Lucie Bland | Is Input Addiction Sabotaging Your Academic Productivity?

26 Jun Is Input Addiction Sabotaging Your Academic Productivity?

The topic of input addiction has been on my mind for a while, probably because I’ve subscribed to too many Youtube channels and podcasts.

I thought I was doing well with the whole phone/social media addiction thing, but looking more closely at my habits, I had to have a serious chat with myself to address some outstanding issues.

What is input addiction?

Input addiction is defined as being addicted to things coming in, usually information. We fill the empty void inside of us with information – and it feels so good!

In today’s society, it’s rare to see someone on the train without a phone or a book. Research shows that people check their phones on average every 10 minutes.

Input addiction is now socially and culturally accepted. Addiction might be a strong word, but it is appropriate for long-standing habits that affect our social, physical, emotional, or financial life.

If you feel like your attention is constantly scattered and you haven’t focused on a single thing since 1999, you probably have some form of input addiction.

Input addiction can include:

✅ Constantly checking phone alerts

✅ Checking email without a real intent to process them (“double handling”)

✅ Always listening to podcasts/videos on the train

✅ Multitasking (e.g. checking emails/reading during a meeting)

These behaviors tend to be repetitive, stimulus-driven, and have no clear purpose.

There is a difference between checking e-mail for 30 minutes to respond to queries and clear your inbox; checking for the sake of “checking” is a different thing.

What’s worse, habits tend to reinforce themselves in our plastic neural circuitry. We long to keep those neural pathways activated.

Being constantly “on alert” (phone alerts are called as such for a reason) can prime our physiology into a fight-or-flight mode (rather than a rest-and-digest mode). This means that, over the long term, we could be increasing our stress burden at the detriment of our health.

That’s why establishing good habits is such a big win. But when it comes to bad habits, they can be difficult to root out.

How is input addiction affecting you?

There are three main ways input addiction can affect research outputs: by setting our brains in a reactive rather than creative mode, by providing distractions, and by limiting human connections.

Input addiction can be detrimental to research output. That is because research is an output, not an input. Research is, as its essence, innovative and creative.

Creativity has four main phases according to psychology researchers: preparation, incubation, illumination, and execution. Note that there is an incubation phase in there – when we deliberately let our brains relax so they can make new mental associations.

Many of us have had the experience of having great ideas in the shower or when we’re about to fall asleep – as we loosen the grip on our minds and get to the holy grail of free attention, miracles occur.

Second, distraction is the enemy of any productive output. Did you know that multi-tasking increases task completion times by 50%? (close those internet tabs right away!)

The brain tends to focus on incomplete tasks (the Zeigarnik effect) so any email that has been viewed but not handled adds to your mental load.

In addition to affecting our creativity and productivity, input addiction can also affect our ability to connect with others. How many people have you seen playing around on their phone during conferences when they could have been making valuable connections? (hey, that’s been me too!)

Challenging input addiction

Are you ready to experience boredom? Are you ready to take on some discomfort?

Then join me in a first step to limit addiction!

Here is a list of ideas to help you challenge input addiction – I’m sure you can think of many more.

Limit interactions with your phone

❌ My number one tip here is to switch your phone to airplane mode or switch it off at night (I try to do this at around 7 pm). If you fear that loved ones may call you with an emergency, you can set them up so that their calls can come through.

❌ Remove all social media and alerts of your phone. Make it as difficult as possible for you to access emails on your phone (such as deleting the Gmail app).

✅ Do social media-free weekends. They feel so good!

✅ Try to leave your phone at home when possible, such as when going to the gym.

✅ Make a point of being bored some of the day (e.g. in the waiting room at the doctor)

Limit input addiction at work

✅ Full-screen mode. I’ve been told that Mac users can use Command Option H to change to full-screen mode. It’s F11 on my laptop, but it seems to vary with different versions of Windows. In Word, press Alt+V together and then U.

❌ Don’t keep your email open when you’re working and deactivate all email and internal messaging notifications.

✅ Create an end-of-the-day routine. This can involve shutting down all the open tabs in your browser and, if appropriate, shutting down your laptop ( see my blog post on 5 simple steps to shut down at the end of the workday ).

❌ Don’t bring your phone to meetings. If you’re feeling hardcore, don’t bring your laptop either. And definitely do not do emails or other tasks during a meeting – it’s rude!

✅ Read with a purpose (don’t browse mindlessly). If you’re reading the literature, read with a purpose or question in mind, which you can jot down in your notebook.

My favorite tip of all is to spend time in nature. Spending time in nature has myriad benefits for our physical and mental health. The negative ions found at the beach and many natural places reduce our stress levels and improve our health and immunity. What’s not to like?

As you can see, most techniques to address input addiction revolve either reducing stimuli (e.g. from our phones) or bringing more intention into our tasks, such as attending meetings, responding to emails, reading, and writing.

Which technique can you start applying today? I’m going to spend more time in full-screen mode – including when writing blog posts!