Logging On = Listening Off – Does this happen to you?

These days, its commonplace to see rows of students, heads down, typing (or tapping) away furiously on their laptop (or tablet) in class. Back in my day (when dinosaurs roamed the earth and people actually used cell phones for calling), electronic devices of all kind were prohibited by teachers (granted, those devices were usually Walkmans and pagers that could in no way be construed as learning aids).

Grad school was the first time I started bringing my laptop to class regularly (back in 2005, when dinosaurs no longer roamed the earth but people still actually used cell phones for calling). I was psyched – I’m a ridiculously fast typer and always wanted to be that student who took copious notes with highlights and bolds and underlines and circles. What better way to facilitate my fancy note-taking dream than to bring a laptop to class?!

Alas, I was wrong. So, so wrong. For me, the laptop was the worst learning aid ever. I found myself compulsively checking (and replying to) emails, IM-ing and browsing the internet, and as a result, not listening to a word that was said by the professor. Sure, it made the less scintillating classes more bearable, but I was paying large sums of money for higher learning — not so I could waste my time (and my professor’s time) mindlessly surfing online. I soon realized that I learn best when fully focused, with zero distractions, so I put the laptop away and brought it back to the old school (literally). Hello, spiral notebook, pen and paper!

Years later, I found that at work, the distraction that being online every second of the workday brings was equally counter-productive. I interact with my business partners virtually on a daily basis via conference calls at my desk and thus in front of my computer. Fortunately, our meeting culture is such that we often share screens when hosting calls, which, as it turns out, is the best preventative measure for getting distracted (it’s amazing how easy it is to focus when everyone is witnessing your every virtual move!). When I’m not hosting a meeting, I’ve learned to resist the urge to read and respond to every email/IM that comes in. Sometimes I even turn my chair around so that I’m no longer facing my monitor (thank goodness for swivel chairs!).

So, my question to those of you who grew up with technology/ devices in every pocket – what tips/tricks do you employ to remain productive in class/at work with all the distractions available these days?


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