Distracted walking: look up from your smartphone

I knew it was time to write this when I started shouting out loud at strangers as I crossed the road: “Watch out! Look up from your phone!”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it too. Distracted walking seems to have suddenly got worse.

What’s distracted walking? It’s walking along a street or a road while staring down at your smartphone (scrolling, typing or looking at a map, for example).

One indicator of the rise in distracted walking is that smartphone street theft has soared – after all, it’s easy to snatch a phone out of the hands of someone not paying attention.

A police campaign has been launched in London to tackle rising phone theft, and in some parts of the city there are huge flashing signs telling people to be careful and “Love your phone”.

The acknowledgement of this issue is an important first step, but much more now  needs to be done – not just tackling smartphone theft but warning people about distracted walking, cycling and driving too.

Recently, the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, called for a ban on cyclists wearing headphones amid concerns over cycling safety. This is the kind of message we need to hear more.

Distracted driving and distracted walking are issues that are being discussed much more in the USA than the UK.

Here are some facts:

– Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent at 55mph of driving the length of an entire football field, blind (VTTI)
– Driving while using a mobile phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37% (Carnegie Mellon)
– If you text while driving, you’re eight times more likely to be involved in accident than a non-distracted driver. You’re four times more likely to be involved in an accident while talking on a mobile phone (Professor David Strayer)

So before you answer a message while driving, and before you step out into traffic oblivious while looking down at your phone; stop. Pay attention. 

Look up. Look left. Look right. Don’t look down at your smartphone.

Rather than just shouting at people in the street (which I’ll keep doing) I thought I’d ask you to shout about this too.

© Frances Booth

Frances Booth is author of The Distraction Trap and an expert in digital distraction.

If you want to share observations or are doing work in this area, please contact us at


10 signs digital distraction is harming your business

Is digital distraction harming your business? This common office ailment saps productivity, increases stress, and redefines the very essence of ‘work’. Here’s how to spot if it’s happening in your office.

1) Default always on

When you walk round the office, most people have email open on their computer screen. They allow near constant interruptions, and instead of completing tasks in a focused and productive way, divert their attention every few minutes to respond to whatever demands come in.

2) Reply to all

The culture in your office is to cc people in to emails. People who don’t need to know anything about a certain issue spend time reading about it, and get distracted from what they were doing. Instead of walking across and talking to someone nearby, people tend to send them an email.

3) On call workers

You send an email out of hours – for example on a Saturday – not intending for the recipient to reply until Monday. They reply almost instantly. Workers are ‘on call’, rather than using the weekend to restore their energy. If you want your employees to be energised, full of ideas, and ready to go again come Monday morning, tell them to switch off at the weekend.

4) Dragging their heels

Productivity in your office has gone down. You don’t feel like you are getting the best out of people. Workers seem exhausted, stressed, and always busy, yet the right things aren’t getting done.

5) Sick of it

Sickness, stress, and poor performance are a problem. The names for this come in various forms, but ‘burnout’ is something you’re worried about. People keep mentioning information overload and feel like they can’t keep up.

6) On the agenda

In meetings, smartphones sit on the meeting table. People think nothing of sending messages or reading their emails while someone else is talking. Key points do not register and people don’t listen properly. After a meeting, people rush back to their desks to reply to yet more emails.

7) Zero inspiration

No-one is bringing you any good ideas. Distracted, bitty thinking takes over from deep thinking and reflection in a climate where distraction is the norm. If you’re distracted every 10 minutes, no wonder there’s no time to develop ideas. Ideas need time to form. Encourage your employees to switch off, as, chances are, they’ll have a bright idea when they’re walking, being creative, or focused on something else.

8) Headline goes here

Mistakes are being made. People send an attachment forgetting to attach the attachment, or reply all instead of just reply, or send an email to the wrong person. They blame their bad memory for not carrying out tasks they were asked to do. You’ve noticed errors have started to creep in to written documents and simple tasks. Quality is suffering. And yet, everything is taking far longer …

9) The endless task

People spend far too long completing a task. Endless time is spent searching for things – through email inboxes, or on the Internet, as people get distracted from what they were doing and even forget to do what they originally intended. Multitasking is a typical way of working, and people often have multiple tabs and multiple documents open on their screen.

10) Clocking off

No one leaves the office on time. Workers use either end of the day (early morning and the evening) to get on with the core work they should have done during the day. They don’’t get this work done during the day because they are distracted. Job satisfaction is low, stress is high, and people don’t have a good work-life balance.

