Seriously Distracted: A Report on Our Interrupted Life

distraction problem StopAd report

Distractions are the scourge of modern life.

A typical office worker cannot focus on a task at hand for more than 11 continuous minutes. The average student can’t focus on a given task for more than two minutes without becoming distracted. If you are a typical Internet user, your online screen focus lasts a mere 40 seconds on average.

The worst part? No matter what task you are distracted from or what form the interruption takes, once distracted, your brain needs an average of 25 minutes to get back to the original task.

Given the numbers, it’s no wonder why staying focused is one of the biggest challenges modern people have.

The Real Cause of Distraction

In one form or another, distractions have always been a part of our lives. Technology

most certainly aggravated the problem, but it would be a mistake to consider it the only cause of  our continuously decreasing attention spans. A smarter approach would be seeing technology as a tool rather than just a cause of a global attention crisis.

In fact, we all have an internal urge to be distracted.

To the human brain, any distraction means novelty, and everything new is associated with an increase in dopamine levels (the neurochemical associated with pleasure and reward). This means we are predisposed to fall for distractions, biologically.

Whether it’s a neurobiological pattern designed to keep us alert (and safe from outer dangers) or a psychological defense mechanism used to avoid “quiet and alone” moments when we have no choice but to meet our true selves, one thing is perfectly clear: we are willing to get distracted if given half a chance.

In light of this, it comes as no surprise why it usually takes so little to get distracted and so much to keep focused. It is especially true in today’s gadget-dominated world where distractions quickly add up.

With all the push notifications, email alerts, annoying ads, and never-ending updates from social media, staying focused equals achieving nirvana. The only trouble is that nirvana is not necessary for our survival, while focus and concentration certainly are.

The Little-Known Consequences of Distraction

When asked about the negative effect of distraction, most of people would mention a failure to concentrate on things and tasks that actually matter. While perfectly true, this is only one out of many harmful effects distraction has on our life.

Distraction Costs Money

Studies revealed that a typical office worker spends an average of 5 hours per week on a device, occupied with things that have nothing to do with their job. Another 3.5 hours a week are usually wasted on personal tasks. No wonder distraction costs American business on average $650 billion per year, which equals approximately $4,452 per company.   

Online ads is another way distractions drain our purses.

StopAd’s Click Everything experiment revealed that the average Facebook user is exposed to at least 1 online ad every 2 minutes. The experiment showed that it would take us less than an hour to spend $1000 on Facebook, if we decide to fall for each online ad that appears in our feed.

YouTube is not much better. The same experiment powered by StopAd showed that we are exposed to ads on YouTube on average every 4 minutes. What this means is that should we decide to buy everything these ads are trying to sell, it won’t take us more than 40 minutes on the video platform.

Distraction Can Be Deadly

Financial loss is not the worst consequence of distraction. Being distracted is one of the most common reasons for accidents on the job.

On top of being dangerous in the workplace, distractions are even more perilous on the road. Distracted driving is the number one cause of road accidents in the US. On average 9 people are killed, and 1000 people are injured annually as a result of using smartphones while behind the wheel. Distracted driving accounts for a whopping 64% of all car accidents in the US.

Distraction Affects Performance

Apart from literally taking our attention away from the task at hand, which itself negatively affects our performance, distraction drains our energy.

Since none of us can truly multitask (what some of us call multitasking is actually a quick switch from one thing to another), each distraction is a minute interruption and a switch of focus.

The problem is that every interruption comes with a biological cost.

Each time we focus our attention on something new, a certain amount of glucose and other metabolic resources are used. The more resources used, the less energy left for priority tasks. Needless to say, our performance is what suffers the most.

Distraction Ruins Learning

Ask any college professor and he or she will most certainly tell you that distraction is the scourge of modern education. There are two ways in which distraction affects learning—the first one is obvious, the second, not so much.

When students are distracted by their gadgets, they fail to hear and understand the information they’re supposed to (this is the obvious outcome). The more insidious effect occurs when students are trying to do two things at once, for example, listen to the lecture and scroll their Facebook newsfeed. Since human brains cannot focus on two things simultaneously, they are involved in a so-called “rapid toggling” between listening and scrolling the feed. This switching of tasks quickly wears out their brains making them feel tired and unable to process information.

The outcomes are as impressive as they are dramatic. The GPA of students unable to resist distractions while studying is, on average, one full point lower than for more focused students. Similarly, final exam scores among continuously distracted students are 18 percent lower.

Distraction Affects Us Long-Term

The long-term consequences of daily distraction are detrimental to our brains.

First, distractions are addictive. Those working under pressure of continuous distractions (as well as those trying to multitask) experience a drop in their IQ. The victims of distraction often feel a false sense of being productive, while in reality they work at a significantly lower cognitive level. One study found that when we are trying to multitask (read: failing to resist distractions), our IQ equals the level of a 8-year-old child!

Second, distractions are addictive. The human brain gets used to the sense of instant gratification each time we indulge in a minor distraction like checking a newsfeed or sending an email. Over time, it becomes increasingly harder to resist distractions no matter how strong your willpower is.

The Most Common Types of Distraction

As we’ve explained in our first article on this series, distraction takes many shapes and forms. This could be people, noises, gadgets, pushy ads—you name it.

infographic mini report on the state of distraction by StopAd

How to Remove Distractions From Your Life

Distractive interruptions are insipid dark forces that drain our time, energy, and productivity.

They keep us away from enjoying the blissful flow of work, learning, and living. Distractions have become so widespread we are no longer able to tell what exactly distracts us from what. The further we go, the harder it is to focus on what is truly important.

Removing distractions altogether sounds good but unrealistic.

A better approach would be learning how to resist distraction. The good news is you won’t have to learn on your own. We’ve researched the problem, worked on solutions, and developed a project to help you become a better version of yourself this year—the Distraction Detox. Over the course of three weeks, we’re diving into the tools and strategies that you need to boost your willpower and overcome distractions, for good.