Focus, archery
Studies show that those those who employ self-control strategies and young people with parental restrictions on social media use experience fewer distractions, highlighting the importance of managing social media use to maintain focus and mental well-being. Image Credit: Mikhail Nilov | Pexels


  • How to do deep work and boost your productivity.
  • Basic techniques to help you maintain focus and energy, while preventing burnout and boredom.

Struggling with too many distractions? You’re not alone. Distractions follow us everywhere: Social media, phone calls, mails, push notifications.

Yet getting distracted by technology is only a symptom. There’s an underlying problem: Studies show digital devices expose people, both young and old, to “overstimulation”.

It turns out that screentime is not the problem – it’s the addiction to stimuli that gives us a dopamine fix. This robs us of focus, i.e. the ability to do any meaningful work done on time. And, with more sources of stimuli, it’s increasingly getting more challenging.

How to get out of this rut?

Personal experiment

Chris Bailey decided to conduct an experiment on himself, where he limited himself to 30 minutes of phone use per day. The author of the book “Hyperfocus” has written extensively about how our ability to focus is the key to productivity, creativity – and living a meaningful life.

After a week of adjusting, Bailey noticed three key changes:

  • Increased attention span: He found it easier to focus on tasks.
  • More ideas: His mind seemed to wander more freely, leading to a surge of new ideas.
  • Enhanced planning: He found himself planning and thinking about the future more often.

This confirms what multiple studies have found which concluded that reducing screen time and implementing specific social media use strategies can have a positive impact on mental health.

Why we crave distraction

Research suggests that our brains are not simply distracted by technology; rather, we’re actually “overstimulated” by the constant stream of information and stimuli, the source of what behaviourists call "variable rewards", which are highly addictive and are known dopamine kickers.

About Chris Bailey
Chris Bailey, the international bestselling author of “Hyperfocus and The Productivity Project”, published in 16 languages.

Chris works with organisations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process. To date, Chris has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity.

Dope fix, shallow thinking

This craving for novelty and overstimulation is driven by one mechanism: release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. Just like eating pizza or checking social media, our brains reward us for seeking out distraction.

One downside of this constant state of overstimulation: shorter attention spans and a diminished capacity for deep thinking.

It is a state where you're stuck in a cycle of constantly seeking external stimulation, but it's no longer satisfying and leaves you feeling drained and unproductive.

It's like being on a mental hamster wheel, constantly bombarded by information and stimuli, but never getting anywhere.

Key aspects of an overstimulation rut:

• Constant craving for stimulation: You might find yourself constantly checking your phone, social media, or the news, even if it's not enjoyable anymore. You might jump from one task to another without ever truly focusing on any.

• Feeling drained and unproductive: Despite all the stimulation, you might feel tired, sluggish, and unable to concentrate. It becomes difficult to complete tasks or focus on anything for a prolonged period.

• Diminished creativity and problem-lolving: The constant influx of information can overload your brain, making it harder to think deeply, solve problems creatively, or come up with new ideas.

A landmark study delves into the neurological mechanisms behind information overload and how it contributes to our craving for distraction and overstimulation. A 2012 research led by D. A. Christakis of Seattle Children's Research Institute and published in Nature shows that overstimulation of newborn mice leads to behavioural differences and deficits in cognitive performance.

A disrupted prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for planning, decision-making, and focus, plays a key role. When bombarded with stimuli, the prefrontal cortex becomes overloaded, leading to a decrease in its ability to regulate our impulses and desires. This can manifest as a craving for distracting stimuli, similar to addiction-like symptoms.

The power of boredom

Bailey described another personal experiment: he deliberately exposed himself to boredom for an hour a day for a month.

The power of boredom goes back to a 2013 study “On the Function of Boredom”, led by Shane W. Bench published in Behavioral Sciences (Basel), which proposed that boredom is a discrete functional emotion, and serves to encourage people to seek new goals and experiences.

“Boredom provides a valuable adaptive function by signaling it is time to pursue a new goal,” Bench wrote then.

For Bailey, while some of the activities were unpleasant (like waiting on hold with baggage claim), he again noticed the same positive effects as the phone experiment.

The value of 'scattered focus'

When our minds wander, they are not simply idling. Research shows that our minds tend to wander to the past, present, and future, with a particular emphasis on the future (planning and strategising).

This “scattered focus” allows for creativity and problem-solving.

Giving your mind space

In the best-seller “Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, author Cal Newport stated that the key to focus is not about fitting more into our schedules; rather, it’s in creating space for our minds to wander.

He suggests several strategies help you focus:


Eliminate all sources of distractions. This can be done by observing bimodality: Clear separation of work and free time (through a period of seclusion). Turn your phone off to “plane mode”, or switch off the internet.


Dedicate any free time to focus on your work. Do not disturb: Make it visible to others that you’re focused.


Work in blocks of e.g. 25 minutes (or 90 minutes) and track your progress.

The Pomodoro Technique
This involves working in 25-minute intervals (called Pomodoros), separated by 5-minute breaks. After four Pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

This rhythm helps you maintain focus and energy, while preventing burnout and boredom.
Focussed work distraction
The best-selling "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World" by Cal Newport explores the concept of deep work, which is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Image Credit: Pexels

Listen to your body

What do you need? Exercise? Sleep? Food? A landmark study, “The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience”, published by the MIT Press in 1992 provides evidence for the importance of listening to your body's signals, as these signals can provide valuable information about your physical and mental state.


Productive meditation over one problem while e.g. showering. What do I need to do to achieve my goal?

Distraction, depression

More recent studies suggest that the constant influx of information disrupts the brain's reward system, making us seek out more stimulation to regain a sense of balance and satisfaction. This creates a cycle of information overload and craving for distraction.

Social media overstimulation not only causes distraction; more concerning is the depression it triggers.

A 2024 study from Johns Hopkins Medicine showed a clear link between social media use and depression, with the negative effects extending beyond mere usage, to include associated behaviours and environmental factors.

This study, cited in a ScienceDaily indicates that social media can exacerbate existing vulnerabilities rather than being the sole cause of depression, especially among young adults.

Benefits of reducing screen time

Another study from University College London also confirmed interventions aimed at reducing social media use can alleviate symptoms of depression.

The researchers analysed multiple studies and concluded that reducing screen time and implementing specific social media use strategies can have a positive impact on mental health.

In 2022, researchers ran a study on how social media notifications can distract users and hinder their ability to perform tasks. What they found: even brief interruptions from social media notifications can negatively impact task performance and focus.

These studies highlights the importance of managing social media, minimising distractions as key to improving focus, cognitive performance and boosting one's productivity.