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  • Maria Hvorostovsky

Why Digital Interruptions are Worse for Your IQ than Marijuana

Updated: Dec 21, 2018

Checking your phone, iPad and computer every 12 minutes? Playing constant catch-up with emails, phone calls, Instagram and Facebook? Yes, us too.


But at what cost? For those of us who find our concentration compromised, here are 7 ways to fight back…


Always Checking


In August 2018 the UK’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom, reported that, on average, people check their smartphones every 12 minutes when they’re awake - with 71% saying they never turn their phone off (guilty as charged) and 40% saying they check them within 5 minutes of waking.

Sound familiar?


The Cost

But what’s the cost of being permanently “switched on”? Research carried out by Dr Glenn Wilson showed that constant email and phone interruptions at work can actually lower your IQ by 10 points (smoking marijuana led to just a 4 point reduction in IQ).

With more than half of us responding to an email as soon as it lands in our inbox and 21% of us admitting we’d interrupt a meeting to take a call or respond to an email, it’s not hard to see why this results in poor concentration and productivity.


Ways to Improve Concentration


Here are 8 tried and tested ways to improve your concentration:


1. Just 5 more minutes?

To increase concentration practice doing just 5 more minutes of whatever it is you’re currently doing to extend your focus before starting your next task or activity.


2. Mindfulness and meditation

Be mindful and meditate if necessary to learn how to consciously separate yourself from distraction and “switch off”.


3. And breathe…

Thought you knew how to breathe? Think again. Apparently most of us tend to over-breathe, taking a few quick short breathes in the upper part of our lungs rather than deep, slow, oxygen replenishing breathes which help us re-focus and re-energise.


4. Count backwards

Thought your kid’s maths homework was hard? Try this. Count backwards in sevens from 1,000 (I know, it sounds ridiculous…). It requires persistence and some serious concentration but for those who can stick at it for long enough it apparently clears the mind of other thoughts and helps improve focus.


5. Exercise

Exercise is great for so many reasons but it’s worth a mention here because engaging the brain with the body for an extended period of time in order to exercise requires, and develops, concentration.


6. Sleep

Remove screens and blue light from your bedroom, be disciplined about switching off devices an hour before you sleep and get enough hours of the good stuff. Nothing is more effective at improving concentration than a good night’s sleep.


7. Reading (for pleasure!)

Remember that? The temptation with digital books and news content is always to skim read and jump to the next thing. Try reading a hard copy book just for fun, forcing yourself to focus on a single activity for a given period of time.



We Live in a Digital Age: Deal with it


Some might argue that in a digital age such as ours it’s unfair to be continually down on technology users. Is it not right that with such quick and easy transfer of information we adapt our ways of being and become more responsive?


But with a staggering increase in burn-out and the detrimental effect of continuous digital interruptions on mental health and personal relationships, concentration isn’t the only apparent casualty from being permanently connected.


However, whether we like it or not, it increasingly hard to “switch off”. And for those of us who are expected to work 24/7 it’s easier said than done not to answer that call, that email…

Interestingly enough, in France, Macron’s party at one point tried to inspire a culture shift by pushing through a measure giving employees in companies of more than 50 people the “right to disconnect”. In other words, they were giving workers permission to switch off their phones at weekends and in the evenings, which was something they apparently were unable to do for themselves.


While this effort must be applauded it’s sad to think that legislation might be the only thing that gives us permission to a life outside work. Or perhaps it’s less about us fearing our job commitment being questioned, and more about poor self-control?


Digital Discipline?


Are you permanently switched on or do you try and enforce digital boundaries to help manage or limit your usage? We’d love to hear from you.


Email us your thoughts.



Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.