It isn’t Technology Creating all the Distractions. It’s us.

It would be easy to make technology our enemy and blame it for all of the distractions that keep us from getting things done. 

Nice try, but this is an age-old problem that’s on us, not on the technology that surrounds us.

Screaming about distractions and the lack of productivity didn’t help them in ancient Rome, either.


For me, I’m hooked on the “deep work” concept these days, blocking certain parts of my day when I’m ONLY going to do one thing at a time, like writing this blog post. No distractions but a dedicated effort to “eat the elephant” and accomplish what’s most important today … and each day.

I’m not going to wonder what’s happened in my email inbox or in my social media accounts since the last time I checked.

ACTION ITEM: Something that works well for me is to turn off all notifications. Instead, establish and follow a strict schedule to check your email and social media accounts 3-4 times/day, less if possible. Otherwise, ignore them. They will be there when you’re ready. Remember: Your inbox is someone else’s to do list FOR YOU. Use your own.

In fact, I’m closing down e-mail right now. I’m ignoring all of my social media connections, putting on a little Norman Brown and Ahmad Jamal jazz in the background, a fresh cup of Philz’ Jacob’s Wonderbar dark roast coffee. Life is good … isn’t it?

If I could only focus ….

Oh, if it were only that simple, and I could keep blocking out all those pesky little distractions.

Think how much you’d actually get done if you were focused on getting things done instead of operating with the attention span of a mosquito, bopping from one e-mail message to …

  • another text message
  • another call,
  • another email,
  • a tweet,
  • poke,
  • alert,
  • update ….

Remember the last time you WEREN’T interrupted?

When was the last time you completed anything without a single interruption?

Maybe you got through a phone call without someone stopping by your desk or knocking on your office door, but if you were reading a document, or preparing one, have you ever finished without distractions? Even during a pandemic when people can’t stop by your desk, the interruptions continue … without interruption!

Are you taking stuff home at night so you can finally get some quiet time to read, write, think?

Of course, you have to wait until the kids are in bed, and by then you’re pretty drained after a long day — “I guess I can get into the office early tomorrow and get a head start.” And so the cycle continues.

Did Hamlet really have a Blackberry?

Sound familiar?

It sure was to Bill Powers, who a few years ago published Hamlet’s Blackberry, a thoughtful and provocative look at the bombardment of inputs attacking our craniums every day and our inability to find any quiet headroom.

I was already prepared to point out that the nagging distractions — the archenemy of productivity — are hardly a new phenomenon.

I was going to point to some old news about a 1970s movement I clearly recall that promoted a “quiet hour,” during an era when the principal distractions were people hanging from your door frame, the usual phone calls and the “connectivity” of a new-fangled intercom system.

The latest gimmick then was to hang a bright red stop sign on our office door, announcing that a certain hour that day would be interruption free. You might be able to break the rule if there was blood on the floor but, otherwise … not.

The flood of technology is just an excuse

That’s not old news to Bill Powers, because he ventures back to Plato in ancient Greece and the philosopher Seneca in ancient Rome and their encounter with the “technology” of the day: document overflow.

Powers recounts Seneca’s stress. As the Roman empire expanded, they were inundated with documents of all types and became obsessed with checking on the latest boat arrival to see what else required their attention.

Powers traces confrontations with encroaching “technologies” through Shakespeare as well as Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, who believed that as peoples’ inward lives failed, they were regularly, and more desperately, going to the post office to check their mail.

We’ve found the enemy … and it’s us!

Today, the incessant flood is fueled by the e-mail tsunami, the social media hydra, blinking icons and action dashboards.

Technology has become the new enemy, enhancing our ability to communicate across the globe with speed and equanimity, while tethering us to a steady barrage of inviting distractions.

Ignore for a moment the distractions … and consider what it is doing to our brains. Check out Is Google Making us Stupid? to dig deeper into this insidious phenomenon. This article has been around a while, but the phrase has always stuck with me, and sadly, it’s more true now than when it was written.

Technology is NOT the mother of this invention

But, technology is not the mother of this invention.

Maybe it’s too revealing to acknowledge that we can’t stay focused and seem powerless to stop the latest wave of technology.

Maybe it’s too painful to consider that we may be simply dissatisfied with what we’re doing at the moment and are unwittingly searching for something more interesting.

Or, maybe we lack the self-discipline to police ourselves.

It’s just easier to be swept along by the current, grabbing a passing tree limb on occasion, but mostly, tugging at the nits and gnats of our daily lives without control or perspective on what best serves our objectives.

Can you really tell the difference between home and work?

This saga is endlessly repeated every single day in my conversations with CEOs and senior executives and replicated throughout their organizations.

There is no longer a bright line between home and work life because an infinite palette of barely differentiated colors obscures it.

The so-called work/life balance is disrupted by a 24/7 connectivity that’s both empowering and debilitating. It’s a thin line between freedom and slavery.

What’s going on here?

What do you think is going on?

Even if we are getting more done, at what price?

Why do we feel always “on” and unable to think clearly for even a moment before we admit the latest intruder?

Until you draw down on this dragon, you’ll struggle with productivity. You may be resilient enough to resist its incessant pounding and stay standing. But, my guess is that it wears you out, too, as you wonder if there really is an end in sight.

What can we do about it?

Question: What are your experiences with the deluge of distractions? Have you found something that works for you? Share your thoughts by visiting our Facebook Page or @Exkalibur on Twitter. Let’s figure this out together.

In the meantime, we’ll keep whacking away at this productivity thing. We’ll win a few battles along the way, too, as we share specific steps and tools to tame this monster and restore some sanity to our productivity and work/life harmony.

Stay tuned ….

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