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Last Updated on January 29, 2021

How to Learn Effectively in the Age of Digital Distraction

How to Learn Effectively in the Age of Digital Distraction

One of the inevitabilities of modern life is that we are more accessible. The days when someone had to geographically find you first when they need to contact you urgently are long gone. Now, no matter where you are in the world, they can contact you via your mobile phone number, email address, or social media accounts. These cause what we call “digital distractions.”

In so many ways, this is a wonderful advancement of technology. Why would you not want to be available for your friends and family when they need you? And wouldn’t you want to know of an impending crisis at work as soon as it starts to happen?

Unfortunately, being available to everyone 24/7 can also be a huge drain on your ability to get on with the things you have identified as being important to you, such as learning and education.

In this fast-changing world, staying on top of the latest developments in your industry, being able to adopt new skills, and learning new technology need time, and time is one resource we all struggle to find more of.

These demands for our time from our friends, colleagues, bosses, and customers eat into our precious twenty-four hours each day and take a toll on our energy levels, leaving us feeling exhausted at the end of the day—not the best condition to be in when you want to learn.

So, what can you do to minimize these digital distractions and increase your focus?

Below are some tips and tricks that have worked for me and have helped me to keep up with the latest developments in education, communication, and productivity while minimizing digital distractions.

1. Learn at Your Best Time of the Day

This is the starting point for anyone who wants to embark on a study program, whether a formal college course or an online course to learn a new skill. What do I mean by “your best time”?

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It is easy for us to say to ourselves, “Tomorrow, I’m going to start learning Japanese.” We decide that when we get home after work, we will sit down for an hour and begin.

Unfortunately, most of us will find when we do get home at the end of the day, our willpower has diminished, and we just don’t have the energy to start today. So, we say we will start tomorrow. And the cycle repeats.

What’s Happening?

Your willpower is letting you down. Studies have shown that our willpower has a limit, and as the day goes by, we use up more and more of our willpower.

Making decisions about what to eat (and not eat) for lunch, telling yourself you won’t have that extra cup of coffee in the afternoon, saying “no” to a friend who wants to have dinner tonight (you can’t because you are going to study Japanese)—all these things add up throughout the day, and they deplete your willpower.

Finally, when you do get home, and the appointed hour for your Japanese study arrives, you just cannot do it. You’re exhausted, and you just want to finish watching this last episode of The Crown on Netflix. And the cycle again repeats.

To avoid this, understand the best time to do your learning is in the morning when you have the most reserves of willpower. At this time, you will find resisting all distractions much easier.

Whether you think you are a morning or a night person, the truth is your brain will always be at its best first thing in the morning.[1] It is when you are at your most creative, most focused, and have the highest reserves of willpower.

This does not mean you must wake up at 5 AM to do your studying. What it means is if you want to get the most out of your hour of learning, the best time to do it is soon after you wake up. So, if you wake up at 8:00 AM, try and do your studying between 8:30 AM and 9:30 AM.

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If you have to be at your workplace by 9:00 AM, consider using your commute time to study. You can always listen to podcasts, online courses, and the like on your mobile phone. The key is to use a certain amount of time in the morning for the bulk of your studying.

2. Turn on “Do Not Disturb” When You Study

You knew this one was coming, didn’t you? It’s common sense. If you want to get the most out of your study time and pay attention, you must reduce distractions—full stop—and that means turning off your digital distractions on mobile devices.

I do my reading late at night. I like to wind down the day with thirty minutes or so of reading. I use the Kindle app on an iPad Mini, and that iPad is dedicated to reading only. I have all notifications turned off, I have no social media on the digital device, and the only apps I have are apps associated with reading and my notes app, so I can grab quotes and ideas as I am reading.

I also use this iPad for learning. This means I can listen to an audio learning program and take notes simultaneously. Because all notifications are off, I don’t get disturbed and focus completely on what I am learning.

3. Change Your FOMO Mind

One societal issue in today’s world is FOMO—the fear of missing out—and that causes us to always feel the need to be “connected.” FOMO is one of the main causes of digital distractions. You must prevent this from creeping into your study time[2].

Tips for Minimizing FOMO

    You can do this by checking your messages and email before you start your study period. You need to get it off your mind and not be worrying about what may be lurking inside your inbox. Before you start, do an email and messages check. It will give you peace of mind knowing the world outside is not descending into chaos and that everything will be okay for the next hour.

    Note that I did not say “reply to your emails”—you only need to do a check. I know this is counter to many of the arguments about checking email and messages first thing in the morning, but the problem is if you do not do it, you will be distracted by worrying about what is in there.

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    Put your mind at rest and deal with it before you start. Nine times out of ten there will be no emergencies.

    “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday” –Bas Luhrmann

    4. Tell Others That You Will Not Be Available

    You do not have to be available 24/7, and everyone can wait an hour or so for you to get back to them.

    I have tested this ad nauseam and never once has anyone ever complained because it took me an hour to get back to them—including my wife! The reality is, you are not as important as you think you are.

    When you tell people what you are doing and that you are not available, people will respect your time. This has been tested with clients, bosses, family members, and friends. No one has ever said to me “you must be available for my messages, calls, and emails every minute of the day,” and if they ever did, I would be questioning why they are in my life at all.

    Imagine you had to go to the dentist for an emergency to take care of an unbearable toothache. As you are in the dentist’s chair with the suction tube and drill in your mouth, your most important client called. Would you answer the phone? Of course not!

    Treat your study time the same way—no calls, messages, or anything else that will detract you from your purpose of learning.

    5. Turn Your “Should Do” Into a “Must Do”

    We all have things we “should do” and, invariably, it’s our “should-dos” that never get done when we run into digital distraction —“I should exercise,” “I should lose weight,” “I should clean out my closet,” “I should call my parents,” etc.

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    All these “shoulds” pile up and never get done because they are not priorities. “Should-dos” have no urgency attached to them, so they fall to the bottom of the pile of things we want to do.

    If you want to free yourself from distractions so you can spend time learning, then your learning needs to become a “must do”—“I must study today.” When you change a “should” to a “must,” it becomes a priority.

    The trick with this is to plan the day ahead. We all have things we need to do each day, but not all of those things are priorities. Many of them are things that we would like to get done today. Before you close out the day, give yourself a few minutes to look at your calendar and to-do list and flag one or two things you must do tomorrow.

    Doing this the day before prepares your mind for the day ahead. You begin each day knowing exactly what you must do, and you are much more likely to focus our attention on those one or two items. Make sure your learning is one of those you have assigned a flag to, and make it happen.

    A good way to do this is to use your calendar for your priorities and your to-do list for your non-priorities. When you use your calendar for these, you are allocating time for them. When you have allocated time, you reduce your excuses, and they are much more likely to happen.

    Key Takeaways

    Remember to allocate your study time to the mornings. Your brain is at its best, and you will find concentrating much easier. Second, turn off all notifications while you are in your study time. Don’t worry, the world is not going to end while you learn.

    Tell your friends, colleagues, bosses, and clients that you are not available during your study time. And lastly, block time off on your calendar and make it a must, not a should.

    If you have a hard time getting focused and avoiding digital distractions, remember these tips, and you’ll notice improvement.

    More Tips on How to Avoid Digital Distraction

    Featured photo credit: Maxim Ilyahov via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Carl Pullein

    Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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    Published on May 3, 2021

    What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

    What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

    How often have you had the experience of needing to make tough decisions that pull you in different directions? You go round and round in circles and, in the end, you either flip a coin or make a snap decision because you’re just too tired to think anymore. Or maybe, you simply put off reaching a decision indefinitely, which is sometimes easier than making a tough call.

    Can you relate to this currently? If so, then you’re likely suffering from decision fatigue. Poor decisions are made not because of incapability but because arriving at one or more choices takes its toll—to the extent that it severely weakens our mental energy.

    Now that we know what decision fatigue is, let’s explore the primary ways to combat it to enable a stronger mental state coupled with better decision-making.

    1. Identify and Make the Most Important Decisions First

    If you have a busy personal or work life where many tricky decisions are on the table every day, this can easily and quickly become overwhelming. In this instance, create mental space by initially laying out all situations and challenges requiring a decision. Use a basic software tool or write them down on paper—a notepad file or word document is sufficient.

    Once you have your complete list, carefully pick out the most important items needing a conclusion sooner rather than later. Be mindful of the fact that you can’t treat everything as urgent or requiring immediate attention. There have to be some things that are more important than others!

    Prioritize and Declare the Appropriate Options

    Equipped with your most pressing items awaiting decisions, add another layer of scrutiny by prioritizing them even further. The result should allow you to identify, in order, your most urgent and important tasks without any conflicting priorities.

    The last part of this exercise is to highlight all of the options to consider for your most important decision and work through them one by one. With the visual representation of options and most critical decisions out the way first, you’ll be able to think more clearly and prevent decision fatigue from subtly kicking in.

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    2. Implement Daily Routines to Automate Less Important Decisions

    “Shall I have a healthy lunch today?” “Should I wake up earlier tomorrow?” “What time should I prepare dinner tonight?”

    As trivial as these questions appear to be, each one still requires a decision. Stack them on top of other straightforward everyday questions in addition to more significant ones, and things can start to add up unpleasantly.

    Small or less important decisions can eat away at your time and productivity. When many other decisions need to be made in parallel, it can lead to decision fatigue. However, there’s a method to avoid this. It involves streamlining aspects of your life by automating repetitive decisions, and this drives the ability to make better decisions overall.[1]

    It’s Your Routine—Control It to Create Time for Other Activities

    Instead of having to decide multiple times per week if you should have a healthy lunch, create a daily routine sufficiently ahead of time by dictating what healthy food you’ll eat for lunch every day. In doing so, you’re putting that particular decision on autopilot. Your predefined routine commits you to a decision immediately and without hesitation.

