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How the Distraction Economy Impacts Employee Performance

It's not your fault really.

The great minds behind social networks, news sites, and the Great God of Smart Phone Apps know much more about human behavior than you may want to believe.

Workplaces all over the world have tried to come to grips with the introduction of the powerful "distraction economy" and the impact on employee performance for just over a decade now and it's fair to say we have a monumental problem on our hands.

According to the Udemy 2018 Workplace Distraction Report, "More than a third of millennials and Gen Z (36%) say they spend two hours or more checking their smartphones during the workday. That adds up to at least 10 hours every week when they’re doing something outside their job responsibilities. This behavior isn’t limited to junior workers either; overall, just under two-thirds of survey respondents (62%) spend about an hour per day looking at their phones."

The report suggests that now is the time to educate your employees on how to curb the behavioral response to distractions by pointing our how to manage what they truly value from technology. Perhaps ask that notification alarms be turned off during work hours. If there is an emergency, someone can call them. Yes, phones actually can take calls.

According to Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, the addictive behavior associated with smart phone notifications and social media also impacts morale and there is a strong argument that ties depression and anxiety to the improper use of technology as well.

As Cal Newport points out in a hopeful way, "Digital minimalists are all around us. They're the calm, happy people who can hold long conversations without furtive glances at their phones. They can get lost in a good book, a woodworking project, or a leisurely morning run. They can have fun with friends and family without the obsessive urge to document the experience. They stay informed about the news of the day, but don't feel overwhelmed by it. They don't experience "fear of missing out" because they already know which activities provide them meaning and satisfaction."

As a result of reading this book, I have taken Facebook and Twitter off of my phone and turned off notifications from Instagram, which I only have my family and close friends that I follow. Try it for 30 days and you'll see how nervous these behemoths of attention-grabbers become. I am bombarded with FOMO advertisements screaming that people miss me and suggested ways to hook me back up to their machine.

Technology is not inherently bad, it's the way we use it that we need to control. You don't need to be a programmer to figure out how to stop the distraction economy from taking over your life. Once you determine what you really value from technology, then you can control the way you consume it. Already we have tools such as Freedom, Sense, and the ironically-named AntiSocial app to manage the undeniable pull on our attention.

We do need a behavior shift, as Cal Newport recommends in his book, to come back to the benefits of live conversation and to realize that human brains have been wired to get emotional satisfaction and a myriad of high social behaviors and cues from interactive conversations.

Ultimately, this is a crises beyond the workplace and I imagine we will see a backlash movement whereby people want to regain their precious attention and live fuller lives over which they have control of their emotions.

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