In my previous blog
, I explained what “attention” is and how interruptions can impact your focus and work product. Today, I am going to delve into how and why attention can affect our businesses and also some techniques you can implement to improve your “focused awareness”.
Big Fat Fallacies
So, before we can go on let’s establish why we need to learn about this. Let’s go back to what my professor said back in college; “true “multi-tasking” does not exist—there is so much about attention and mental processing that people just don’t understand”. Well, let’s begin with the fallacies that many people consider truth.
Many people believe that the brain is a boundless resource that can be filled with a plethora of information and simultaneously perform multiple tasks. Many think they can do this and switch tasks without losing efficiency. They would be wrong.
The truth is that the brain has limits. Our gray matter and nervous system only allows us to focus on one cognitive task at a time. This is why it is physically impossible for us to multi-task. You may think you are multi-tasking while coding and answering the phone at the same time. But you are not; your brain is switching back and forth between two tasks. Self-interrupting.
We already know a couple of effects caused by interruptions on our work. In my past blog, we talked about the effect it can have in our chance for error. What are the other impacts it can have? According to an article by Entrepreneur
, studies show that it can lower IQ and cause brain damage. In a study done by the University of London, researchers found that participants who multi-tasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines equivalent to staying up all-night. IQ dropped approximately 15 points for multi-tasking men. New research
from the University of Sussex
found that high multi-taskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex (which is responsible for cognitive and emotional control). While more research is needed, consistent multi-tasking can possibly change the very structure of our brain. Now that is definitely a good reason to break the habit!
Well, how do we break the habit? As with anything, it will take time. But for now, here are some tips and techniques to help you get on your way in improved focus and attention!
5 Ways to Stay Focused
- Schedule When to Check Email/Messages – One of the biggest constant interruptions is consistently checking our email. It is SO easy to get distracted by this! The way to get around it? Schedule. Map out times during the day to check it. If you have to, send out an auto-reply. Do this, and it will be much easier for you to focus on current tasks.
- Take a Break- Studies show that taking a break allows to recuperate and finish out our work efficiently! After every hour or two, stand up and stretch. Take a quick walk around the office or even the office building. You give your mind a break and are able to refocus yourself.
- SILENCE- Phones and devices the ping with text messages and social updates can quickly become cumbersome. Silence them or put on an automatic response for people reaching you. During your scheduled times for checking emails, you can check your phone then. With that out of the way, it will be easier to hone in on the task at hand.
- Quiet Time- Everyone needs quiet time without interruptions. Some companies have seen the impact of interruptions and have even set up “quiet-hours”. For example, normal interruptions will take place during 11am - 3pm while the morning and afternoon are left completely quiet. This was implemented at a software company with great results: 59% of engineers reported that their productivity increased in the morning interruption-free zone, and 65% said the same for the afternoon. With heads cleared, 41% even reported that their productivity jumped during the interruption portion of the day.
- Meditate- Like anything, to get good takes practice. Try taking up meditation or practice mindfulness (putting full focus in a single task) in your daily tasks. Within time, you will feel mentally stronger and have razor sharp attention skills!