Oct 22nd Chat – Maintaining our Focus in a Digitally Distracting world

screen_shot_2011-02-10_at_9-19-31_am-scaled1000A post by Lisa Fields

I can still hear my mother saying to my sister and I when we were young,“Girls, enough is enough.” Usually she would say this after we’d been singing at the dinner table too long or after pestering her to buy us candy. My mother is a wise woman because sometimes enough is enough.

I’ve always been in awe of the beauty, complexity and ability of the human brain. I’m certain this unending curiosity lead to my work within behavioral health and also the field of addiction.

One of my most trusted mentors was a man named Jeff, a Physician Assistant. He had a brilliant way of breaking through to some of our most severely mentally ill patients. He once shared after calming a gentleman who heard horrible and twisted voices within his mind “Lisa, brain chemistry it’s a powerful drug.”

I’m no Luddite, but I’ve long suspected our information and digitally saturated world is in some way impacting our brain chemistry. Our attention spans are shorter and many crave digital devices when barriers to their access arise. Pew Research reports 67% of cell owners say that they find themselves checking their cell phone for messages, alerts or calls—even though they didn’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.

The New York Times reports that the average computer user checks 40 websites a day and can switch programs 36 times an hour.

“Technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.

Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco says that nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment.

Indeed, maintaining focus in a digitally distracting world is hard. Perhaps like many of you, I struggle with finding a balance. Perhaps also like you, being on-line, researching, connecting and maintaining collaborative relationships is vital for my work.

Derek Dean and Caroline Webb have written a remarkable article, full of practical suggestions for helping leaders maintain focus,”Recovering from information overload: Always-on, multitasking work environments are killing productivity, dampening creativity, and making us unhappy.”

Mr. Dean and Ms. Webb focus on these three major points in their paper.

  • Multitasking is a terrible coping mechanism.
  • Addressing overload requires enormous self-discipline.
  • Since senior executives’ behavior sets the tone for the organization, they have a duty to set a better example.

“Many senior executives literally have two overlapping workdays: the one that is formally programmed in their diaries and the one ‘before, after, and in-between,’ when they disjointedly attempt to grab spare moments with their laptops or smart phones, multitasking in a vain effort to keep pace with the information flowing toward them.”

As healthcare leaders we all face distractions. Matt Richtel in his article “Multitasking Doctor imperils Patient, a Case Study” shares a chilling story of a medical resident whose patient almost died due to him failing to properly document the attending doctors instructions due to an incoming text.

So as healthcare leaders when do when know when enough is enough? This Tuesday night we will gather together and discuss the topic of “Maintaining our Focus in a Digitally Distracting World.”


  • T1: Do you believe healthcare leaders work in digitally distracting workplaces? What suggestions could help decrease these distractions?
  • T2: Do you believe digitally distracting workplaces impact safety? If so, who should take responsibility for this challenge?
  • T3: As healthcare leaders what have you found helpful as you work to maintain your focus in a digitally distracting world?
  • Closing Thought=CT: What’s one thing you’ve learned tonight that you can take to your place of influence to help a patient tomorrow?

Please join the #HCLDR community for our chat on Tuesday October 22, 2013 at 8:30pm Eastern Time (North America). Colin Hung and I look forward to your input, ideas and participation.

Source Material

Aaron Smith. “The Best (and Worst) of Mobile Connectivity, 2012.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C.
(Nov, 30, 2012). http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Best-Worst-Mobile/Part-IV/Your-cell-phone-and-you.aspx, accessed on October 20, 2013

Terry Gross. “Digital Overload: Your brain on Gadgets, 2010.” Fresh Air,
WHYY0FM Philadelphia, PA (August 24, 2010). http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=129384107, accessed on October 20, 2013

Matt Richtel. “Attached to Technology and Paying the Price, 2010.”New York Times, New York, NY. (June 6, 2010). http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html?pagewanted=all, accessed on October, 20, 2013

Matt Richtel. “Multitasking Doctor Imperils Patient, Case Study Says, 2012” New York Times, New York, NY (January 3, 2912). http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/03/multitasking-doctor-imperils-patient-case-study-says/, accessed on October 20, 2013

Derek Dean & Caroline Webb. “Recovering from information overload, 2011” McKinsey & Company, New York, NY. (January, 2011). http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/recovering_from_information_overload, accessed on October 20, 2013

Photo Credit

Lyon, Barrett, et al. Map of the Internet, November 24, 2003. OPTE Project. http://www.opte.org/maps/


  1. Lisa, great summary of our new way of life (sorry, have to stop for a sec and check my messages)…back now – hope to join the chat tonight.

  2. […] session, our Pre-Tweet Chat Blog entitled Maintaining Our Focus in a Digitally Distracting World: https://hcldr.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/oct-22nd-focus-in-a-digitally-distracting-world/   Are You Tired of Alarm Fatigue?: https://www.ecri.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=35 […]

  3. James Lawler · · Reply

    This was a great article! Very good tips, particularly in the Dean & Webb article. Thanks Lisa!

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