How We Prioritize Online Distractions Without Knowing

Whether you are at the computer or using a smartphone, there are plenty of things happening around you simultaneously that can distract you from the task at hand. But that switch from one thing to another is not always random because some distractions are often more important than others.

September 11, 2009

"You have a new email messages from A", "B wants to be your friend on Facebook", "C sent you a direct message on Twitter", "You have D unread items in Google Reader", "Your friend E is available for chat on Skype", "There’s a new SMS from F on your mobile phone"… and the list continues.

Whether you are at the computer or using a smartphone, there are plenty of things happening around you simultaneously that can easily distract you from the task at hand.

online distractions

However, making that switch from one distraction to another is not always in random order because some distractions are naturally more important than others. For instance, you will probably answer a phone call or read that SMS message first before approving that pending friends’ request on Facebook.

David McCandless, author of The Visual Miscellaneum, has created an interesting chart that illustrates how we prioritize these various digital distractions (or interruptions), often unknowingly, in our minds.

If you get a new SMS whilst opening a new online dating message, you’ll be hard pressed not to read that SMS. It’ll take a great force of will. You may attempt to do both simultaneously. But if you really observe yourself closely, one will take priority – even if it’s only by milliseconds. The SMS will win your attention.

The level of distraction increases as you move up the chart and vice-versa.

Hat tip Michael Pick.