Maintaining Focus Despite Digital Distractions

In this final chapter of the book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport offers tips on how to keep digital distractions at bay even after your digital declutter.

Delete Social Media from your Phone

Most people now have their phones with them at all times. You may even be reading this on your phone, else it is likely very near by. Social Media companies know this, so they pour all the most powerful, attention-stealing resources into the mobile versions of their apps.

If you delete the app and browse on the mobile site you even get notifications telling you there is a better experience on the app version, the app allows them more control over your experience and data. Once you’re in their world, they have control, that’s the real reason they care so much about you using the app.

If instead, you dedicate a specific time to use social media, like an old fashioned TV show (before we could pause, record or stream on demand) you can limit the effects that social media has on you. To do this you must delete the app, log out of the app on your browser and change the password to something bothersome to type in and remember, then hide the password somewhere inconvenient and only use the desktop version at the selected time.

This works on 3 levels:

Friction

It adds friction to the process. Having to log into a specific computer, type in an annoying password, finding where the password is written, all adds up to extra effort. This extra effort can overcome the quick urge to check your Facebook. Having overcome the initial urge, you can more easily do something else, breaking the habit.

Scheduled Use

Having a specific time when you tune in, trains your brain to associate that time with using social media and to avoid it the rest of the time, eventually, it stops being an option. You know you don’t check your social media now, because it’s not the scheduled time, so the urge goes away.

Fewer Forces to Resist

The version on your desktop browser has slightly fewer attention manipulating features making it easier to log out at quitting time.

Make Your Devices Single Purpose When You Need to Focus

If you use an app like Freedom, you can block certain apps at specific times, like when you need to focus at work. Having the apps blocked for you, removes the need for your willpower. Eventually, you will build focused habits and not need the app.

If you really can’t trust yourself consider giving the password to unlock the app to a trusted partner.

Use Social Media Like a Professional

You may not want to quit Facebook entirely if there is a particular group that has updates you really care about. Maybe your problem is the distracting newsfeed.

Instead you can log in at a specific time as above and only use it to check on the groups you care about, so you don’t lose total connection to the group, but you also don’t get sucked in wasting time on the other crap. You can even get a newsfeed removing extension on Chrome.

This will allow you to use social media on your terms, so you still get the high-value parts and can ignore distractions.

Embrace Slow Media

Avoid “breaking news” on sites like Twitter where you get trickles of information from unreliable news sources, drowning in misinformation and memes. Getting strangers’ hot takes on issues doesn’t inform you, their opinions aren’t held to any standards.

Instead subscribe to publications or authors whose work you respect and trust, like a favoured publication or blogger. They will likely have thought the news through and journalists from good publications care about getting the truth.

Dumb Down Your Smartphone

You could replace your smartphone with a flip phone or call forward to a flip phone for periods where you need no distractions, but still need calls. This is a tad extreme and I haven’t tried it. I also do get distracted by my phone, so maybe I’m missing out.

To find out more buy the book or see my other summaries.

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