Conquering Digital Distraction: Learn How to Retake Control of Your Time

Apps that block websites are increasingly being used to curtail excessive internet use

Are you a person who sees your smartphone, tablet, or laptop as an extension of yourself? Are your devices things you couldn’t imagine living without? If so, you can take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Hundreds of millions of people around the world report spending much of their days with their eyes fixed on a screen… and, you might agree with the majority of people who argue that “Yes, I spend too much time online, but I don’t really feel I’m harming myself or others, nor do I consider myself ‘addicted to technology.’” Research shows, however, that essentially ‘living in cyberspace’ affects both one’s professional and personal life. Most of us allocate too much of each day’s limited time for social media use, answering emails, and digital entertainment. It sneaks up on you – 20 minutes here, 45 minutes there…

When you tally it up, you might find you spend well more than half your waking hours with your head in the cloud. All this tech time reduces your engagement with ‘real life’ and for professionals and students in particular, seriously reduces your productivity. Even if you don’t feel you suffer from digital addiction, it’s a fair bet you feel the strains of digital overload.

It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but there are two schools of thought regarding how to deal with the daily deluge of information we are subjected to, and the chaos and distractions these bytes of data cause our brains and lives. One camp of experts espouses what we’ll a “monastic” approach. The other camp might be described as advocating a “managerial” approach. The ‘managerialists’ remind us that there are smart ways to use technology and also plenty of digital tools to help you control your intake. By making use of filtering settings, for example, your email can be separated into very clear categories. You can pick a newsreader app and curate it so that it provides only useful articles and info. And you can learn how to block yourself from a website. This might sound Draconian but blocking out distractions is among the strongest weapons available for those who decide to adopt the management approach to their digital lives.

Students, workers, and internet users of all stripes have taken to installing what are called “blocking apps.” Once downloaded, a blocking app spreads across your devices – with your authorization, of course – and you can then set up parameters for what you want to be able to access online… and at what times. This is a powerful tool that takes away the ‘struggle,’ that battle of willpower that so many of us lose. Blocking equals: out of sight, out of mind. If social media is your particular stumbling block, the blocking app can be set up so that – for example – from 9 a.m. to 12 noon all social media sites are blocked across all devices. If you get tempted and try to go check Instagram, you’ll get a friendly notification reminding you to get back to work… which can sometimes be all you need to get back on the straight and narrow. Such apps also have scheduling features, alarms, timers, and, of course, allow you to block adult content and or gambling sites.

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Some of the harder-line “monastics” recommend complete withdrawal from devices on say, weekends, and recommend that when you must use technology – such as for work or study – that you assign clear time boundaries, and work or study online for no more than an hour at a time. Some even suggest taking breaks every 30 minutes – and standing up and looking out a window during that break. To limit the negative effects of technology, which include its tendency to be addictive, some feel we need to stricter with ourselves and not fall for the “try to use moderation” trap – as too few of us follow through and actually use moderation. In the end, all choices are up to you and the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. You could use a blocking app for work hours but also consider a digital “fast” on say, Sundays. It’s said so often it strikes us as cliche, but time is indeed, the “one thing that can never be retrieved.” Find a strategy to control your digital life and in doing so, retake control of your real life.

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