COVID-19 did what the best of businesses couldn’t. It put digital transformation in motion at a rate so rapid, it didn’t account for the time needed to settle in with the new order. And just like that, we took the leap of faith with technology for remote working, remote learning and remote doing. Over 5 weeks into lockdown (& counting!), it is leading to more digital distraction and unproductivity than ever – across businesses, geographies and generations!
Speaking of the latter, virtual learning for 1st
graders isn’t as great as it sounds in theory. First day of remote learning
through a virtual conference tool for my 6-year old looked something like this:
1.Arrange laptop for the kid. *Fight ensues between me and the hubby on who sacrifices ‘their’
2.After much coordination with other parents over phone and
WhatsApp, log in to the virtual classroom successfully.
3.Get your patience tested as children (read: parents) join the
classroom over the next 15-20 minutes!
4.Explain to your child that his teacher is inside the laptop(yes,
that’s the only way!) and this is his new classroom.
5.Train a young, curious mind to focus on the teacher while
avoiding distractions (like seeing his friends after almost 2 months!).
It’s crazy, to
say the least! But, sadly, it’s only the tip of the iceberg!
In the first of a series of ‘Growing Up Digital Australia’ reports, the Gonski Institute at the University of NSW has warned that ‘digital technology has become a growing distraction from learning and that students are less able to focus on educational tasks.’ Out of the 1876 teachers, principals and school support staff from Government, Catholic and Independent schools surveyed, a 59% decline was observed in students’ readiness to learn with 84% saying that digital technologies were a growing distraction in the learning environment.
The stats are
no different (or better) for adults!
animals, we evolved to switch attention instantly when we sense danger: the snapping twig that might signal an approaching
predator, the shadow that could indicate an enemy behind a tree. Our
goal-directed, or top-down, mental activities stand little chance against these
bottom-up forces of novelty and saliency — stimuli that are unexpected, sudden
or dramatic, or that evoke memories of important experiences. And tapping into
these bottom-up stimuli are our digital devices that draw our attention away from
our goals (read: distract), through buzzes, vibrations, flashes of light etc.
While we are
not new to the digital landscape, the sudden permeation of it all – in all
spheres of our lives – work (virtual
conferences, instant messengers for remote communication and collaboration, dependence
on Cloud for everything), play
(streaming services and social media), children
(virtual learning, YouTube and gaming), household
work (apps for groceries, veggies, dairy and other essentials) – is jarring
and throwing productivity out of gear.
Rescue Time, which provides time management advice and tools, noted that out of the 10 hours employees spend sitting at their screens each day, half of those are on chat messaging apps like Slack, Teams and Workplace. On an average, information workers spend 3 minutes on any single task before being interrupted or switching to another, according to a Microsoft study shared with Recode, which used wearable sensors and computer-tracking software. Multitaskers can experience a 40% decrease in productivity, according to Microsoft.
It’s a Digital Deluge, as per Psychology Today’s ‘Why Am I Stressed and Anxious All the Time?’. “There’s a stunning amount of messaging coming at us on an average day and we’re constantly consuming digital information. It’s actually cognitively overwhelming and people are confused”, it reads.
Adding to the digital overload is a sense of loss — of freedom, of loved ones and a lack of safety which is breeding fearful founders, stressed housewives, self-quarantined employees, and bored children by the truckload!
Labdhi Shah, Counselling Psychologist at Mind Route, says that we are currently caught in a loop of
“unproductive anxiety”. The absence of treatment, ambiguity, and too much
negative news are all fueling anxiety and stress, confusion and anger, all of
which are exacerbated by fear of infection, having limited access to supplies
of necessities, inadequate information or the experience of economic loss or
According to Ginger, 88% of workers reported experiencing moderate to extreme
stress over the past 4 to 6 weeks. Among those
reporting stress, 62% noted losing at
least 1 hour a day in productivity and 32% lost at least 2 hours a day due to
The most basic definition of workplace productivity is spending more time on the right work. Acknowledging that productivity will be hampered, because a significant amount of time and mind space are being devoted to keeping yourself and your loved ones safe, in communicating and coordinating with your team over tech-enabled communication channels vs. in-person, the amount of distractions – digital and physical – you will be battling through your workday, is the first step toward reclaiming your productivity. The second is to get our act together to stay safe and SANE with the below productivity hacks for addressing digital distraction.
1.Embrace Intermittent Digitizing
Fasting, an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and
fasting for weight loss, fat loss, and a reduction in the risk of some diseases,
is big in the fitness circles these days. But why just your food, you can put
your digital consumption on a diet too.
Take this one
step ahead with a no-phone zone. This forces you to put your phone physically
out of sight (and hence out of mind).
2.Allow for binge time
FOMO is real, which is why deprivation to a dopamine-producing activity will only lead to withdrawal symptoms. Instead, setting a designated time for binging your heart out on streaming services/social media gives you the joy while controlling the time spent mindlessly.
3.Delete that news app!
Not just is
that ping from every news distracting, during today’s pandemic times, it’s
distressing and demotivating as well. An unnecessary stressor we can easily
4.Change Notification settings
Do you really
need that notification informing you of your 1st-degree Connection’s activity
while you are trying to crank out a critical task at hand? Be it LinkedIn,
WhatsApp or mail, review all notifications and keep them to a minimum.
We spend a lot of time worrying about
our physical health, but we sometimes neglect our mind in the process. To
maintain good mental health, you can practice “emotional hygiene” by
being aware of your emotions, avoiding negative talk, practicing affirmations,
meditation etc. and reaching out for help, when needed.
going to mop the house or do the dishes”, asks my hubby in a voice loud
enough for the neighbors to enjoy the conversation.
will do the dishes while cooking”, I answer while typing out this blog
post, replying to a team mate’s IM and checking notification
LinkedIn – all at the same time.
Digital (and physical) distraction and
unproductivity – what’s that?!
that was’ is a monthly column covering the hot and the happening in the
eLearning, L&D and learning technology space presented in a light,
easy-to-digest format. While the aim of these posts is to keep the HR and the
Learning & Development fraternity abreast with the latest news and views,
it is a vent out for the author, Pranjalee Lahri, who deals with a
one-and-a-half men pair – her hubby and her 6-year old son – as she moonlights
as a wife and a mother.