How long can you stay focused on something without being distracted? When I started writing my first book, I discovered I was not able to sit still for more than 15 minutes without digital distractions.
My brain was living a digital life of its own, having fun on social media and making me check the mailbox for the 10th time in an hour in spite of my best intentions. This clearly wasn't getting anywhere. I had to take back control over my productivity, as I previously did when I gave my smartphone.
This time felt much harder though. It's far easier to ignore something when you don't see it (like a phone), but how do you stay productive, if you need your tech for work, but it offers so much fun outside of it? Here are three things that helped me master it:
The early bird
I learned that the way I started my morning totally determined my day. Doing the most important thing first made the biggest difference. If I had enough energy for work and my eyes didn't hurt from the previous night, I would sit down to computer straight after breakfast, and work on the book until lunch without checking anything online.
Completing this one important thing in the morning gave me an incredible energy boost to do other things, and a deep satisfaction by myself even before lunch. On the other hand, if I tried tackling small things like sorting out emails first "for the peace of mind", I ended up frustrated and not really having enough concentration to do the big thing afterwards.
If I didn't feel energized enough to do the work, instead of chaining myself to computer (something I've done for years as "everyone is working!") and procrastinating, I would just go for a walk and come back to laptop fresh.
Willpower doesn't work
Being honest about what I can or can't do on a particular day also helped me stop relying on my willpower to control digital habits. Psychologists say our willpower is a limited resource, which we deplete throughout the day as we take all sorts of decisions. Small decisions like "should I click on the link" or "should I reply to this email" deplete your willpower as much as life-changing decisions.
I had to recognize that I am just not disciplined enough to "only check something quick on Facebook".
So the best way not to procrastinate was not to go there until important work was not finished. At the end of the day, the best engineering minds of the century are busy figuring out how to keep us longer on the website. This is how the industry makes money: the longer you stay online, the more ads they show you, and the more likely you are to buy something.
My only way to stay productive was either to disable wifi or to work from a café that didn't have any internet connection, or to use blocking apps if I needed internet for something. Not physically having access to connectivity seemed to give to brain permission to concentrate better, as if it said "ok, I can't have my internet fix - fine, let's get some work done then". The same was valid for my phone - when I kept it off, as opposed to on silent, I managed to be more focused.
Work less, do more
Most importantly, I allowed myself to work for a limited number of hours. Tech blurred the boundaries between work and private life, and we feel as if work never finished. This leads to us never feeling really accomplished, never satisfied with the outcome of our work, and increasingly stressed.
I decided to follow the example of a Japanese app developer Non Umemoto, who works for only 3 hours every day. It made me prioritize, what to do in those three hours. Initially it felt very frustrating, as I constantly thought I could have done much more, but slowly I noticed how my brain is learning to focus.
My biggest lesson from this journey is that honesty to myself and listening to my own internal rhythms in spite of what others think how I should work is the best way to fight digital procrastination.
PS to be the first one to get Anastasia's book on how technology is triggering us to do things we won't normally do, and how to resist that, sign up for newsletters on her website, www.consciously-digital.com.Suggest a correction