The Age of Distraction or Why I Use Aeroplane Mode on Land

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We live in an always on and always available age where the expectation is that you can contact anyone at anytime. This is a positive thing but it has some negative effects.

One of the most significant negative effects I believe, is the disruption caused by notifications popping up on your phone. Lest I sound like a luddite, I’m completely pro-social media, but it has a time and a place.

One of the places where this is most disruptive is during the work day. I enjoy being productive and I am always on the lookout for new ways or tools I can utilise to get more stuff done. This also includes removing unnecessary distractions and disruptions. My rationale for using Aeroplane Mode “on land” is quite simple. I simply want to take ownership of my time. I don’t want my attention to be stolen by the latest message/notification I have got.

An intermediate step is turning off/muting all your notifications. However this requires effort and being selective. While one can argue that you can turn off annoying notifications (and I do), there are always some that you may want to leave on, however getting them at the time of someone else’s choosing can be very disruptive. Thus I use a blanket approach. I simply turn on Aeroplane Mode when I don’t want to be disrupted. It’s easy and convenient.

One of the cornerstones of any productive time management technique is identifying what’s important & urgent and then executing that task, then moving onto the next task and so forth. If you get notifications intermittently throughout the day then this gives multiple opportunities to be distracted.

You then need to exercise discipline to not react to each disruption. This requires effort. Effort that can be better utilised focusing on productive activity.

Concentration is a form of currency and you can increase/decrease it. Levels of concentration are being eroded by the “always-on” culture we live in and I believe it is necessary to adopt a deliberate approach to combat this. If you are not managing your concentration levels and removing opportunities for distraction, then when you do need all of your focus, you simply won’t have that much left to draw down.

If it’s easy for you to check your phone, you probably will. Checking your phone is a form of mental snacking where you are get a regular hit of dopamine from your newsfeed on Facebook, latest pics on Instagram, WhatsApps, Snaps etc. While you might see a Whatsapp from a friend that you might want to respond to straight away, you could easily end up “just checking something” and 20 mins later, you are wondering where the time went.

Various sources state that the time taken to refocus on a particular task is somewhere between 15-25 minutes. It varies for each person and there is no general rule to apply other then to state that it’s non-trivial.

While I am on the topic of distractions, two of my other pet peeves are:

  • The ubiquitious pop up notification of a new email in MS Outlook. Turn. It. Off. You are wasting your time. Email should not require an instantaneous response. If someone sends an email and expects a near instantaneous response, they are using the wrong channel. I’m aware of various workplaces where this is the norm so there may be no avoiding it, but I still stand by this as a general statement.
  • Positioning your phone directly beside your monitor/laptop. You might as well stick it in the middle of your screen. Why not put somewhere where it is not dominating your attention? This practice coupled with notifications on is a recipe for almost no productivity.

In closing, I will acknowledge that this approach is not always suitable and there could be time critical situations where it is not suitable or instances which might lead to you feeling like you are missing out. However in my experience, this has not been an issue.

Go on, give it a try. Throw on Aeroplane Mode and notice the difference.