In many cities, distracted driving is now the leading cause of both accidents and deaths on the road. It has taken over the number one spot previously held by “drinking and driving.”
It never used to be like this. We were once solely focused on our driving. We didn’t even contemplate reaching for our mobile device because there wasn’t one to reach for. We’d focus on the road but equally so we would allow our minds to wander, to dream. Have we become so distracted by push notifications that we are willing to risk our lives — and the lives of others — to see who it is that has made contact with us? Frightening does not begin to describe the inanity of this sort of rationale. And what of the dreaming while driving? Discarded for the next attractive notification.
Very recently I was in a meeting with a senior level executive. It was just the two of us. Twenty minutes into the meeting their mobile phone made a piercing dinging sound. Nearby dogs started howling. In mid-sentence they looked left, found the device, fingerprinted the home button and read a text message. It was read out loud seemingly forgetting I was 36 inches away. “Maybe you should send Hannah that file she is waiting for,” I said with an ironic twist. Our meeting flow had been interrupted. It never recovered either.
There are countless other examples that highlight society’s latest sociopathic tendency. Ultimately many of us have become addicted to the dopamine hit of push notifications and it is impacting our ability to think. Pavlov’s bell rings and we unknowingly salivate.
We salivate because someone or something has reached out to us. Someone or something has tagged us in social media. Someone or something has indicated we are important, more important than whatever it was we happened to be doing at that moment in time. Importance now trumps integrity. We used to have integrity for what we were doing in the moment be it driving, the meeting, the dinner date.
Now the importance of importance is what’s most important.
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, indicates the more we allow ourselves to be distracted by things like push notifications the more likely we are to unintentionally rewire our brain and neural patterns. We end up needing the next dopamine hit to function thus we become fixated on the next push notification. Inevitably this creates the distractedness negatively impacting our thinking. Newport writes, “Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.” Of course it is “deep work” that helps us solve the toughest problems at work.
Leaders need both the time and white space to think. If every morsel of time is occupied not only are poor decisions made, new ideas are never born. If we allocate time to dream and decide yet we sabotage it by attending to the inevitable stream of push notifications, the downstream adverse side effects will inexorably rise. Furthermore, if leaders are in fact leading a team of people, imagine how it feels to employees when in the middle of a meeting the leader hears Pavlov’s bell ring (their mobile phone) and instantly attends to it. If you want a recipe for exacerbating employee disengagement this is as good a place to start as any.
What to do? Dedicate the time necessary to perform a single action. Try as best as is possible to throw yourself fully into the completion of one task at a time. It behooves you to find ways in which to commit yourself to concentrated levels of effort. Whether by blocking off time on your calendar or by retraining your mind not to fall into the trap of succumbing to distractedness, you owe it to yourself to be an anti-multitasking individual who does not allow push notifications to rule your behavior. If you are a leader of people, be present for your team members, always.
If you can self-regulate, in effect you can take stock of a given situation and change your behavior and respond accordingly. You have it in you to take proactive measures to cut off any distractions such as push notifications. This is a sign of true leadership. You are there for your people. Most importantly you are there for yourself.
Over the next several months in this space I will be discussing a term I call “Open Thinking” specific to my next book, OPEN to THINK. It is a return to thinking that is equal parts creative, critical and applied. I have discovered that Open Thinking can impact the way we lead, the way we operate as well as affecting our sense of purpose.
It’s time to take back your thinking. One step to take is to analyze your push notification habits.