How to Free Yourself from Digital Distraction (Starting Now)

April 25, 2019 7 min read

Jeremy Boudinet

Jeremy Boudinet

Digital Distraction: Feature Image

We recently hosted author and speaker Brian Solis on Nextiva’s Crowdcast. Brian is also the author of Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life.
Brian spent an hour chatting with our host Gaetano DiNardi about how digital devices and information overload affect our mental health. They also then jump into how you can manage screen time to improve work performance.
While the benefits are indisputable, we have, as a society, become so digitally distracted that we don’t pay attention to our:

  • Decreasing focus
  • Sapping creativity
  • Increasing anxiety
  • Deteriorating interpersonal relationships

Gaetano DiNardi and Brian also share critical insights from Brian’s new book on how digital technology contributes to the distracted mind.

What You’ll Learn

Uconvering Digital Distraction

Gaetano DiNardi: Welcome back to yet another fantastic Nextiva webinar today. I don’t even know if this guest needs a proper introduction. He is phenomenal in every way. The one and only Brian Solis. Welcome, Brian, to the Crowdcast. Awesome to have you.
Brian, these are all these problems that we’re facing with digital distraction. We get into this digital hamster wheel of “Check your”:

  • Email
  • Text messages
  • Voicemails
  • Project management tool
  • CRM

Before you know it, you’ve spent an hour and a half on social media or on your cell phone. You’ve got nothing done, and now you have more messages at the top of that cycle.
You can either go back to the top of the hamster wheel or figure out how to break the chains of digital distraction.

Introducing Lifescaling

Brian Solis: I’m going to walk you through what living on this digital hamster wheel looks and feels like.
A part of it is to build awareness and the other part is to work together. We have to go on a journey where we give ourselves a new sense of purpose. And, a new vision for taking control. Not eliminating the use of technology, but managing it in a way that works for us and others.
This is a movement that I call “Lifescaling.”
The reason it’s important is we were given access to tools, platforms, and mobile devices that no one prepared us for. We were left to fend for ourselves.
You’re going to go to bed looking at your cell phone and waking up looking at it. It’s the same routine until you manage how much time you spend on your phone or iPad.
Related: 25 Working from Home Tips to Slam-Dunk Tasks [2019 Update]

Digital Distraction Vs. Fear of Missing Out

Brian Solis: What I found out the hard way, is that life and happiness are part of the same journey. Be in the moment and don’t focus on what’s on your device. Happiness already exists. It’s already within you.
At some point when I was writing, what would have been my eighth book, I hit a wall. I didn’t necessarily know why I couldn’t get past the proposal stage. All I knew was that I needed to get that book out.
So it took everything I had to be able to focus on what I felt I needed to get to the bottom of, which was, “Why couldn’t I:”

  • Get that proposal done?
  • Think the way I used to?
  • Focus or concentrate for the time like I used to?
  • Ignite my imagination and creativity on demand?

And I started asking questions like, “When did:”

  • We get so busy?
  • Looking at our mobile devices become the norm?
  • Breathing or thinking become so difficult?
  • Screen time become such a responsibility?
  • I start to feel like I need you to know that I see everything that you’re doing?
  • Anxiety just take over?

The hard part was just recognizing that we’re living life anxious, more self-interested, less patient, and definitely more stressed. But we do nothing about it.

The Science Behind Digital Distraction

Brian Solis: Attention is currency. The more you pay attention, the more they monetize it. This is true for every single platform that we use.
If you think about how you use digital today, you’re essentially rewiring your brain and your body.
On average, we receive about 200 notifications per day. It’s teaching your brain to be ready to be distracted, to speed up. The chemicals in your body make you feel like you’re in control, but those same chemicals make you feel stress and anxiety.
The chart below, for example, shows you push notification data from 671 million pushes. It’s clear that we respond to pushes throughout the day!

Screenshot of push notification data from Leanplum

They’re also fooling you into believing that you’re in demand, that you’re top of mind. This is what keeps your fear of missing out away.

Understanding variable intermittent rewards

Gaetano DiNardi: I saw a behind the scenes of how Facebook’s user experience designers think about the platform. One analogy that came out of the discussion was they wanted to build it similar to how gaming machines work in casinos.
Brian Solis: It’s called variable intermittent rewards. It gives you the sensation that, when you don’t get a notification, you’re losing out.