Sound familiar? If you recognise your office here, get in touch to discuss how we can help. We’ll visit your office and give you methods you can use straight away to make your office a more productive place.  

Find out more here

Email us or fill in our contact form to start working on a solution.


10 signs that you’re digitally distracted

We often don’t even realise that we’re digitally distracted, or notice how much our behaviour has changed. But by being aware of this, and making simple changes, we can make a huge difference to our productivity, health, and relationships.


These are 10 signs you could be suffering from digital distraction.

1) You have a vice-like grip on your phone

You carry your phone with you at all times – often actually in your hand. As soon as it beeps, rings, or buzzes, you respond to it.

2) Your phone is like a piece of cutlery

At the dinner table, it’s knife, fork and phone set out at the table. One portion of your awareness rests at all times on your phone, despite the other people at the table. You think nothing of checking messages or browsing the internet in front of others.

3) Q and A: Ask Google

If someone asks you a question, or if a question comes to mind, your first response is to ask Google. You don’t think for yourself to see if you know the answer or to work out where to find the answer. You are impatient for an instant answer.

4) Of course we can multi-task

Doing at least two things at once – such as leaving your email inbox open while you’re working on a document, or sending texts while you’re talking with a friend – is a way of life for you. 100% attention on just one thing? Unheard of …

5) Blame the bad memory

Recently, your memory seems to have been getting worse. Things slip your mind. You forget to reply to messages, and even forget the contents of messages you’ve read. “I told you that,” people say, exasperated. But you have absolutely no recollection of it.

6) Document not attached

You send an email, about an attachment, and just as you hit send, you realise you forgot to attach the attachment. Variations on this theme include sending an email to the wrong person or hitting reply all instead of reply.

7) You never get anything done

These days, it seems, there’s never time to finish a task. It can take you hours or even days to complete something relatively simple. You find you end up working late at night, early in the morning, or at the weekend “when there are no interruptions” just to get the basics done. You know you are being unproductive.

8) Thinking time is non-existent

A thought pops in to your head. It’s the beginning of a good idea. But then – BAM! – it gets interrupted as your phone buzzes or pings. The half-thought is banished – never to be returned to – as you scurry to answer the digital demand.

9) What’s a holiday?

You take your emails and updates with you to bed, to breakfast, right through Saturday and Sunday and even on annual leave. You never actually switch off. You never actually recharge. You feel wired, buzzing, and on call most of the time.

10) Life is passing you by

While all this is going on, life is passing you by. Human connection – including laughing, talking, and enjoying time with people in person – seems to happen less and less. The things that matter to you get pushed to one side. Life is passing you by. Don’t let it.

– To book a session to talk about solutions to the common problem of digital distraction, email

– Frances Booth’s book, The Distraction Trap (Pearson, 2013), is available in bookshops and online.




10 ways to tackle digital overload

Smartphone getting all the attention in your house?  Teenagers texting not talking? Here are 10 tips to help you and your children deal with digital overload.


1. Start small

Relatively recently we were learning how to switch our phones on for the first time (remember your first mobile?). But now, we’ve forgotten where the off button is.

With our phones next to us all the time, we allow near constant interruptions. It might ping! It might buzz!

We let our smartphones wake us up in the morning. We take them to the corner shop. We read them last thing at night before we go to bed.

We feel as though we are drowning in information overload, but still we don’t press the off button.

Here’s a challenge. Switch your phone off, just for five minutes, while you’re reading the rest of this article. Yes, you might miss something. Yes, you’ve got important things happening in your life. Just try it.

2. Other people’s demands can wait

What happens when you open your inbox? In it, are a list of demands, niggles, and calls for your time and attention.

If you check your email first thing each day and start scurrying around doing what other people ask, the clock can spin round to lunchtime with no time spent on the things important to you.

Flip things the other way round – and do the tasks that matter to you first – and your productivity will soar.

Try it tomorrow: spend an hour doing what you want to do first, before opening your email or social media accounts.

3. Manage expectations

We may blame the boss for the fact that we are constantly checking email. “They expect me to be there.” Or we blame the children for the fact we constantly check our phone: “What if they need me?”

But often, the heaviest expectation is the one we place on ourselves. We expect ourselves to keep up with communication via text, Twitter and Facebook, as well as on email, phone call and in person. We log in every day because we feel we ‘should’.

