Fighting A War Against Distraction

An interesting NYTimes blog post on a common topic today…the growing list of things demanding our attention.

A few select ideas…

For all our connectivity, we often catch little more than snippets and glimpses of one another.

Does this seem true to you? Personally, I feel like I am in contact with many more people now, but I don’t ‘know’ any of them all that well.

The average knowledge worker switches tasks every three minutes, and, once distracted, a worker takes nearly a half-hour to resume the original task, according to Gloria Mark, a leader in the new field of “interruption science.”

I certainly understand this idea. It is the concept behind Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 rule, which, among other things, states that 80% of our productivity comes from 20% of our time. For me, it has been easy to recognize when I’m not in that zone of productivity. But it has been much harder to actually shift into it.

In meetings where everyone is checking e-mail, opportunities for collective creative energyand critical thinking are lost, argues Nathan Zeldes, a senior engineer at Intel and a leader of the nonprofit Information Overload Research Group. At home as well, split-focus gives a clear message: “You aren’t worth my time.”

Do you find yourself doing this? I know I do. And I cringe in embarrassment. When I am in a conversation and I know that the phone in my pocket has a missed call or a text message, I find it difficult to concentrate on the person in front of me. I can’t control it, and I should.

The first step is to learn to speak a language of attention. The exciting news is that the enigma of attention has just begun to be mapped, tracked and decoded by neuroscientists who now consider attention to be a trio of skills: focus, awareness and so-called executive attention. Think of it this way: You can be “aware” that you’re in a beautiful garden and then you can “focus” on an individual flower. The last piece, “executive attention,” is the ability to plan and make decisions.

Hmm. This seems nice in theory, but not too practical.

Who knows.

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One comment

  1. It’s a very serious problem, and it’s affecting productivity and quality of life of countless knowledge workers everywhere… which is why it’s about time we did something about it!

    The Information Overload Research Group we founded (http://www.iorgforum.org) hopes to raise awareness and promote research and solutions. Wish us luck (and better yet, join the group!)

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