Coping with Digital Distractions

It is no wonder many of us are finding it a challenge to create balance and focus on our daily activities. The digital device that enables us to work from home can draw us into compulsively checking the news, ultimately increasing our anxiety. The device that connects us to our loved ones can distract us when we are really trying to focus. In this digital age, the key question to ask is: “What do we want our day-to-day reality to be like?” The answer might be: 

  1. A productive working day where you are actually managing to get important things done rather than being pulled into email, social media or unnecessary meetings
  2. Being creative instead of mentally exhausted
  3. Being able to leave work behind at the end of the day and enjoy the things that nourish your mind

Healthy digital habits are a key part of achieving the things we want to do each day without being distracted. Including the following ten digital wellbeing tips in your work-from-home routine will help to create more balance and focus in your day: 

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.

  1. Phone wake-up time

Daily plans can often go off-track with a quick check of the news, Facebook, or ‘just one’ episode of Netflix. Before we know it, an hour has passed and we have less time for the things we had planned to do that day. To keep your daily structure, you can experiment with setting a “phone wake-up time”. This is sacred phone-free time in the morning which helps you start your day your way. Focus on important work or create quality time for yourself. Experience the sense of ease and calm that comes from that permission to put the phone aside and focus on your priorities at the start of the day. 

  1. Device-free focussed time

 To improve productivity, create a chunk of device-free focussed time in your day. During this time, turn off all notifications and allow yourself to focus just on the task in front of you. In between social media, email and instant messages we face a constant stream of distractions. We receive a huge number of emails, with McKinsey estimating that interaction workers spend an estimated 28% of the working week just managing emails (, or an average of 120 messages received every day ( If we are interrupted from a state of focus, it can take up to 23 minutes to get back into the same level of flow ( 

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.

Yet, on average we open our work emails 15 times a day (! This may align with expectations in customer service ( but it is highly detrimental for productivity for any other digital work. Reactively responding to groaning inboxes in this way increases stress and undermines our ability to get the work done. Carve out some focussed time in your day, even if it is just for one 90-minute chunk in the day. Book it into your calendar so you know you have it reserved and see if you benefit from getting more done in less time. 

  1. Phone off the desk

One easy way to reduce distractions is to keep your phone out of sight whilst you are trying to work. Studies have shown that the mere presence of a smartphone on your desk can reduce your brain power – even if it is face down (! 

  1. Pomodoro 

The Pomodoro technique is a famous productivity hack, which involves breaking your work down into intervals with short breaks in between.

25 minutes on… 5 minutes off

25 minutes on… 5 minutes off

You can use online Pomodoro timers or even 25-minute egg-timers to keep yourself on track. 

Alex says:

“I like to use the Pomodoro technique with a difference. In the five minute break I play an uplifting music track, stand up and move and then write down on a “done list” the things I’ve achieved. It’s a great motivator to see this “done list” grow throughout the week, focusing on positives rather than just the things l still need to do. I often finish the week surprised at the amount of things I would have forgotten to appreciate.”

  1. Schedule news and social media breaks

Separation anxiety from phones is so well researched that psychologists have identified it as a pathology called nomophobia, or non-mobile phobia ( This has negative impacts on everything from the ability to study to productivity at work. Many of us experience separation anxiety if we try to go without our phones for the whole working day. Therefore, schedule some social media breaks or digital breaks into your day! But plan them on your terms. You may choose not to use social media until after lunch. By doing this, you can relax whilst you work in the morning, safe in the knowledge that you will not miss out on vital updates, as it will be scheduled for later in the day.

  1. Notice the impact of your time online

When you check social media or look at the news, notice how it feels. How do you feel in your body? What emotions are being triggered? What is the reward that is driving your behaviour? As you bring mindful attention to your digital habits, you will be able to see more clearly if the reward that your brain is chasing is real, or is outweighed by negative effects. Does that extra late-night episode of Netflix feel as good as waking up rested and refreshed? Is the benefit of being constantly aware of the news worth the anxiety it triggers? By being mindful and curious about the feelings our behaviours trigger, we can reduce the power our habits have over us.

  1. Give yourself the gift of downtime

Our bodies and minds didn’t evolve to be ‘always on’ ( We need to prioritise downtime, especially in uncertain and stressful times, but we live in a 24-7 culture. We often use social media to relax, but the reality is that it exposes us to information and emotional content. Each digital notification we receive triggers our stress response. Build in a few screen-free breaks for downtime activities which truly nourish you, whether it is exercise, meditation, connecting with a friend or just going out for a walk.

  1. Digital sleep hygiene

Screen time is detrimental to sleep quality (, which is only likely to increase. Therefore, create your own digital sleep hygiene rules: 

  • Don’t use a phone or digital device within 90 minutes of bedtime
  • Keep the phone outside of the bedroom
  • Turn down screen brightness in the evenings
  • Put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ or silent in order to be free of notifications

Ultimately, sleep is invaluable for our mental and physical health. It boosts our immune system and enhances resilience. 

  1. Spend time offline

Try to take an offline break every 90 minutes, stretch your legs and get away from the desk. Without colleagues to suggest that cup of tea break, be sure to make working from home work for you. If you have an outside space, you could explore the practice of taking work calls in the garden or working outside with a pen and paper. Creativity and strategic thought will come easier when your brain isn’t locked into a screen. 

Alex says:

“Spending time in nature has been shown to both reduce our stress levels and increase creativity. If I find myself getting stuck on a project, I find it helpful to put on the walking boots and head out of the door for fifteen minutes. The time often pays off and I come back with a fresher perspective.” 

  1. Keep in mind the benefits of working from home

Finally, create a list of the enjoyable things that working from home enables you to do. If you start to feel frustrated or notice yourself working too much, look at the list. Make time to do one of these things. Reclaim your commute time for ‘me time’!

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