Technology can be a time suck. The computer pings with every email. The smartphone vibrates to signal there’s a new text message. The table dings to alert you to the latest social media update. Gadgets serve up never-ending distractions that divert your focus and cut into productivity. Don’t kid yourself that you can leave that flat panel on the wall murmuring in the background while you labor on a project. Recent research disproves the myth of effective multitasking. People who think they are the world’s best multi-taskers actually are the worst at juggling when it comes to work.
Resolving to avoid distraction and turn off the technology so that you can focus on the task in front of you may be harder than you think. Social psychologist Adam Alter recently told The New York Times that our devotion to social media and modern digital devices may be a literal, not figurative, behavioral addiction.
Some 60 percent of adults responding to a recent survey said they sleep with their cellphones next to them. Half of those answering another survey said they check their email during the night. Three hours a day is the average time people are glued to their cellphones. Technological advances that gave us mobile devices untethered users from home computers. Now we can check social media and play games anywhere, any time.
Alter says the problem is larger than just distraction. Our devices are robbing us of initiative. “If you’re on the phone for three hours daily, that’s time you’re not spending on face-to-face interactions with people,” said the 36-year-old psychologist. “You never have to remember anything because everything is right in front of you. You don’t have to develop the ability to memorize or to come up with new ideas,” he said.
Want to quit? Pay attention to just how much time and attention you are devoting to technology and block it off. Put the tablet and the cell phone in another room and leave them there. Alter suggests cutting off answering email at night after 6 p.m. Avoid the urge to always be staring at screens.
“Find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room,” Alter advises. “There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in.”
Taking control of your ability to block out technology’s enticements can provide a powerful tool. Focusing on one task at a time can cut down on stress and boost your productivity.
Alter’s new book is “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked”. It is now a Number 1 best seller in social media for business on Amazon. He is a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU.