Digital Distraction Is Making Us More Unproductive Than Ever

I was recently interviewed on 2GB breakfast radio by Steve Price about the growing problem of digital distraction for Australians. I’ve received a lot of questions since the interview, so I have written this blog to expand on the topic and provide you with information on what you can do about it.

What is digital distraction?

Our phones, desktops, laptops, tablets and smartwatches, are stealing our attention and our self-control. We are continually scrolling, messaging, refreshing and liking - digital distraction is everywhere. On average, we check our phones every 15 minutes. This behaviour of never switching off our electronic devices is not only having a major impact on our mental health but also the economy as it causes us to become less and less productive.

Why are we so drawn to digital devices?

  • FOMO - fear of missing out. We feel like we always need to know what is going on and what everyone else is doing.
  • FOBO - fear of being offline. A lot of anxiety can be caused by just the thought of turning off our devices or leaving them behind while we go out.

  • Nomophobia - fear of being out of mobile phone contact.

  • Worry about receiving new information after everyone else, responding too slowly to a text or an e-mail, or being late to comment on or like a social media post

  • Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment or send an invitation online, it releases dopamine in our brain.

This leads to compulsive checking of electronic devices, disrupted sleep and increased procrastination. Procrastination is something everyone experiences but the extent to which we procrastinate is exacerbated by technology. Mobile phones act as a vehicle for procrastination - when we’re tempted to procrastinate, diversions are only a click away and temptations are abundant with notifications of new emails, messages and likes! Procrastination is, in turn, a contributing factor to anxiety.

It’s a growing problem

In my work at the Sydney Anxiety Clinic, I am seeing cases every day of anxiety caused by digital distraction in adults, adolescents and children. Today I am focussing on the impact that digital distraction has on the workplace. This is what I am seeing in my work through Mind Strength Coaching and Consulting, where I work with individuals, teams and organisations to build skills and strategies to achieve success, resilience and satisfaction professionally and personally. Digital distraction is having a major impact on productivity in the workplace and causing an increase in stress and anxiety.

The impact on productivity at work

  • We are more distracted than ever. Studies show that workers typically attend to a task for about three minutes before switching to something else (usually an electronic communication).
  • Research from Stanford University has shown that people who juggle several streams of content do not pay attention, memorise, or manage their tasks as well as those who focus on one thing at a time.
  • Doing two things well at the same time is possible only when at least one task is automatic. So, yes, you can walk and drink water simultaneously. But productive multi-tasking doesn’t mean we can check emails while on a conference call or look at your Facebook feed and trying to do meaningful work.
  • Researchers have demonstrated that the mere presence of a phone makes people less productive and less trusting.
  • We waste time, attention, and energy on relatively unimportant information and interactions, staying busy but producing little of value.
  • We’re so connected to our devices that 1 in 5 people take the phone to the bathroom!!

Getting the balance right

The answer to this growing problem is not to simply get rid of our digital devices. We know that technology is here to stay. What we need to do is balance how we use our digital devices so that it is doesn’t have a negative impact on our work or lives.

Control your tech rather than letting it control you

Role model desired behaviours

In meetings, put your phone and laptop away. When you’re talking to people at work, put your phone down so that you can give that person your full attention.

Wean yourself off

Allow yourself to check all modes of e-communication, but then shut everything down and silence your phone. Set an alarm for 15 minutes, and when it rings give yourself one minute for a tech check-in. Repeat this process until you are comfortable increasing your offline time to an hour or several hours.

Take a break

Research by Nathaniel Kleitman established that our brains work in 90-minute rest-activity cycles not only when we sleep but also when we’re awake. So schedule your work so that you can take a recharging break every hour and a half, especially if you’re multitasking with technology. Take a 10 minute walk, refill your water bottle or stretch.

Be productive and start today with a small digital detox - even if it’s 15 minutes.

To listen to the full interview with Steve Price on Radio 2GB, go to

Dr Jodie LowingerComment