond, my curiosity always got the better of me.
I also noticed myself checking social media apps habitually, scrolling with no purpose, and wasting a lot of time trying to keep up with what was happening online. Not only were these habits distracting to my writing, but they were also pulling my brain in too many directions. It left me feeling unfocused and mentally drained on a regular basis. It was affecting my writing, my mood, and my concentration. Maybe there some part of this you can relate to?
I decided these distractions had to go! Here’s what I did to get my digital distractions under control:
I turned off my notifications
First, I turned off every notification on my phone that isn’t a function of a cell phone. The only notifications I get now are for phone calls and text messages. Emails (with the exceptions of a handful of VIPs that push through) and social media notifications can wait until I’m choosing to check them. This has been one of the biggest game changers for me.
This played a massive role in eliminating my digital distractions. Even when I was getting email and social media notifications, I always tried to avoid answering on my phone if I could. It takes too long to type out and easy typos and auto correct make miscommunication far too likely. But I also had a hard time letting a notification sit unanswered. Once I see a message, I typically start formulating a response. And once I have a response in mind, I like to just write it and send it as soon as I can. So when I would get an email notification, it would somehow worm it’s way to the top of my priority list–even if I didn’t have time for it. Now, I don’t know there’s a message until I sit down at my computer and have the time to respond to what whatever is in my inbox.
I check my email less
Speaking of email, I also check it way less than I did in the past. I used to check in almost compulsively throughout the day. I was afraid someone might need something from me and I hated the idea of keeping them waiting. Now, when it comes to my work email, I’ve decided that once every 24 hours/5 days a week is enough. Anyone who would need me more urgently than that has my phone number. (Though like I said in the last point, there are a handful of VIPs that I do want to get back to ASAP, so I use my phone notifications for them.)
When I do check my email, I make it a point to only do so when I have time for anything that might require a response. I used to do “quick” email checks periodically throughout the day. But it was never quick if it turned out I needed to respond to something. This response would often eat up more time than I could afford at the moment. Now that I check-in less, I don’t lose time like this anymore.
I cut back on social media
There are many advantages to social media, but I think we can all agree, it has their disadvantages too. Social Media sites can be massive digital distractions. When you know there’s almost always something happening online, it can become hard to step away–whether it’s to get some work done or to give your full attention to the person/experience in front of you. This can make social media one of the biggest digital distractions. To help with this I only check in on social media once a day at a designated time. And to keep myself from accidentally landing on social media, I stay logged out of my accounts and only log in during my designated check-in times. (I have a whole post about Writing/Social Media Balance if you want to learn more.)
If other corners of the internet are a problem for you, you might want to think about apps like Self-Control or Cold Turkey. These apps will block those distracting websites for a set amount of time, which will make it easier to focus on getting your work done.
I keep my phone out of sight
Clearly, my phone was the biggest distraction for me. I used to keep my phone next all the time–whether I was working, watching TV, or catching up with people. To cut back, I started making it a point to walk away from or put away my phone more often, including when I move around my house, go on walks, or hang out with my friends. When I first made this change, I found myself reaching for it compulsively. Now that I’m used to not having it around, I’ve realized that half the time when it is next to me, I forget it’s there unless I get a message.
I put my phone on silent when I’m working
This was another game changer for me. I thought not having my phone out or near me would be enough. As it turned out, even if my phone was away or out of sight, I could almost always hear it go off. This always took me out of my work. First, because the sound itself would jolt me back to my surrounds, and second, because my curiosity would often get the best of me and I would wonder who needed me and for what. Now, I don’t even know there’s a message until I’m finished work for the day.
If you’re concerned that you won’t be able to be reached in an emergency, check your phone’s do not disturb settings. You may be able to set your phone to ring if the same number calls twice within a certain time period. Then all you have to do is let close friends and family know to call you twice right away in an emergency. This way, you’re reachable when you have to be, but you’ll still be able to work in peace the rest of the time.
I hope these tips help you cut down on your own digital distractions!
All of these techniques have made it easier to be more focused on my life, which in turn has made me a more focused writer. If you give them a shot, I hope they do the same for you!
Now it’s your turn: Have you found notifications and social media distracting you from life? How do you manage your digital distractions? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!
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