Urgent message: While the launch of handheld technologies, email, messaging, and social media brought an immediate increase in productivity through the ability to access information instantly, over time these modern wonders have proven to become a distraction in the workplace.

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.

Whether it’s email, social media, or internet searches, the modern workplace is a hive of distractions that are damaging to productivity. Now more than ever, employees are surrounded by ways to escape momentarily from doing work, whether it be a quick check of the sports scores, getting the latest Twitter updates, or clicking through a mountain of emails for the hundredth time.

These behaviors and more all fall under the umbrella of digital distractions. So, where did this constant barrage of distractions come from? According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, when technology (email, Skype, etc.) first became a regular part of the workplace, employees’ productivity skyrocketed. However, as the internet and social media developed, that productivity slowly started to decrease.

These distractions hurt not only productivity, but the health of employees. In a world of constant communication and connectivity, breaking free of the distractions posed by technology is not realistic, but the harmful side effects of digital distractions cannot be overlooked.

In today’s ultracompetitive marketplace employee productivity is crucially important to personal career success and the success of the company as a whole. However, countless studies have shown that productivity has dipped significantly, and digital distractions are to thank. It is estimated that an average smartphone user may touch his or her device as much as two times per minute. With this statistic in mind, it is important to note that it can take up to 20 minutes to fully restore focus after being distracted. Even a quick check of social media or email can disturb productivity for a long period of time. How can one get work done if they are never recovered from a distraction?

Distractions are easy to find in the digital world we live in, and are so readily available that staying focused and productive is much more difficult than ever.

Distractions from social media or the internet are an enormous concern for employers, but individuals should also be aware of the harmful effects they cause. Today’s world is a constantly updating and changing web of information, breaking news, and posts. It moves at such a pace that even being away for a few hours can leave one feeling “behind” or like they missed something important. This frantic need to stay up-to-date on every happening causes high levels of stress and increased anxiety. People are increasingly being drawn away from the real world in front of them to the screen in front of them and the distraction it provides. A study from UCLA  shows that individuals who spend long amounts of time on social media each day get less sleep, gain weight easier, and are less happy overall than their more off-line counterparts.

Typically, when something is negatively affecting our health we try to fix it as soon as possible, so why is that not the case with digital distractions? The answer: digital distractions have become an obsession that individuals feel compelled to oblige in so as not to fall behind. However, like any unhealthy obsession, steps should be taken to deal with it. As more and more Americans fall victim to digital distractions, finding a way to unplug is more important than ever.

For healthcare professionals, eliminating distractions on the job is crucial. Not only do you need to build personal relationships with patients, you must be focused at all times to avoid potentially fatal mistakes. Cutting back on and aiming to eliminate digital distractions is an essential issue for healthcare administrators and leaders to focus on as the problem continues to grow. Promoting time to step back from the chaotic world of social media and email is beneficial to both the organization and the individuals that make it up. Fortunately, the dangers and drawbacks posed by digital distractions can be lessened and productivity can once again go up if the proper steps to eliminate the distractions are taken. The first one is to recognize that it’s happening.


Beware of Digital Distractions in the Workplace

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc

President of Experity Consulting and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine