A few years back some studies were conducted on how we work. The studies found that every 11 minutes we are interrupted by a phone call, colleague, text message, instant message, email or any of the other numerous possible interruptions. This is probably not news as you likely experience this everyday, whether you are a busy executive or a busy mom.
The challenge, however, is that the studies also found that it took the brain at least 11 minutes to refocus on the task at hand. I think we can all see the problem here. Just as we are about to refocus, we are interrupted again. The concept of focused thought and attention has disappeared in our technology-driven society.
In other studies the fallacy of multi-tasking was further debunked. Humans, in fact, cannot focus on many tasks at once. Research shows that we can effectively focus on only 2 tasks. After that our effectiveness is greatly diminished and focus disappears.
This new “focus” was called continuous partial attention where we engage in switchtasking; the act of rapidly going back and forth from one task to another in microbursts of attention.
Most people wear their assumed ability to multi-task as a badge of honor and companies award jobs like prizes to those who can successfully demonstrate this lack of focus best. The more things one can do at the same time, the better an employee they must be.
Yet, the research demonstrates that when someone multi-tasks work actually takes longer and the quality is inferior. A 2005 study by Hewlett-Packard found that workers who were continually distracted by e-mail and phone calls showed an effective drop in IQ equal to twice that of those using marijuana.
In our world today, we seem to have confused being busy with being productive. Multi-tasking may allow you to get a lot of things done, but the real question is, “Are you doing them well?”
(To see a humorous example of the inability to multi-task that recently took the country by storm, click the video below.)
If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.
– Russian Proverb
5 Tips to Restore Your Focus, Sanity and Quality of Work
- Turn Off Notifications (Email, Facebook, Twitter, Text) – Today’s technology and social media serve as distracters and fragment our focus and deepening of thought. Turning off the bells and whistles of our technology will prevent the Pavlovian response to them.
- Schedule your day – Setting aside designated time to do specific tasks increases your focus and commitment to the completion of that task.
- Just Say “No” – Not every new technology is a must have. Critically consider what it offers and ask yourself, “How does this new technology best serve me and do I really need it?”
- Designate Quiet Hours – Establish a time in your day where you actually turn off all electronic devices so that you may focus on an important task that requires your thought and creativity.
- Purge – Review your current technology, social media and email newsletters and ask yourself if they benefit you. If not, consider purging it to create space for more important tasks.
(Photo credit: Margo Conner)