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Mastering the high-tech tools that help us

Experts see a rising pushback against digital distraction.

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Self-described "GTD-ers" can be found all over the Internet, many of them "recovering geeks" who are now using their specialized skills – GTD has a software component – to help people fight the digital onslaught.

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At lifehacker.com, senior editor (and GTD-er) Adam Pash blogs and advises the digitally downtrodden.

"We aren't antitechnology," says Mr. Pash, "but we see the need to manage the tools that technology has given us."

His website offers a wealth of tips and tricks: software that blocks the user from accessing designated websites during a workday (anything from your favorite shopping site to social networks such as Facebook or MySpace); newly created stripped-down software such as "WriteRoom," a word processor that offers few distractions; and specialized downloads to automate routine activities such as backing up information on your hard drive.

"It's remarkable how hard it is to just get a simple task completed with no distractions in today's overloaded digital environment," adds Pash.

Managing distraction has become a front-burner issue for self-described "supergeek" Ariel Meadow Stallings, a marketing manager at Microsoft who has launched a year-long project she dubs "52 nights unplugged."

The idea to disconnect from all digital contraptions for one night a week, over the course of a year, came to her in January after attending a seminar on how to manage digital overload.

"I realized that I was in a constant state of 'partial tasking,' " says Ms. Stallings. "I had the illusion that I was multitasking but the truth was, I was not actually doing anything fully except thinking about what to do next and how to keep in a state of a sort of intoxicated hyperactivity."

Stallings says she realized that she had begun to lose the art of "being fully present" in any activity and wanted to recapture that feeling of deep focus, the kind she says that leads to an actual sense of completion and satisfaction in a task – not to mention actually getting real work done.

She uses her "digital downtime" – Wednesday evenings – to do something in the "real world" that actually has a sense of completion at the end, activities such as crafts or letter writing. She says some of her Microsoft colleagues are on the same wavelength. "My friends actually help me now," she says. "If they see me fiddling with my BlackBerry at a party, they'll come over and ask me why I'm not being fully present."

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