The Direction of Our Attention

In June, I attended a Social Media Breakfast to hear from Maura Thomas, founder of RegainYourTime.com. She brought up a lot of interesting points about controlling our attention in this digital age, and inspired me to exploring some questions of my own about human attention.

For me, it's easy to clean the kitchen while listening to music. I'm quite comfortable talking on the phone while walking. And I enjoy running on the treadmill while watching television. However, are these abilities of benefit to me? Or, am I hindering my performance by thinking I can handle multiple tasks at once? Am I really getting more done by doing two activities at once?

Have you ever noticed that when you are stuck in really bad traffic, you reach to turn down the volume of the radio? Have you ever caught yourself talking on the phone while walking, when suddenly it starts to rain and you instantly blurt out "uh, let me call you right back?" In these situations, it seems a basic human instinct to limit distractions and focus on the important task at hand. Just one task at a time. Why then, do we not observe this type of behavior in all situations requiring focus and concentration?

Are you the type of person to have your laptop open, your cell phone in hand, and your television on in the background? Or perhaps you are the type person to just have their laptop open, but with a million different windows running all at the same time. Regardless of your habits, many of us participate in the oh so challenging act of multi-tasking. I wonder, are we really getting more done? Or is this just an illusion? Are we missing key information when we multi-task? Watch the following video for a unique perspective.

We live in a society where everything coming at us is designed to take our attention away. For example, have you ever noticed that television advertisements are louder than the actual show? Just in the time that I write this blog post, my phone is likely to ring, or buzz from a text message, I am distracted by the noise of a lawnmower outside, and my computer is alerting me of new emails messages. In an age where focus is hard to come by, taking personal control of our attention is going to be key.

"The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook" - William James

We can control our attention through various tactics - turning our phones off while we drive, limiting the amount of time we spend on social networking sites, only checking our email every 3 hours (instead of having it come automatically to us), and so forth.

It will be interesting to read new research on the effects of multi-tasking on our performance and ability to stay focused. For now, I think the more control we take of our attention, the more productive and focused we will be.


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  3. it seems a basic human instinct to limit distractions and focus on the important task at hand.

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