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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Distraction is dysfunction

If you want to be a game-changer, then you have to make time for original thinking.

Distraction is dysfunction
[Source photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels, Reza Azmy/Behance]
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We are living in a world of constant interruptions. Think about how many times you are disturbed during the course of a typical hour at work. Your phone rings. Someone sends you a text message. You get an alert from a social media app or someone drops you an instant message. It’s incessant.

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Today, people are expected to be on call 24/7 regardless of their job, not because it involves life or death but due to constant accessibility. After all, everyone knows that nobody ever goes anywhere without their phone. So if you call or message someone, you know they are likely aware that you are trying to get their attention.

The constant barrage of tweets, posts, messages, and alerts isn’t just bad for our mental health. It can also lead to tremendous dysfunction in our business life and stymie creativity and revolutionary thinking because there is no quiet time to reflect.

Original thoughts and new ideas emanate, percolate, and rise to the surface during the times we allow our minds to go places they have never been. Those thoughts can get squelched if you spend your time continually scrolling through social media feeds, refreshing your email, mindlessly watching TikTok videos, or on any one of a number of other things that people do on their phones.

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Those continuous hours wasted each day eliminate quiet time for reflection and contemplation, making distraction a form of dysfunction that harms your productivity and derails progress that could benefit the organization.

Innovations are emerging on a scale and at a pace that we have never witnessed. But if you want to be a game-changer, then you have to make time for original thinking. There are several strategies that you can employ to start the process of making a change for the better:

1. Draw out a detailed plan for your day and stick to it. Include not just your work activities but also time with your family and friends and dedicated time for physical exercise.

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2. Start your day with the most significant and complex project. Rather than putting off the hardest work until you are already physically and mentally drained and have spent the day reacting to unforeseen developments, prioritize one thing that will truly move the needle in your business or life.

3. Turn off all notifications during blocks of focused time. Let your team know that you are unavailable except for true emergencies. Silence all notifications, and consider putting your phone in airplane mode or in another room so that you can work free from distractions.

Unfortunately, many people feel like it is unproductive to have moments when their time is not filled. But far too often, that otherwise open time is spent buried in smartphone scrolling. The next time you arrive early for a meeting, question how best to use the time rather than automatically pulling out your phone. Would you be better served by chatting with others while you wait?

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When we take steps to break the powerful grip our devices have on us, it frees our minds to uncover new possibilities and perspectives. Personally, some of my most powerful insights have emerged from quiet contemplation in unconventional places when I wasn’t engaged with my phone: at the beach where the glare of the sun made it impossible to read the screen; in the shower; on a run without music.

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” The same is true for business. But making breakthroughs possible requires shutting out the noise and distraction so dysfunction can’t set in.

Consider the possibilities that exist beyond that device in your hand. Put it away, and step out of the virtual world to focus on being present in the real one. True inspiration is just a quiet moment away.

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Evan Nierman is founder and CEO of Red Banyan, an international crisis PR and strategic communications agency.