Managing other people’s expectations is, in fact, not that hard. Stop checking email constantly and people (even the boss) will quickly get used to a less speedy reply.

If they want an explanation, say you’re spending the time working. Explain that you’re doing, not pretending to do.

Put an out-of-office reply on your email that explains that you check it, for example, twice a day. Set a predictable time that you will be available via your mobile for your children – during lunch and their school breaks, for example. If there is a real emergency, people will find a way to contact you.

4. Set a goal

If you weren’t so overwhelmed by digital overload, what would you love to do? What would be fun to try? What would you like to spend more time on?

Having an incentive helps, so that each time you ‘reach’ for a digital distraction, you can stop yourself and spend time on what you want instead.

Think about what you love doing. Think about times when you feel in ‘the zone’.

Think about what you want to look back on at the end of the year having done.

Use your time for that, and send fewer emails. Post fewer status updates. Live a little more.

5. Account for the distraction factor

“I’ll just check the Internet for five minutes…” you think. Then whoosh. An hour has gone. An hour!

While the task you logged on to do perhaps took you exactly the length of time you expected – five minutes – the rest of the time was taken by ‘the distraction factor’.

Where do these distractions come from? That link you clicked on that looked interesting. A quick search for reviews of the restaurant you were about to book. The emails you answered while forgetting to send your own.

Watch the clock and watch out for distractions. Learn to assess how long a task takes with distractions factored in.

And tips for your children…

6. Scream louder

Could that screaming toddler and that sulky, non-committal teenager want exactly the same thing? Often, what they are both calling for is attention.

Imagine if you were a toddler trying to get attention, but your parent was always on their mobile. What would your toddler-style response be? Most likely, scream louder.

Imagine if you were a teenager sat next to your parent – wanting to discuss something – and your parent was always checking their emails on their BlackBerry. What would your teenage-style response be? Most likely, be uncommunicative.

Children are being forced to up the ante in the battle for their parents’ attention.

Think about your child’s response. Could they in fact just want your attention?

Make sure that your mobile or smartphone is out of sight (and preferably switched off) at points when you set aside time to give your – 100% – attention to them.

7. Set a good example

Getting your child or partner to look up from their screen and have a proper conversation may seem practically impossible.

But before you blame your children for being glued to their screens, check on the example you are setting.

Children watch their parents and copy their behaviour.

A classic example of digital devices damaging relationships is the phone on the restaurant table. This is quality time, interrupted. What you are saying here is ‘there is someone more important than you’.

Your toddler grabs for your smartphone because they know it’s important – they see that you always dive to answer it. Your two-year-old scrolls the iPad transfixed because they’ve watched you do the same.

By the time your child is a teenager, they’ve learnt many digital patterns from you. Be aware of the example you are setting.

8. Talk to your child about missing out

For older children especially, the fear of missing out is what keeps them checking and checking and checking again, particularly when it comes to social media.

Fear of missing out (termed FOMO by MTV who investigated the behaviour) means they worry they will miss the latest gossip, and they worry they will feel out of the loop.

Yet they’re often exhausted by the need to constantly check.

Encourage them to stop and assess the information stream they are actually taking in. How much of this is what they would consider ‘spam’? Can they tailor their feeds?

Another huge pressure young people may feel around social media is that of creating and maintaining an online persona. Discuss this with them and encourage them to develop an ‘offline’ sense of self.

9. Try a family digital detox

Suggesting you switch off altogether may cause uproar in your home on first mention. But once you try it – even just for one meal-time – you’ll start to feel the benefit to your relationships.

A tech cleanse, or digital detox, is a great way to connect with each other, rather than be connected only to digital devices. It’s also a great way to recharge.

Start small, and build up to longer spells switched off. Think of fun activities to replace digital activities – such as trips out or cooking together.

A digital detox could mean switching off on a Friday night for 24 hours. Or switching off on holiday.

If this is too much for your child at first, try boundary-setting. Limiting the amount of media use (with any rule at all) means they will cut down on their media consumption significantly.

And altogether…

10. Now breathe

When you make conscious choices about digital usage, there’s a feeling of relief

You feel human, rather than frazzled. There is enough time. You know where you’re spending your attention.

Your productivity will soar, your stress levels will drop, and you’ll find you have little tolerance for distractions.

This is a great state to aim for.


– A longer version of this article by Frances Booth was published by Mumsnet

– For further advice on dealing with digital overload, contact Frances to discuss a one-to-one session