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Feeling Distracted? How to Cut Back, Tune Out and Focus In

Is the world getting us more distracted? More often than not, it feels that way. Our digital devices are buzzing at all times, world news demands our attention 24/7, and there are countless entertainment opportunities than ever before. With that, it certainly seems harder to focus on what’s really important. While distracted driving can kill, understanding how to stay focused is exactly what it takes to get things done and get ahead.

The state of being distracted might appear more available than ever, but it is nothing new. Over 2,000 years ago, Socrates and Aristotle debated the nature of “akrasia” (pronounced uh-crazy-uh) our tendency to act against our better judgement. To the ancient Greeks, mere mortals were prone to distraction due to our weakness of will. Easy for them to say — Socrates and Aristotle never had to resist binge-watching “Game of Thrones.”

Can Distraction Be a Good Thing?

Is distraction a curse or a blessing? Not giving full attention to what we should be doing makes us miss deadlines, fail classes, and crash into other drivers. Being easily distracted has a price. Nonetheless, we love our distractions! Social media, spectator sports, movies, books, TV shows, the news, video games – what would we do without them?

Clearly, there are benefits to distractions as evidenced by the fact that nearly everyone on earth seeks them out. But why? Although they seem to pull us away from more important things, what purpose do they serve? And, when at times we seem to give in to distractions, how do we ensure they serve us well?

Distractions can help us deal with pain. But what about the many products and services, like video games and social media sites, designed to be so good we want to use them all the time? Sometimes we have trouble limiting their use and find ourselves sucked into distractions.

Your ability to identify why and how you engage with personal technology can make the difference between healthy and destructive behavior. Take a look at your favorite digital activities. Look at how you use social media, video games, puzzles, television shows, podcasts, news, and spectator sports. Are you using them as tools to build strength, skills, knowledge, and self-efficacy for the future? Are you using them to be temporarily distracted to escape from an uncomfortable reality? If it’s the latter, you may want to reconsider the role these distractions play in your life. If the pain you’re escaping is permanent, no distraction will ever heal it. You must either learn new coping strategies or fundamentally fix what is broken.

How Can We Manage Digital Distraction?

Personal technology is getting more engaging than ever. There’s no doubt companies are engineering their products and services to be more compelling and attractive. But would we want it any other way? The intended result of making something better is that people use it more. That’s not necessarily a problem, that’s progress.

These improvements don’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to control our use of technology. In order to make sure it doesn’t control us, we should come to terms with the fact that it’s more than the technology itself that’s responsible for our habits. Our workplace culture, social norms and individual behaviors all play a part. To put technology in its place, we must be conscious not only of how technology is changing, but also of how it is changing us.

Still distracted? Check out our articles on digital distractions to better understand the underlying psychology and how to effectively manage digital distraction by putting it in its place.

Top Articles on Distraction

Can Someone with ADHD be ‘Indistractable’?

Can Someone with ADHD be ‘Indistractable’?

Does my book Indistractable work for the ADHD brain? It’s a question I’ve been getting a lot lately. Though I didn’t specifically write the book for people with ADHD, I wanted to get an honest opinion from an expert. I reached out to Caitlin O’Brient Bauer, who was diagnosed with ADHD at age 8 and is now a certified ADHD coach.
How to Survive in a World of Information Overload

How to Survive in a World of Information Overload

We live in a world of too much information, and it’s nothing less than a blessing. Throughout most of human history, access to knowledge was limited. Power equated to how much information you had access to. Kings built great libraries, and texts were rare and valuable things. Today, however, what was once scarce is abundant. We’re drowning in information.
How to Tame Your Wandering Mind and Actually Get Some Work Done

How to Tame Your Wandering Mind and Actually Get Some Work Done

You have a big deadline looming, and it’s time to hunker down. But every time you start working, you find that, for some reason, your mind drifts off before you can get any real work done. What gives? What is this cruel trick our brains play on us, and what do we do about it? Thankfully, by understanding why our mind wanders and taking steps to deal with distraction, we can stay on track. But first, let’s understand the root of the problem.
Tame Daily Distractions With a ‘Precommitment Pact’

Tame Daily Distractions With a ‘Precommitment Pact’

From Homer to Franzen, productive people lean on precommitments as a proven way to stick to their goals.Famed director Quentin Tarantino “never use[s] a typewriter or computer.” He prefers to write screenplays by hand in a notebook. Pulitzer Prize-winning author...

How to Escape the Vicious Cycle of Distraction

How to Escape the Vicious Cycle of Distraction

You have time for everything, even if it doesn’t feel that way.People are always saying “there aren’t enough hours in the day” to get stuff done. And yet research suggests that the average working American has four hours of leisure per day. If we have so many hours to...

Smartphone Too Distracting? Here’s How to Reclaim Your Focus

Smartphone Too Distracting? Here’s How to Reclaim Your Focus

In 2017, I decided I’d had enough of my smartphone and the companies that make the apps that were robbing me of my time and attention. I thought I found the perfect solution: the card phone. The card phone is what it sounds like: It’s a $18 tiny phone with no social...

