Surviving the Distraction Epidemic

Make a decision that your health and well-being are your single most important asset, and begin living your life to protect it. Take a personal stand that this is not the way you want to live, and this is not the behavior you want to role model for your children. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
01/16/2015 11:04 am ET Updated Mar 18, 2015

Stop into any office in corporate America and you'll be sure to notice the frenzied, hurried, chaotic pace of most employees. Phones are ringing; email and text alerts are sounding, faxes are coming in and out, and computers are humming.

If you think this is just going on in the brick and mortar buildings of big companies, take a look at the entrepreneur doing business from his or her home office. Chances are the same activities are happening. Add to that the whirling of the washing machine from the load that just got thrown in, the dog barking and the gardener knocking on the door who wants your attention for a minute.

Even when you leave the office, there's no escaping the distractions. Bluetooth conversations continue whiling driving in the car, text messages divert your attention from dinner cooking on the stove, and the noise from your kid's video game is deafening.

Where in the world can you go for some peace and quiet and escape? Chances are it's into the online world of surfing the web, checking Facebook posts, or playing Candy Crusher. We desperately need a break from all the noise, and most choose the anesthesia of technology.

Technology is a wonderful thing when it's used to our advantage. But when we abuse it, which sadly, most of us do, it's detrimental. Technology allowed us to be accessible 24/7, which severely challenges our life-work balance. It also is a source of constant interruption whenever we are trying to get something accomplished. It has left us feeling like there are just not enough hours in the day to get it all done. The result -- a society of exhausted, overwhelmed, overweight, out of shape, and burnt out individuals.

In an attempt to survive, we master the art of multitasking and time management. And, we cut back on our sleep in an effort to cross one more thing off the never ending "to-do" list. The solution creates more harm than good.

It is becoming more and more apparent that this way of living is seriously impacting not just our happiness, but our health and brains as well! There has been an explosion of research and information from the laboratories of neuroscience, thanks to the brain imaging technology that is now available. Yes, technology that is teaching us that if we don't put boundaries on our personal technology, our brains will suffer, and it is detrimental to our health.

Brain research does not support that multitasking is an advantage. For the brain to function optimally, it needs its full beam of attention on one activity at a time. As a matter of fact, the more we multitask, the higher the propensity for error and the greater the drop in efficiency. Ever send off the wrong email to the wrong person, and then waste time and energy profusely apologizing? Or need to rewash a load of wet laundry that is now stinky cause it's been in the machine for three days?

Same goes for sleep deprivation. Even a single night of skimping on the body's required seven to eight hours has shown a marked decrease in reaction time, analytical thinking and focus. Fatigue causes an increase in irritability and moodiness, and the propensity to react emotionally rather than logically.

Skimping on sleep can also affect your health and brain in more ways than you can imagine. Chronically sleep-deprived individuals tend to exhibit bad lifestyle habits -- reliance on caffeine and sugar, skipping exercise, increased alcohol and cigarette consumption. Chronic sleep deprivation can put you at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and obesity.

As for time management, it sounds good in theory. However, no matter how skilled you are, if you run out of energy and crash, you won't be able to apply all those time management skills you perfected.

So how can we all survive this distraction epidemic? Make a decision that your health and well-being are your single most important asset, and begin living your life to protect it. Take a personal stand that this is not the way you want to live, and this is not the behavior you want to role model for your children. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

1. Make sleep a priority in your life rather than an afterthought. Shut down all technology at least one hour before bedtime, and keep your cell phone and devices out of your bedroom.

2. Create boundaries around technology use. Keep cell phones away from the dining room table, or in your bag while in restaurants. Stop texting, emailing and talking on the phone while driving. You will not only enjoy the quiet break, but you may just save your or another person's life!

3. Stop multitasking the things that are important. That includes your relationships. Focus on one task and one person at a time.

4. Create specific times during the day to work on important tasks. Remove all distractions and retrain your brain to focus on one thing at a time.

5. Prioritize self-care. It is essential, not a luxury. Food is fuel, so fuel yourself with healthy, nourishing selections. Schedule exercise and stick to it. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking water and non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day.

Take the time out to enjoy your life, rest and rejuvenate. You will come back to all your work refreshed and alert, with a brain that is no longer impacted by all the distractions. You are back in control!