Internet Distraction Subtraction.

Guest author Laura Zander is a book nerd on a perpetual quest to satiate her curiosity and observe the magic of juxtapositions. A veteran of the tech world, she's widely acknowledged as a product, marketing, and operations guru. You can follow her reading life at or @lz 

My phone has been acting strangely lately, frantically pushing notifications to me, almost desperate for attention. It senses I am pulling away from it and wants to lure me back. 

I’ve been a smartphone user for just over a year now. Yes, I’m a late bloomer, I resisted the siren call of everywhere internet access for many years. And I admit, the phone is irresistible, with beeps and vibrations and notification that something of import in the universe has just occurred, that perhaps I received more “likes” to a post or emails to my inbox or texts from friends wondering why they haven’t heard from me lately. 

(Warning: Proclamation Alert.) I’ve become too distracted so I’m cutting back. Just in the process of writing these few sentences, I saw the Facebook browser tab add a notification and I am futile to resist popping over to see what happened. While there, I notice someone’s post about Christmas, which leads me to browse over to Etsy where I hope to find presents for family. None of this is healthy. It’s especially problematic when spending time with people in person and everyone pays more attention to their phones than to those physically present. You will get much more respect if I never see your gadget during drinks or dinner. 

The issue remains: how to cut out the distractions and focus? We all know this deficit of attention is a real problem. My life has been broken into two-second increments. Sometimes I’ll forget what it is that I just left the table to do, and frantically look for the browser back button in my head to return to the previous thought. 

Here are the tricks I’m going to try. They probably sound trite and familiar, because they’re common sense.

Distance. My phone should not be the first thing I reach for in the morning when the alarm goes off. It can safely sit in the hall, twenty feet away from me, all night. 

Disconnect. Leave my phone at home when headed out for a walk. If I don’t have it, I’ll be unable to interrupt my reverie by noticing something that needs to be Instagrammed immediately. I can notice it and catalog it in the memory banks for later storytelling.

Pledge to focus. When working on a task, I will sign a mental promise that it is my main priority and I will not get distracted by going down a rabbit hole of search, Wikipedia, inbox browsing, or Pavlovian response to the Facebook tab.

Disable notifications or don’t have those tabs active. The world won’t blow up if I don’t have my mail open for a few hours. Facebook activity can wait significantly longer. 

Cluster time waste. Catch up on all the gossip at noon and 6p. The rest of the time is sacred for the here and now, the productive work you want to do. With time limits, you will find yourself forced to:

Cut back on the information diet you are consuming. Make a choice between tweets and RSS feeds and Facebook posts and Instagram. There may be 3% of value in what you’re currently consuming. Ditch the rest. 

Long term solution may be to get rid of social apps on my phone. Another option is to ditch the smartphone and revert back to a device that just calls and texts. If you want to get my attention, the best bet might be an old fashioned letter.

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