Distractions are everywhere!! We are constantly being bombarded with stimuli on all sides. Most of these distractions are fueled by the rise and spread of technology. Smartphones, email, various social media, and the many devices using variants of these technologies are fully implicated as the major sources of distractions.
So What about These Distractions?
The result of these many distractions is that we may find it difficult to focus on any one thing for any length of time. Besides, our productivity decreases, which may lead us at the end of the day to wonder, “What have I done for the day?” A reason for this is that our brains are becoming, or have become, conditioned to constantly switching from one thing to the next. In fact, many people boast about being able to ‘multitask’, being able to move from one task to the other with relative ease, and being able to keep up with the many distractions. But in the end, we find that we have flitted from one thing to the other, without doing anything substantial. This is because we did not focus on something specific to accomplish. What is Responsible for Distractions?
Our modern technology may be responsible for our lack of focus. As one source points out, “A growing fixation on video screens large and small and the constantly changing images and messages these screens provide may be altering how our brains work. New research is showing that younger brains can process information faster than previous generations, and so they can transition from task to task more easily” (Budd, November 27, 2017). Younger people who have grown up since the Internet and most of the modern technology tend to be the ones who are most easily distracted.
So What is All this Talk about Focus?
Focus means paying particular attention to or giving our undivided attention to the task at hand. Focus is therefore said to improve productivity. As Thomas (March 15, 2018) points out, “To be consistently productive and manage stress better, we must strengthen our skill in attention management.” Attention management is really about maintaining our focus.
Factors Underlying Focus or Focused Attention
In order to control distractions, we need to have greater knowledge of ourselves and how we function. Emotional intelligence is therefore a requirement if we are to understand how we respond to our environment and others around us (Shockness, 2017).
Emotions are important factors that play a role in how we respond to distractions. According to Richard Davidson in his book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain, “attention, resilience, outlook, social intuition, self-awareness and sensitivity to context” are factors that influence our emotional style in responding to distractions (Wachter, September 2018). For example, if someone has the capacity for selective attention, then that person is able to give more focus or attention to certain aspects of his or her environment, while at the same time being able to exclude distractions. At the other extreme, a person may be so open that he or she is able to recognize stimuli from various sources – meaning that this person is highly distractible (Wachter, September 2018).
Intentional about Focus
Having this knowledge about ourselves, we would be in a good position to take the appropriate action to exclude and avoid distractions and develop focus. In order to improve focus, we have to be intentional in finding ways to reduce distractions. The person who can be selective in his or her attention, has greater ability to deal with distractions by being self-aware, and deciding what must be excluded. Thomas (March 15, 2018) points out that to be intentional about focus, we have to control our technology, such as putting away possible distractions such as phones, emails and notifications, and we have to control our environment, such as keeping our doors closed, if we feel distracted by what is taking place around us.
Cal Newport (2016), author of Deep Work: Rules for Focussed Success in a Distracted World, maintains that focus without distraction is a skill that has to be developed. This skill involves being able to block out distractions by spending less time on technology. Newport (2016) points out that “deep work” or focusing is what makes us excel in what we do, but “most people have lost the ability to go deep – spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way”.
Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University, and a highly recognized academic, walks his talk, for as pointed out, he does not have a Facebook or a Twitter account (Wachter, September 2018). Further, this professor is quoted as pointing to how he deals with unplugging from technology. “For the most part, I don’t touch a computer between the time I get home from work and the next morning when the new workday begins” (Quoted from Deep Work by Wachter, September 2018).
The message we can take away from this discussion is that developing the skill of focusing is vitally important to increase our productivity, as it involves giving our full attention to whatever task we are doing at the time. Being able to block distractions is critical to achieving this. With technology being a major source of knowledge, but one of the major causes of distractions, we are encouraged to use technology wisely, monitoring the amount of time we spend on it. We are advised to control our use of technology, while at the same time controlling our environment. Also, being self-aware goes a long way to highlighting the emotional cues that would help us avoid distractions.
Budd, K. (November 27, 2017). Keep your mental focus. Brain Health & Wellness. AARP Bulletin. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-2017/mental-focus-smartphone-use.html
Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for Focussed Success in a Distracted World. New York: Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group.
Shockness, I. (2017). Developing emotional Intelligence: 30 Ways for Older Teens and Young Adults to develop their Caring Capabilities (Volume 3 of Successful Youth Living Series) – Available at Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/1775009459 and at other distribution channels
Thomas, M. (March 15, 2018). To control your life, control what you pay attention to. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/03/to-control-your-life-control-what-you-pay-attention-to
Wachter, H. (September 2018). How to reclaim your attention span. Retrieved from https://experiencelife.com/article/reclaim-your-attention-span/
By Israelin Shockness at www.successfulyouthliving.com and at www.successfulyouthlivingblog.com