Day 209: The digital world is a huge distraction

Today’s inane image of the day:

If only this photo could show just how worn down my keyboard is… 

The problem: internet/technology is a huge distraction and time warp
More and more, I’m finding that the urge to check my phone or computer for the latest updates on Facebook, Twitter or my favorite blogs is impossible to overcome. I always tell myself that I’m going to close my laptop and switch my phone to silent while I study, but when the inevitable need to look up an unfamiliar term or find a better explanation for a concept comes up, so does my laptop cover. At that point, I decide that it can’t hurt to check up on at least one of my favorite sites for updates… only to find that an hour has been wasted on the latest from my Facebook news feed or refreshing my Google Reader for new updates from Wayfaringmd or Dr. Grumpy.

This is what our generation grew up with
When my family got our first computer, I remember spending every evening tinkering around the settings, instant messaging my friends that I had seen only an hour prior, or discovering the infinite depths of the internet. The world was literally at our finger tips… all we had to do was apply pressure to a specific pattern of keystrokes and we could get the latest news, relearn how to knit, or even figure out how others were getting into medical school. Anyway, the point is that as I matured, so did the internet and the technology that can be used to access it… making it something that our generation grew up with.

A semi-recent study shows that the current generation would rather text rather than talk — admittedly, I fall into this category because many times it’s more convenient to do so [imagine sitting in the silent reference room of a library and you have to ask someone you’re studying with a question — definitely more appropriate to use instant messaging/text] or the question is so small that it wouldn’t warrant a full-blown conversation [are you wearing business casual for tomorrow’s event?]. But in the end, yes, I am more comfortable sending a text rather than chatting over the phone.

An interesting NYT piece, “Growing up digital, wired for distraction” really delves into the issue I’m facing now: “…computers and cell phones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.” This. Exactly. The scariest part of all of this is that medical school doesn’t really forgive these kind of distractions — in order to keep up, we need to find fail-safes to avoid being sucked into the time warp. If we do not overcome this challenge, then we may find ourselves facing more bumps in the road.

What has been done
I’ve considered trying to unplug from everything as one of my favorite physician bloggers, Wendy Sue Swanson [Seattle Mama Doc] did during her online sabbatical, but it isn’t the most realistic thing for me to do at this point [Facebook has been an important medium for our class to exchange important information, alert each other of upcoming deadlines, etc]. Furthermore, I am just starting to discover and gain traction in healthcare social media communities, so leaving would feel a lot like taking two steps backward.

Another way to address the issue is by blocking specific websites for a period of time. One tool I found just by Googling “block sites for studying” is an add-on called “LeechBlock” for the Firefox browser. I don’t use Firefox, so this wouldn’t really help me. On the other hand, the site “Hack my study” contains a browser-specific tutorial for blocking sites. This seems like something I will probably have to use in the future.

Where to go from here?
One of my favorite non-medical blogs, A Cup of Jo [she’s a Michigan native, too!], recently posted this article asking readers if we really are as busy as we think. The idea is that we actually exaggerate how busy we truly are [claiming to work 80 hours, but in reality it’s actually less than 60; claiming to sleep only 6-7 hours/night but really sleeping more than 8, etc] and don’t realize what we are really doing with the 168 hours we have each week. The way to resolve this issue is by keeping a time log — similar to a food log for those of us on diets. From there, it becomes glaringly obvious that a lot of our time isn’t spent on high priority tasks.

Right now, I am not in such a terrible position that I cannot buckle down and study when I need to [yes, I can study for hours without checking my laptop], so I don’t plan on doing a complete online hiatus. On the other hand, I will probably turn to these drastic measures come this time next year when the Boards will be looming. But I do think it might be telling to start a time log [I’m start by trying this program] and assessing where I could optimize my activity. Even if it doesn’t lead to a drastic improvement in time-management, at least it’ll be one way to see how I’m spending my weekly 168 hours. I’ll keep you updated on the numbers.

Do you feel like the digital world is a distraction? What do you do to alleviate the problem?

6 thoughts on “Day 209: The digital world is a huge distraction

  • March 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    I completely agree with this post. It’s scary how i can sit at my laptop for what feels like a few minutes, and the i look at the clock and hours have gone by. Especially now that our phones are mini-computers the distraction can follow us everywhere. I’ve found turning off nearly all of my notifications to do the trick. I wish my fiancé would do the same because she will still pull out her phone when we are having nice dinner together 🙁

    Have you see the article about the study where kids theses days are getting dumber? They found that the kids keep their phones on 24/7 and will sleep with them nearby to wake up and respond to notifications at any hour. So they aren’t getting the proper amount of sleep, and their brains aren’t getting the rest it needs.

    If you need more ideas to cut down on the distractions, I think the app store has some good productivity apps (kinda a oxymoron I think). I believe there’s one that will disable your Internet for a specified period of time. I’m sure it can be overridden in the event of a medical term emergency 🙂

    Great post again Amanda!

  • March 13, 2012 at 12:08 am

    @Jordan: I had that same problem with Mike earlier on in our relationship… I felt like any date we had he had his phone on the table, so I established a rule early on that cell phones needs to be away until near the end of dinner.

    I didn’t see that article, but that sounds horrifying! I do leave my phone nearby, but not loud enough to wake me up… plus, what message could be so important every single night that you have to get up just to respond!?

    I’ll definitely be using a productivity app at some point… I’m just putting it off for a bit now…

  • March 15, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I know exactly what you mean! Now that I have a smart phone, I can’t imagine going a single day without internet. One day in college, I had to give my laptop to the IT department so I didn’t have my laptop for an entire 24 hours! Imagine that!! haha.

    As far as studying, what really helps me is keeping an alarm. I keep an alarm for 45 minutes for studying and give myself 10-15 minutes for breaks. During studying, I put my phone on silent and turn off my computer and put it away from my desk (in my backpack, on my bed, etc). If there’s anything in my notes that I need to look up – I write it down and look it up during my break time.

    During college, I’ve also downloaded different website blockers that would block the site during a specific time. But it’s just more efficient to turn off the computer/internet all together!

  • March 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    @Pikl: I experienced something similar with my laptop in college — but I was already addicted at that point [plus, I didn’t have as advanced of a smartphone then] so it was a horrifying experience. It’s amazing yet terrifying to consider how reliant we have become on our laptops/phones.

    I think an alarm would be a good way to stick to studying for a set amount of time — I’ll have to try that sometime! I’m definitely motivated by numbers, so setting a finite goal like that would make sense.

  • March 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    I get motivated by numbers too!! I’m also a Biomedical Engineer – we think alike =)

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