Monday, June 20, 2016

Single Tasking to Combat Self-Induced Distraction and Infomania

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I frequently have written about something I first learned about on the Note to Self podcast, such as the Attention Economy, JOMO, and Crystal. Back in January, Note to Self issued a challenge for listeners combating Infomania and I participated.  Recently they revisited the topic with an Infomagical Bootcamp and it was a great refresher. I encourage you to listen to it (20 minutes is all it will take). Here are my highlights:

  • Multitasking is actually switching many tasks rapidly rather than doing more than one thing at once; not really new information, but important to understand. Switching attention uses glucose and is tiring, as well as increases stress. Scientists have determined that it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds after an interruption to get refocused. Yikes!
  • There are external caused interruptions (such as a new email ding or incoming text message) and internally instigated interruptions (checking Facebook or surfing the web without being prompted). Scientists have observed that interruptions are "self perpetuating", meaning that if you have had a hectic hour of external interruptions, you are likely to frequently self-interrupt your work and thoughts the next hour even when not prompted to do so externally. We are making things worse for ourselves!
  • Research shows that the more urbanized you are, the more likely you are to be a "digital junkie" who spends more time consuming information and talking about it with others. However, only half the information we take in daily even gets stored and used in the future.
  • One solution: single tasking. Make lists and prioritize these to-do lists. Get things out of your mind that don't need your attention at that moment which would be a distraction. Our brain can only hold four items at a time anyway.
  • Another tip I found beneficial- don't let the environment dictate what you do. For example, starting your day off by sitting at your computer to answer the most recent emails allows those items to dictate what you are focusing on vs. spending time deeper in thought on a more important task or project from the previous day. 

Personally, I have found the Things program great for my lists and to-dos. I have also found it beneficial to take control of my phone and its apps by turning off almost all notifications, badges, and alerts. I believe it's important to reflect on our use of technology, which I've called Techcognition, as well as help our kids (who can't imagine life any differently) learn to do this. Single tasking is a skill I can help my kids learn and try to practice myself.  I hope you will, too!

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