I won’t surprise anyone by saying that sometimes my phone is my worst enemy. Half the icons have notifications on them and some of those notification numbers are scarily high. Text, email, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook… most of us are pretty much in thrall to these - and many more - whether it’s for work or for leisure. We have to develop skills to manage the information coming at us so that we can deal with urgent situations, keep track of our loved ones and remain on top of everything else.
At this time of year we see a lot of lifestyle articles advocating digital detoxing and managing screen time but I can’t do that; I’ve got a husband, four children, employees and businesses to run. I don’t want to prevent information coming in, I just need to control the flow and focus. I need different things at different times too; sometimes I’m finalising an important piece of work, at others I’m mooching around waiting for inspiration to hit.
So how do we manage our ‘On’ time and our ‘Off’ time so that the information we need comes through when we want it, without being distracted by random other stuff?
Using email as a filing system can work well if you need to prioritise.You probably have a work and a personal email address and maybe a couple more but are you using them effectively?Any internet purchases should be made from an email address you don’t rely on for business, that way, all those follow-up and sales emails don’t overwhelm your main account.A research & ideas account or file can also be useful to direct emails you want to think about or take time to read properly.If it’s something you can’t or won’t deal with at once, just marking it as ‘unread’ means it gets forgotten so create a place where you can put messages that require time.
Whilst you may want to see how many notifications you’ve got, do you need to hear about them too?Sound notifications are distracting for everyone and have a dog-whilst effect; how many times have you checked your phone when someone on a TV show gets a text?The knowledge you’ve got a notification niggles away at the back of your mind until you quickly check.Let’s face it, it’s almost never urgent.Have a proper look at your settings and make decisions about whether you need banners, lock-screen or any other notifications.Do your emails get pushed or do you retrieve them?Do you Favourite certain contacts? You can have different settings for different accounts so make it work for you.
Work vs leisure or family vs friends, it’s worth considering what you see when you open your phone.A screen for work, a screen for social media, a screen for games – if you separate the distractions from the essentials, you can regain control.It’s very easy to think that the apps we use a lot ought to be on our home screen but the reality is quite the opposite.If you endlessly check Twitter or Instagram, you don’t need to be reminded to do so by having them right in front of you.Make yourself work to get at it and put all the distractions together so that you can deal with them all in one go.
It’s important to take responsibility for our own behaviour and that includes dealing with distractions.Sometimes we need a bit of downtime scrolling through social media, sometimes we have to focus.Put your phone into airplane mode or on silent, treat the times you need to focus like you’re at a meeting and remind yourself that those pings and bleeps can wait.
There are useful apps out there to help you manage screen time, if that’s your thing.If you like to make lists or look at statistics, get one of those. Or use a prioritising app to block or limit what comes in or place it elsewhere for later review.We can often find all sorts of useful information whilst delving into internet rabbit-holes but we don’t necessarily want to deal with it just at that moment – marking things up for a proper look when you have time can help you feel confident about putting your focus back onto whatever you were meant to be doing.