The Distraction Trap

By Claire Harmer

This week I wanted to share some insights from a book I read recently: ‘The Distraction Trap: How to Focus in a Digital World’ by Frances Booth. This post follows on from the last one I wrote on time management for translators.

In The Distraction Trap, Booth looks at how demanding email, smartphones, social media and the Internet can be and to what extent they distract us: ‘Digital distraction means that our behaviour has suddenly changed. We’re damaging our relationships and literally rewiring our brains. We are convinced that we can do 10 things at once – it all seems so high-speed. But the reality is that we’re failing to get anything done. We’re constantly overwhelmed and never have time… we are losing the ability to pay meaningful attention to anyone or anything.’

I should mention that this post is not meant to discourage people from using social media, email, the Internet etc. (far from it!), rather to encourage us to be mindful of how much time we spend ‘plugged in’. After all, couldn’t we all benefit from more ‘unplugged’ time? I must admit that I often find myself feeling ‘wired’ and as though there is a background buzz (caused by my smartphone bleeping and pinging, perhaps?!). I hope that Booth’s tips will help if anyone else feels the same.

The author talks about the importance of deciding how long you will stay ‘distracted’ for once you’ve lost focus. She suggests that you should try to stick to the time you set so you don’t spend half an hour browsing the Internet when you’re trying to work, for example. Being distracted by something online for 5 minutes might be fine, and perhaps a much-needed interruption. In non-digital terms this is a bit like going to make a cup of tea: something to break the work cycle and refresh your mind, but not tempt you into spending ages on the net (suddenly you’re looking up the average temperature in Greece in July and it’s October… oops!)

What I found particularly interesting in Booth’s book was her description of some of the things we are losing through digital distraction:

  • Reading

Do you ever find it difficult to really immerse yourself in a book? Research shows that we are so used to analysing text, clicking on links, scanning information etc. that we find it hard to read deeply and in an engaged way, without distraction. I read a really interesting article about this yesterday. Take a look:

  • Solitude

Sitting with our thoughts and being alone can provide us with ‘creative space, new thoughts, and a sense of calm’.

  • Memory

Not being engaged in ‘the moment’ (due to digital distractions) means that we only process what is actually happening at surface level. In addition to stopping us from making memories, we forget facts, dates etc. Have you heard of the Google effect?

  • Sleep

Using the computer or other light-emitting devices before bedtime can stop the body from making and releasing melatonin, which helps the body to prepare for sleep properly.

  • Journeying

Next time you take the train somewhere have a look at how many people are on their phones/computers/tablets…‘what about the world going by outside?’ Booth asks.

  • Creativity

Blogger and author Leo Balbuta argues that creating is a completely separate process from consuming and communicating – he believes that the two things can’t be done simultaneously. Perhaps translating could be seen as a form of ‘creating’?

  • Learning

Learning new things is hard work! Surely you have more chance of absorbing the information when you’re not distracted?

  • Relationships

Bringing your phone to the dinner table, not switching your phone off when you’re having some much-needed family time, etc.

So, how do we regain these things?

By creating a strategy for managing emails and your mobile devices. I’ve recently adopted the Inbox Zero approach, where you aim to keep your inbox empty or almost empty all of the time. We explored a few more strategies in time management for translators.

  • Taking regular breaks and doing something you enjoy every day, preferably something that also recharges your batteries and helps you to switch off from everything else. Perhaps yoga or mindfulness? Booth mentions that putting these activities into your diary and making them part of your weekly routine might make you less likely to skip them.
  • Sometimes, the constant stream of information can leave you feeling tired and overwhelmed. If you are planning on going on holiday, consider making it a ‘digital-free’ one, i.e. no computer, tablet or email and (if possible) no phone. At the very least, you’ll feel refreshed when you return to work and it will encourage you to make the most of your time off, rather than spending it staring at a screen! These holidays are becoming increasingly popular and more structured ones are sometimes referred to as ‘tech cleanses’ or ‘digital detoxes’. Have any readers ever been one of these?
  • Having a bit of ‘unplugged time’ everyday
  • Getting back to nature and out of an urban environment, to restore attention (Booth even talks about something called ‘Attention Restoration Theory’ – which I didn’t even know existed!).

It would be great to hear your thoughts on ‘digital distractions’ and what you do to keep these at bay!


3 thoughts on “The Distraction Trap

    • The Deep End says:

      Thanks for your comment Marga:). I’ve recently done the same while on holiday, probably the first time since I went freelance, actually! I noticed a huge difference and now try to ‘switch off’ for most holidays.


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