We live in a distracted age, and it is changing how we live and interact.
We will each have to give an account to God for our time spent on earth, a fact that should cause fear. That’s one reason why I appreciate Justin Whitmel Earley’s recommended habit of avoiding distractions as an act of worship from his article 5 Habits to Practice the Presence of God at Work (which is worth reading, as is his book The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose in an Age of Distraction). Here is what Earley says about avoiding distraction as spiritual worship:
It is fundamental that the modern church understand our age of distraction as an imminent spiritual threat. We need not be afraid, but we do need to know what we’re up against.
Of course, technological distraction is a threat to the goal of working excellently as unto God (Col. 3:23–24)—and that should be enough, for we are commanded to work in such a way that brings others to glorify him (Matt. 5:16). But you must also understand it as a threat to another core purpose of your work: to love God and neighbor through your work.
Distraction removes us from working in love and pushes us into working from numbness, absence, or annoyance. Your smartphone, Gmail, text chains, and social alerts aren’t just reducing your productivity—they’re reducing your capacity for sustained attention and fracturing your presence. It is impossible to fully love a human being without sustained attention or presence, so why would we think we could love God and neighbor through work without sustained attention and presence to our work? It’s already hard enough to see how changing diapers, building spreadsheets, or pitching products relates to love of neighbor. But it’s next to impossible when we’re numbed by distraction throughout our workday.
Many habits can help. I recommend keeping your phone in another room during work, or if you need it for work (like I often do) ruthlessly curating your settings/notifications to prioritize the task at hand and protect from distractions. Every person will have to uniquely tailor this habit to their work, but no one should ignore it. It’s one of the most important ways of making space to enter God’s presence throughout your work.
I’m thankful that God has worked on my heart as it relates to distraction. Yes, it’s still a continual battle in our tech-driven age, but it’s a battle that can be won with help from the Holy Spirit.
My encouragement to you is to do a fifteen minute inventory of what distracts you and how you can fight that distraction. I’ve found great benefit in purging distracting apps from my phone, not using my phone for social media or browsing the internet, and setting my phone aside after the work day so I can focus on my wife and daughter. I also recommend the desktop app SelfControl to block distracting sites when it’s time to focus. (I also use Freedom.)
Yes, these methods help me get more done, but more importantly they help me do my work for God and the benefit of others.
What might you do to curb distraction and deepen focus? How can you fight distraction for deeper real-life relationships? These are questions we all must answer. Let’s do the hard work and think through our distractions now rather than pay the price later!