In my experience, the question of how to deal with digital distractions is a bit like the question of how to get your baby to sleep through the night: a big question, with lots of answers that work in part or work for other people, but seemingly no satisfying one-stop solution other than “try a bunch of things, give it time, and if all else fails, do your best to accept the situation and keep a positive attitude.”
Except that in the case of baby sleep, it does eventually get better, whereas digital distractions only seem to worsen as the years go by. My most recent experimental strategy is to go beyond acceptance and actually try to set aside time to be distracted.
By this, I mean much more than scheduling when I check email or catch up on the news. Say, for example, I know that I need to research refrigerators for a kitchen renovation we’ve got planned. That topic is now stored on a special list on my phone, and if, in the course of my workday, I think of something else I’d like to know (what flowers work well as companion plants for apple trees? what kind of pests have been munching on my dogwood?), I add it to the list, rather than letting myself get seduced by the idea that it’s small and therefore not hard to tackle that very moment.
Then I can try to figure out when the best time is to do a whole batch of Internet investigations, and dial up AOL style.
I’ll report back in a few months.