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1 August 2015 CFA Institute Journal Review

Conquering Digital Distraction (Digest Summary)

  1. Marc L. Ross, CFA

The flood of digital information exacts a professional and personal cost. The authors offer differing perspectives on how to manage it.

What’s Inside?

Too much electronic information hurts productivity and costs businesses almost $1 trillion annually. A psychologist and a technologist each suggest ways for individuals to handle the flood of digital information in the context of their working and personal lives.

How Is This Article Useful to Practitioners?

Information comes to individuals from multiple sources. Personal and business email, social media, and the company intranet all compete for a person’s attention. The cost to businesses is staggering as is the toll that it can take on one’s health as a result of overstimulation and exhaustion from a glut of digital exposure. Although such information is ever-present, people need to learn how to have a healthier relationship with it.

The perspective of the psychologist is to manage distractions through strategic use. Multitasking is typically counterproductive unless one of the tasks is automated. Dividing one’s attention among several things often results in longer amounts of time to complete the task at hand.

What drives the debilitating overuse of technology? It is not addiction, but rather, its use is driven by a fear of missing out or being out of contact. Such fear leads to the compulsive use of technology. Numerous studies support the existence of this compulsive behavior.

Solutions are simple if people adhere to them. For example, the authors suggest limiting time spent on devices to reasonably spaced intervals. Additionally, break completely from excessive browsing and texting by engaging in such diversions as music, exercise, or meditation. Finally, keep technology out of the bedroom at night to prevent the release of neurotransmitters that can interfere with melatonin production, which enables rest.

The technologist’s approach is different. She suggests using technology itself to control overuse because turning off in the digital era is untenable in the age of 24-hour news cycles and social engagement. A person cannot be in multiple places at once. Keeping up all of the time is a losing activity. Instead, she suggests using devices to prioritize (triage), categorize, and sort information, whether the information is transmitted via email, social media exchanges, or news. Use technology to manage information and do not let the information manage you. The technologist offers suggestions on how to automate these functions through the establishment and selection of filtering criteria specific to a person’s needs.

Both authors’ suggestions will find wide applicability to individuals in many professions as well as to individuals in their personal and social lives.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

Information management is time management. Effectively controlling digital social engagement and the flow of information can lead to greater productivity at home and at work. Establishing and maintaining a reasonable distance at manageable intervals from such information can reduce anxiety and promote a healthier existence.

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