Why your phone is distracting you (even if you ignore it)

One of the biggest challenges for anybody these days, whether you’re a freelancer or working in traditional employment, is simply staying focussed on the work that you need to get done.

We all know that switching tasks to answer a message or email whenever your phone buzzes is probably not ideal, but you may not realise quite how damaging this constant switching is.

Every time our focus is broken and we switch tasks – often simply because the developers of an app have decided to push out an advert, or a WhatsApp group is buzzing with something irrelevant – there is a cost to our bank of mental energy.

Whenever we switch tasks, we need to spend a bit of extra mental energy and time to refocus and get back to the state of concentration that we were in previously.

Now you might be thinking that doesn’t apply to me – when my phone beeps I ignore it until I have time to check it.

The only issue is that according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and summarised in Nir Eyal’s book Indistractable, we suffer just as much from simply being close to our phone.

That’s right, even if we don’t consciously respond to the notification, we’re wasting precious mental energy.

The study found that, “receiving a cell phone notification but not replying to it was just as distracting as responding to a message or call.”

Just having your phone close by is distracting you by keeping your mind on edge, unable to let go and enter the state of creative focus that you need to do your best work.

Of course the problem is that, as freelancers, many of us have to be ready to take calls and emails from clients on projects, so simply turning it off isn’t necessarily a viable option.

With that in mind, here are four quick steps you can take to fight back.

Why your phone is distracting you

Four ways to stop your phone distracting you

1. Put it in the other room

Flatlay photo of green iPhone placed on top of white sheets on bed

While you might not be able to turn it off or put it on Airplane mode for long periods, another option is to simply put your phone in exile, a long way out of reach – ideally in a different room.

This adds friction to absent-mindedly picking it up out of habit. We’re so used to having our phones on hand at the slightest hint of boredom, that we often pick them up without even thinking about it.

So when you need to focus, just put it out of reach. This ludicrously simple step can hugely reduce the negative effect your phone has on your concentration.

It also has the added benefit of encouraging you to get up out of your seat every half hour or so to check it – which health practitioners recommend anyway!

2. Filter who can disturb you

Closeup of phone set on airplane mode and silent mode

Putting your phone in the other room doesn’t necessarily solve the problem if you do need to be able to respond to notifications in real-time, however.

This is where you can look into setting up filters to make sure that your phone only lets you know about important messages.

IPhones, for example, have built in ‘Focus’ modes which allow you to set what is deemed important enough to disturb your focus.

You can add certain numbers to a list. Only these special numbers are allowed to notify you. Everything else, however, can be tuned out while the mode is activated.

So you can add your clients and anyone else who you would like to be able to respond to immediately, and filter out everyone else until later.

3. Edit your notifications

Image of a phone placed on top of wooden table with app notifications on screen

Another option – which is really worth five minutes of your time anyway – is diving into your settings and looking at which apps have the permission to notify you.

You’ll probably find loads of weird apps are able to disturb you whenever they choose to.

From takeaways to taxi companies and games you’ve long forgotten, it’s best to spend five minutes turning these off (or uninstalling them) so they can’t interrupt you and grab your attention when you need it most.

4. Download a distraction app like Forest

Forest app to help you fight phone distractions

If you need to have your phone next to you while working, blocker apps like Forest can be a great solution.

These apps help you focus on your work by keeping you off the phone.

When you open the app, you set a timer on how long you want to ‘lock’ your phone away – it can be anywhere from 10 to 120 minutes in one go. While the timer is ticking away, you are ‘planting a tree’ in your digital forest. If you try to use phone while the timer is still on, the tree will die.

What’s even bigger motivation to not ‘kill’ you tree is the fact that by planting your digital trees, you are contributing to planting real trees in Africa.

There is free and paid version of the app.

If you like this article, you might like these as well:

How to Stop Procrastinating Once and For All
Getting Into the Air ā€“ A Simple Principle to Help Your Productivity Levels Soar
Introducing the Compass Method ā€“ A Productivity and Goal Setting System Specifically Designed for Freelancers

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Until next time,

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