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In the age of uber-connectivity, many of us are losing a fighting battle against the pull of technology. Americans check their phones up to 80 times per day, and nearly a third report feeling anxious when separated from it. This dependence leads to a lack of productivity which has been shown to affect everything from your sense of wellbeing to your results at the gym, leading us to ask: are we ready for a tech detox?

Though the office may be the obvious place where distraction can sap your work ethic, it’s not exclusive to the 9-to-5. A lack of productivity can affect one’s sleep and level of anxiety, both of which have been linked to health threats such as heart disease, obesity and mood disorders, making it a more serious issue than simply an unchecked agenda.

Reframing your priorities

Technology, specifically the smartphone, is a powerful time-waster and it’s easier than ever to fall victim to its allure. Though not classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), there are experts who champion that technology addiction be recognized as a mental disorder.

In response to this theory, some Silicon Valley companies are taking the threat of technology’s potentially addictive nature seriously and addressing it at the source. Earlier this year, Google announced it would be tackling the problem head-on with smartphone features that allow users to better track how much time they are losing to their screen. Other brands have followed a similar path. When Apple dropped the latest iOS update last September, for example, it had many customers reeling from the discovery of their reliance on tech, thanks to a new report that tracks what users are doing on their iPhone, and for how long.

These types of tools can be utilized to shift one’s overall focus back to important tasks, ultimately making it more difficult to succumb to the temptations of tech. As Michelle Clark, Ph.D.,Executive Vice President of Psychological Associates, explains, “I think most people underestimate the amount of time they have lost to the unproductive use of their phones and other screens and that most people feel like they are busier than they want to be which negatively impacts their sleep, their exercise and their time with their family.”

Staying Focused in the Gym 

Erratic focus, whether or not it is driven by demanding tech, can influence the results of your workouts, too. Though some studies have found little evidence that distraction negatively affects exercise performance, most trainers, as well as our experts, agree that exercising while texting or scrolling Instagram between sets cause you to put forth less effort than you would without the interference. A simple adjustment like setting your phone to “do not disturb” mode during your workout is a great way to keep your focus on the high-intensity intervals you are ploughing through.

So how else can we stay focused amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, whether it’s at work, with your family or in the gym? It may sound obvious, but quantitative objectives are the secret weapon of effective workers. Instead of saying, for example, that you’ll start to eat better this Monday, writing down the specifics -- what will you buy at the grocery store and what meals you will make -- is the best way to ensure that it will happen.

And research supports the belief that simple, mindful actions like creating and checking lists reap the most benefits for the time poor but goal-orientated. One study from psychologist Gail Matthews found that participants who wrote down their objectives were 33 percent more likely to reach their goals at the end of four weeks than those who simply pondered them.

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Honing it back in

One’s productivity also hinges on what a person does when they aren’t working. Just as you would when exercising at high intensities, rest and recovery is imperative in getting quality, results-driven work done during your time on the clock. Marks says that whether it’s shutting down your email in the hours following your workday or by taking that vacation time you are owed, carving out “me time” is an exercise itself in honing focus.

In the end, however, our experts argue you can’t study or practice your way to being a more productive human being. You must make purposeful changes in how you work, follow your new protocol -- and stick with it.

Fighting distraction

Need a starting point for staying on task? These tips from Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus, are for you.Enter your text here...

If it doesn’t impact your job, delete the email app from your phone or unlink it from your work email account.

Never attend a meeting without an agenda and insist that attendees stick to it.

Set your screen to grayscale using your phone’s settings to prevent visual cues from pulling your attention away.

Adjust the notification settings on your phone and in your social media accounts-- you don’t necessarily need to be reminded when someone comments on a photo of you.

Apple fans take note: iOS 12 allows you to set time limits for apps. Use this feature in conjunction with your screen time reports to restrict your access to the worst offenders.

Rachel Debling
Rachel Debling is a Canadian freelance writer with more than a decade of experience working in fitness, both as a personal trainer and as a writer and editor. A regular contributor to the pages of STRONG, her work has also appeared in reputable fitness titles including Oxygen Magazine and Inside Fitness Magazine.