    Invest time into highlighting all of the trivial and recurring situations requiring decisions daily, then implement a collective routine that relieves the need for you to give them much thought (if any thought at all).

    3. Put a Time Limit on Every Decision

    Making complex or big decisions increases the risk of draining your energy. This is especially true if you struggle with the fear of making the wrong decision. The doubt and worry bouncing around inside continuously are enough for the majority of people to become fed up and exhausted.

    To make good decisions, you need to be in the right position to act. A tactic to deploy is to essentially force yourself to act by setting a time limit on your decision-making process. What might seem a little daunting—given that it can create a sense of added pressure—actually provides clarity on when you need to conclude since you can see the end in sight.

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    Grow in Confidence by Reducing Hesitation

    After making the decision, it’s time to move on. You’ll feel good and build self-confidence knowing that you didn’t linger on the choices available.

    Only consider revisiting a previous decision if something unexpected occurs that impacts it. If that’s the case, then follow the same process by ensuring you make the revised decision before a new deadline.

    4. Seek Input From Other People—Don’t Decide Alone

    There’s a time and place to make decisions alone, but sometimes, it’s appropriate to involve others. If there’s any degree of struggle in reaching a verdict, then seeking opinions from people in your network can lessen the mental burden of indecisiveness.

    Do you feel comfortable seeking input from other people to help make decisions? Trust and feeling secure in your relationships are crucial to answer “yes” to this question.

    Explore the Thoughts of Others and Gain a Different Perspective

    An insecure business leader likely won’t trust their team(s) to help them make decisions. On the other hand, an assured and secure business leader realizes they don’t “know it all.” Instead of going solo on all work-related decisions, they install trust among their team and get the support required to arrive at the best possible decisions.

    The ability to make a great decision can depend on the information related to it that’s at your disposal. When faced with a difficult choice, don’t be afraid to lean on the relevant people for help. They can offer valid alternatives that are otherwise easy to overlook or hold the key to you making a well-informed decision.

    5. Simplify and Lower the Number of Available Options

    You’re standing in the store, facing an aisle of more than 20 varieties of peanut butter. You have no idea which one to choose, and although there are subtle differences, they all look fairly similar. No doubt you’ve been in this situation at least once in the past (maybe with a substitute for peanut butter!).

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    This is a classic example of having too many choices—an event that makes you prone to decide to do nothing or waste time by continually pondering on which product to buy.

    According to the psychological concept known as choice overload, simply having too many options can be disruptive and overburdening, causing decision fatigue.[2] Using the example above, you might make the easiest choice of avoiding any further thought, which often results in the purchase of the wrong item.

    Extract Meaningful Information and Evaluate Options With a Binary Outcome

    To simplify and lower your range of options, leverage the information available and extract what’s most important for you to make a decision. Is it the price? The protein content? Whether it has sustainable packaging or a combination of multiple details?

    Keep a tight lid on having too many important components. Prioritize if necessary, and implement a binary outcome (of “yes” or “no” / “true” or “false”) to help arrive at decisions earlier, such as defining a limited price range that the product must fall within.

    6. Eliminate Unnecessary Distractions

    Arguably, attention is the currency of the modern world. The ability to concentrate better than the next person can mean the difference between a successful student, a thriving business, a happy parent, and a great decision-maker.

    So, how can you improve your attention span to make better choices and avoid decision fatigue? There are many strategies, and one of the most optimal ways is to eliminate distractions. Today, the easiest distractions are a result of technology and the devices running it—all of which are at your fingertips 24/7.

    Create Extended Periods of Time to Increase Focus

    These distractions might be small or large, but the broader issue is the frequency of them, and they repeatedly cause a break in your focus. Dealing with this while trying to make the right decision can be mentally debilitating.

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    Technology distractions commonly relate to email, instant messages, push notifications from mobile apps, and scrolling through social media feeds. Access to all of these technologies and tools must be limited to scheduled time blocks (ideally, using a calendar if it’s during a working day).

    Switch off notifications entirely to all of the above to prevent distractions (where possible) when it’s not time to look at them. This enables you to think more deeply and focus for prolonged periods of time, ultimately boosting the chances of making good decisions.

    Final Thoughts

    Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon that can deplete energy levels and increase stress. It can affect anyone who has to make decisions, whether they are minor or major ones.

    Overcoming decision fatigue needs patience and dedication. By applying the best practices discussed in this article, you’ll be on the path to implement valuable changes. These changes will increase your productivity, as well as drastically improve your consistency and ability to make the right choices.

    More About Decision Fatigue

    Featured photo credit: Jake Melara via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] FlexRule: Decision Automation
    [2] Behavioral Economics: Choice Overload

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