“Tech Addiction” Is the New Reefer Madness

“Tech Addiction” Is the New Reefer Madness

By promoting the idea that technology is hijacking our brains and getting all of us addicted to our devices, techno-fearmongers elevate the exception rather than the rule.Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, introduced the Social Media Addiction Reduction...

This is How to be Less Distracted By Having Fun in Tedious Tasks

This is How to be Less Distracted By Having Fun in Tedious Tasks

Want to be Less Distracted? Try This: Find the Fun in Tedious TasksFrom comic books and radio programs to TV shows and Atari games, the world has always been full of things that distract us. Today, most of us blame our phones or, more specifically, social media, Words...

5 Ways to Distraction-Train Your Mind

5 Ways to Distraction-Train Your Mind

Recently, the BBC asked me to provide a few tips for how to distraction-train our minds to manage distraction. Notice the phrasing. It’s not about how to eliminate distractions from your phone or your computer, but rather it’s about us. To regain control over our...

If Tech Is So Distracting, How Do Slack Employees Stay So Focused?

If Tech Is So Distracting, How Do Slack Employees Stay So Focused?

How Slack’s culture kills distraction by building psychological safety, telling employees to go home, and using lots and lots of emojis.If there’s one technology that embodies the unreasonable demands of the always-on work culture that pervades so many companies...

Learn How To Avoid Distraction In A World That Is Full Of It

Learn How To Avoid Distraction In A World That Is Full Of It

Distraction is a curse of modern life. Between our cell phones and computer screens, not to mention our kids and coworkers, our attention is constantly being diverted. It can become difficult to focus on any one task—or any one person—for very long. If anything, the...

The Real Reason Apple and Google Want You to Use Your Phone Less

The Real Reason Apple and Google Want You to Use Your Phone Less

This week Apple follows Google by announcing features to help people cut back on their tech use. Why would the companies that make your phone want you to use it less? If tech is “hijacking your brain” with their “irresistible” products, as some tech critics claim, why...

How to Be Indistractable: Video by Nir Eyal

How to Be Indistractable: Video by Nir Eyal

In this talk, I describe a new model for managing distraction — how to become "Indistractable." I'll write more on this topic in the coming months and I'm finishing a book with the same title. Also, please share this video with people who may benefit from watching it....

How to Regain Focus at Work by Slaying the Messaging Monster

How to Regain Focus at Work by Slaying the Messaging Monster

Technology is taking over our lives, especially in the workplace. What can we do to put technology in its place to finally get focused work done? Below are resources, tools, and articles for regaining focus in your digital life. These are tools I use myself but is not...

Technology Is Not Hijacking Your Brain (video)

Some tech critics will have you believe that technology is "hijacking your brain" or that it's "irresistible." Not only is that not true, believing such nonsense is dangerous. In my recent talk at The Next Web conference, I discuss: The difference between...

When Distraction is a Good Thing

When Distraction is a Good Thing

Is distraction a curse or a blessing? Not giving full attention to what we should be doing makes us miss deadlines, fail classes, and crash into other drivers. Distraction certainly has a price.  Nonetheless, we love our distractions! Social media, spectator sports,...

Conquer Distractions With This Simple Chart

Is the world more distracting? Sometimes it seems that way. With our digital devices buzzing, world events demanding our attention, and more things to entertain us than ever before, it certainly seems harder to focus on what’s really important. And yet, focus is...

The Four People Addicting You to Technology

Recently, the Pokemon Go phenomenon has reigniting the question of technology's role in changing behavior. To put things in perspective, I wanted to share the main points of an article I published on the topic titled, Who’s Really Addicting Us to Technology?, in a...

Who’s Really Addicting You to Technology?

“Nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet,” wrote Tony Schwartz in a recent essay in The New York Times. It’s a common complaint these days. A steady stream of similar headlines accuse the Net and its offspring apps, social media sites and...

Is Some Tech Too Addictive?

Addiction can be a difficult thing to see. From outward appearances, Dr. Zoe Chance looked fine. A professor at the Yale School of Management with a doctorate from Harvard, Chance's pedigree made what she revealed in front of a crowded TEDx audience all the more...

The Real Reason You’re Addicted to Your Phone

Nir's Note: I no longer agree with this article. It's been several years since it was written by Avi Itzkovitch and published to my site and I'm leaving it up for posterity. But after extensive research, I do not think it properly depicts "addiction." Please see my...

Our More Addictive World

Nir’s Note: A few weeks ago, I wrote a brief post summarizing some thoughts for a potential book chapter. I asked my readers for help and you delivered! The comments were fantastic and I received several insightful emails. Therefore, I've decided to continue with the...

This Will Be the Last Article You Read

If the Internet had a voice, I am fairly certain it would sound like the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  “Hello Nir,” it said to me in its low, monotone voice. “Glad to see you again.” “Internet, I just need a few quick things for an article I'm writing,” I’d...