How One CEO is Combatting Digital Distractions
Why I’m choosing to be less connected in 2022.
Twice a day—three times if I’m lucky—I reach a blissful state of focus. I shut off all notifications and settle into 25 minutes of uninterrupted work. All that matters is the challenge in front of me and my effort to solve it. My body relaxes, my mind calms, and I realize a sense of achievement from following through on a deliverable I’ve prioritized.
But these moments of focus don’t happen by accident. The sanctuary created to allow this level of deep work has to be carefully manufactured. It requires timeboxing my calendar and intentionally shutting off the army of alerts from my connected devices.
As the CEO of a social marketing platform, I understand the digital tools that keep us communicating are essential—12 million people used Slack daily in 2020, while Zoom now has a market value of $88 billion. But left unmanaged, they harm not only our workplace productivity but our mental health. One study reported remote workers are interrupted every six minutes. Similarly, the average executive receives 46 smartphone notifications a day and touches their phone 2,617 times. Is it any wonder why two-thirds of the work-from-home workforce experience some form of burnout?
As we approach the new year and our second pandemic winter, here are three steps I’ll be taking to combat digital distractions.
Set Up Rules For Disengagement
When the majority of our time was spent in the office, speaking to a coworker came with a cost to the initiator. It involved gauging if the person you wanted to engage was busy, or in a receptive mood.
Since we’ve moved primarily to digital communication, these barriers have all but been removed. The onus is now on the receiver to manage the influx of inbound communication. And I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. While filtering through a barrage of messages will likely remain a modern work-skill necessity, it’s important to build in rules for the sender too.
It’s so easy to send a message to someone, but when we do, we’re effectively triggering a stress response in the sympathetic nervous system — not exactly a nice thing to do to a colleague. Before sending a message, I think we could all benefit from some basic filters: Can I get this information without disturbing my colleague? When is the optimal time to send this message?
Not all communication is strictly transactional. A big part of staying engaged at work comes through social chatter, which often needs to be done virtually. That being said, being intentional about when and how to engage can have a direct impact on the well-being of you and your colleagues.
Respect Virtual Boundaries
Many leaders advocate for opting out of meetings or keeping the guest list tight. The same principle can apply to chat tools, too. Just because you’re invited to a Slack channel, doesn’t mean you need to be there. If you can, opt-out.
Similarly, how we use our phones can determine what kind of workday we have, to some degree. When we check our social channels and succumb to digital distractions throughout the day (as the addictive algorithms tempt us to do), we carry both positive and negative emotions into our work. This can be a heavy mental distraction and the fluctuations in endorphins can weigh on our mental health.
I’m a big proponent of creating hard boundaries for virtual distractions. I never look at my phone first thing in the morning and don’t check social media until 5 p.m. Not only does that get me up and moving, it frees up my brain to focus on the tasks at hand.
Align Your Physical Energy and Space
Though we’re talking about digital distractions, how we set up our physical space is also a factor. When I really need to focus, I put on instrumental music, close all my window tabs and physically clear my tabletop. Notifications are turned off, and my phone stays on silent, face-down on the desk.
Just as decluttering your physical space sets the tone for focus, energizing your body can also help clear your mind. I’ve gotten into the habit of walking meetings. On the move with someone’s voice in my ear, I’m totally focused. Inspired by Wim Hoff, I’ve also taken to starting each morning with a cold shower — not easy, but just two minutes gives me hours of focused energy afterwards. Not a bad ratio.
It’s not an exaggeration to say, when left unchecked, over-messaging is ruining our mental health. Luckily, we can take the best of the digital communication age and make it work for us, not against us. Here’s to a focused, fulfilling work-life in 2022 — whether you’re at home, the office, or somewhere in between.