Screenshot of a graph showing Variable Intermittent Rewards
Source: The Guardian

These are techniques that aren’t just used in gambling, it’s also used in psychological warfare. It’s also used in spreading fake news. Every platform you use is changing your behavior.

How Digital Distraction Affects Relationships

Brian Solis: We are turning conversations into moments. Stripping away the depth and critical thinking — tearing away empathy.
Think about the fact that a lot of these platforms are polarizing relationships. It’s getting harder to disconnect, especially for young people.
Gaetano DiNardi: Some older members of my family are new to Facebook. Whenever something comes along in their feed that they don’t agree with, they block it out. They aren’t able to see the other point of view.
It becomes a very toxic cycle. You’re not able to see that polarity because of the way that the algorithm is kind of shaping your digital experience.

You think you’re living your best life. Are you?

Brian Solis: We tend to surround ourselves with people who validate the thinking that we already have. They reinforce the fact that you’re right. But you can’t think critically.
The reality is, productivity, happiness, and creativity are all interlinked. You are not living your best life, even though you give the appearance that you are.
The biggest direct link of all of this stuff is dwindling imagination and thinking critically and just creativity in general.

The Perils of Multitasking

Brian Solis: Every single aspect of distraction isn’t just about social media or your alerts. It’s also how you live life.
Think about how many tabs you have open on your browser at any given point. That’s a symbol of not being able to make decisions and close out projects. You may feel like you’re managing them all together, but you’re not.
In fact, 95% business professionals say they multitask during meetings.

Stats showing digital distraction at the workplace
Source: Prezi

Every time you reach for that mobile device, it takes you over 23 minutes to get back into the zone. This affects the quality and the caliber of your work.
Gaetano DiNardi: To a degree, you’ve got to blame society’s false glorification of multitasking.
Brian Solis: Call it the cult of busy or the glorification of hustle. The busier you are, the more important it seems.
Give yourself the means to pursue what a satisfying and fulfilling life could be. I think the pursuit of meaning is what matters.
Creativity is something we could use more of, especially in the digital age. It’s really starting to show signs that creativity and the arts are what machines can’t duplicate.
Don’t worry about disruption; worry about mediocrity. When you multitask, it gives us a semblance of being creative.

How to Prevent/Overcome Digital Distraction

Brian Solis: Without creativity, there would be no innovation. Every aspect of how we work and think are actually preventing us from being innovative.
The direct path to happiness is actually through creativity. It’s time to reacquaint yourself with the artist formerly known as You because you were creative.
Brian Solis: Every night you go to sleep, you replenish those chemicals and nutrients that you use up. This is why sleep is so important, it literally gives you a new day with new potential.
Try to think about your day in ways where you can get the deeper work done and distraction-free. Do this in the beginning, and save your afternoon for the creative and deep work.
The more great work that you do, the more special you are. Everybody can’t be special if they’re doing what everybody else is doing, right?
There are techniques that you can build. The Pomodoro timer? You to focus for 25-minute bursts, distraction-free, and then you take a five-minute break.

It all comes down to how you perceive tasks

Brian Solis: As I was writing the book, I found this quote from Mohammed Ali that I felt was worth sharing.
He said that he convinced himself that he can’t quit. Ali envisioned why he was doing those things and to live the rest of his life as a champion.
Solving the problem is not about simple time management or productivity tools or hacks. It’s actually changing how you perceive the task.
This is about becoming more exceptional, creative, and happier. The more you know who you are, the more you can become that ideal you. Not that aspirational selfie that we commonly communicate with.
You weren’t put on this planet to validate your existence through the false validation of strangers.
It’s actually just believing in yourself and that is the true aspiration. Then we can break free from the shackles of distraction and this digital hamster wheel.

More About Brian Solis

Brian Solis is one of the world’s leading digital anthropologists who have been called “one of the greatest digital analysts of our time.”
As if he hasn’t made enough of a name for himself, Brian is also a world-renowned keynote speaker and an award-winning author of seven best-selling books including: X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, What’s the Future of Business, The End of Business as Usual and his new book Lifescale: How to live a more Creative, Productive and Happy Life.

Jeremy Boudinet


Jeremy Boudinet

Jeremy Boudinet was a senior brand manager at Nextiva, co-president at AA-ISP Phoenix, and a published writer for Time, Entrepreneur, Inc, The Daily Muse, and PopSugar. Today, he heads up growth for Ubiquitous, an influencer marketing agency. He has been giving the people what they want since '86. Connect with him to…

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