Isn’t technology fantastic? We have so many devices, programs and tools to help us become more efficient workers. We have a seemingly infinite bank of knowledge at our fingertips, and in a matter of seconds, we can connect with almost anyone in the world.
It all sounds so perfect when you describe it like that, but unfortunately, technology has some powerful downsides to go along with its benefits. It's responsible, for example, for chronic distraction in professional environments, even at the entrepreneurial/leadership level, and if you don’t take corrective action against those tendencies and behaviors, they could easily interfere with your ability to perform.
But, where do you draw the line? How can you tell if you have a major problem with technological distraction, or if it’s nothing to worry about?
Problems with distraction
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest problems that chronic distraction can cause. In extreme cases, fixation with technology can be considered an addiction, but this is rare. Instead, it’s more likely that you’ll exhibit the following signs and symptoms of overuse of technology:
- Inattention to team members. Think about the last time you held a company meeting. Did you, at any point, lose track of the conversation because you were going through emails on your phone? How often do you interrupt a conversation so you can respond to a text or answer a phone call? It’s less likely that you’ll do this to clients, but if you do it to team members, that’s bad enough: They may suffer a loss in morale, and you’ll both end up wasting time because you won’t get to your mutual goals as quickly.
- Scattered focus and multitasking. Technology makes it incredibly easy to multitask -- that is, it provides the illusion of multitasking effectively. Do you have two monitors full of open applications, with a smartphone in your hand? You’re not actually getting more done this way. By splitting your attention, you’re actually compromising your ability to effectively handle both tasks.
- Lost productivity. Don’t forget: The sheer quantity of available technological applications means it’s easier to waste time on things that aren’t worth your attention. Checking your email for the hundredth time takes only a minute, but over the course of the day, all those checks could sap your working hours.
How to tell you have a problem
Most of us have experienced these problems at one point or another, and as standalone incidents, they aren’t a big deal. So, how can you tell if you actually have a problem?
These symptoms can tell you:
- You're never away from a device. Most of us have a smartphone on us at all times, but is yours constantly open and in your hand? Think about how much time you spend away from a screen -- if it’s zero, you may have a problem.
- You always have many tabs and applications open. At any given point of your workday, how many tabs and apps are open? If you’re focusing on one thing at a time, this number should be in the single digits. If your screen is a chaotic cluster of half-forgotten tasks, that could mean you have a major distraction problem.
- You check newsfeeds frequently. How often do you check your social media newsfeeds? Daily? Hourly? There’s not much reason to check in more than once or twice a day, so if you find yourself stuck in loops of constant scrolling, it’s time to take a step back.
- You feel like you've worked hard, but haven't gotten much done. At the end of the day, how much do you feel that you have accomplished? Does the answer seem disproportionately low, compared to the effort you exerted? If so, you probably aren’t spending your time efficiently, which often points back to a technological distraction problem.
What to do
Does this sound like you? Here are the first steps you need to take to correct the issue:
- Set time limits. Checking your newsfeed? Don’t spend more than five minutes doing it. Gearing up to complete a report to send your team? Don’t give yourself more than an hour to complete it. Setting time limits keeps you on task and helps remind you what your goals are.
- Use distraction-busters. If you want a more automated way to keep yourself from getting distracted, consider using an add-on like StayFocusd to control your browsing activity and prevent you from getting off course.
- Segment your technology use. Don’t bounce back and forth between your apps, such as constantly going back to check your email. Set established periods for things like communication, heads-down work, collaboration and research. The more you compartmentalize your tasks, the less likely they’ll bleed into each other.
- When engaging in person, eliminate all technology. If you’re talking to another person, talk to another person. Put your phone and laptop away. Even if you’re on the phone, close down everything else and really listen to what the other person has to say. There’s a reason you aren’t just emailing.
Recognizing that you have a problem with overusing or chronically getting distracted by technology is the first step to solving the problem. It’s a dilemma most entrepreneurs face to some degree, by sheer virtue of the demands placed on them.
Desperation to keep up and maximize productivity ironically may prevent you from doing what needs to be done. But if you follow these strategies and work actively to control your reliance on technology, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a healthy balance.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.