A mounting body of evidence indicates that some of our favorite digital distractions aren't very good for us. Smartphones are a major culprit: In their first five years of use, the percentage of Americans who reported the internet was getting in the way of family time spiked from 11 percent to 28 percent. Still, there's a time and a place for technology. It has the ability to help you form healthier habits and, in the workplace, it has the capacity to enhance our productivity rather than distract us from it.
In a host of industries, technology is changing the game and making companies more efficient than ever before. For instance, UPS was able to cut out 85 million miles of driving per year using advanced analytics that determined the ideal route for drivers. When the company put sensors in trucks to turn off the engine when drivers were out of their vehicles delivering packages, it eliminated 100 million minutes of idling time annually.
When it comes to making a business successful, efficiency is key. Having an efficient organization makes it harder for competitors to get the drop on you. As employees, it's helpful to view your own efficiency in the same way. Inefficient, unproductive workers are easily replaced, whereas those who use their time wisely and get more done are highly valued.
Are there ways technology distracts you at work rather than boosting your productivity? Here are just a few ways to turn the problem into the solution.
1. If you're going to play games, use them to train your brain.
Having games readily available on your phone can be a tempting distraction from work, and mobile phone addiction is all too real. While some games and apps may be little more than a temporary distraction, though, there are others that aim to keep your brain healthy and your focus sharp. For example, Pariveda Solutions, an IT and management consulting firm, and the Center for Brain Health recently created a mobile app that measures your brain's speed and ability to focus. As users play the game, the center gains more data to improve what its tech can do.
Other software tools such as RescueTime track how you spend time on your computer and mobile devices. RescueTime then generates a report so you can see where you tend to lose your focus. Once you know what's causing you to drift away, you can more easily address the issue.
2. Use tech to straighten up and fly right.
It's probably not a surprise that your level of physical comfort affects your focus and productivity, and the tech you're required to use at work is likely causing you some discomfort. The American Optometric Association reports that we spend seven hours each day on the computer, and while many of us recognize that this is not good for our eyes, you may not know that it also has debilitating effects on posture. Bad posture can negatively impact your breathing, circulation, and even your mood.
But while tech has the potential to make you physically uncomfortable and distracted at work, it also offers many solutions to this problem. For instance, if you've noticed your posture suffers after hours at the computer, check out Posture Man Pat, which uses your webcam to keep tabs on your head height. When your head drops a certain distance because of slouching, the app will make your screen flash or give an audio notification.
3. Use tech to prevent multitasking rather than encourage it.
I know you've been there: You're sitting at your computer focusing on one task, but then your smartphone dings with an email or a text. You probably cave to the distraction without a second thought. After all, it's probably work-related, so you tell yourself you're "multitasking." In reality, you're doing what some brain researchers have called "rapid toggling" from task to task. When you switch between tasks, your brain has to quickly focus on one topic then switch to another, and maybe even go back and forth between the same two tasks.
When your brain switches gears, you lose time because you have to ease into a different topic or mindset. Plus, you feel tired faster than if you just focus on one thing at a time. Wouldn't it be great if you could limit or mute these distractions and discourage yourself from "toggling"? Fortunately, there's a setting -- and an app -- for that. Your phone allows you to set do not disturb times, and commonly used workplace apps like Slack also offer "snooze notifications" mode. If you require even more saving from yourself, the Freedom app will block you from certain apps, websites, or even the entire internet for the length of time you select. That means you can hunker down and focus on the task at hand rather than continuously being distracted and having to refocus on your work after each ding from a nearby device.
Technology is powerful, but too often we waste that power and spend hours on social media feeds or constant email checking when we should be accomplishing more important tasks. We're hardwired in such a way that it's difficult to put down our devices, but fortunately, technology can just as easily come to our rescue. The technologies mentioned above are great examples, but new solutions are emerging every day to meet almost any need, and they're just a quick Google search away.