FOCUSING: Is this a Rapidly Diminishing Skill?
So we know that in order to do anything right – we need to be able to eliminate distractions and be able to switch on single minded focus for the duration of the task. Well ideally! Take a surgeon operating on us – for over an hour. We wouldn’t want him to lose focus for even a second would we? And thereby increase the possibility of a mistake.
Is the ability to focus rapidly diminishing?
According to an article some time ago in the Harvard Business Review (Edward Hallowell) – we are (modern humans) developing something coined as ADT (Attention Deficiency Trait) which is essentially caused by brain overload. This is because of the constant pressure to multi-task at work, i.e. the demands on our time and attention – we are having a conversation on the phone, while typing an email, and then someone also walks into our office and asks if we have a minute, prior to typing the email – we were also reading a hard copy report, which is still lying open on our desk. Sound familiar? This is something we all go through on a daily basis isn’t it? And add to that the constant bombarding of information we get from our computers (a beep whenever we receive an email), and our phones (beep or light up when a new message arrives). So we are living with distractions. According to the HBR article – we are therefore losing our ability to focus on any given task for even a small amount of time – because we are now tuned to and want the constant stimuli that we have been bombarded with. If we don’t get it – we then search it out. In other words – become distracted all on our own. So this is the first issue – being bombarded by multiple stimuli – and then after some time – having a desperate need for it (eg., the compulsion to constantly check FB or whatsapp for messages!)
So the core symptoms of ADT
The core symptoms are distractibility, becoming very anxious and stressed out, impatience, difficulty in being organized, setting priorities and managing time. So are we suffering from ADT or in danger of it? You decide.
The second issue is caused by the first: Getting into a downward spiral of stress
So what happens is that ‘we get scared’ – essentially that we won’t be able to keep up and manage and complete all the things we are being asked to do – even reading a message is something we feel compelled to do, i.e., another task. Becoming scared – leads to panic – which leads to being stressed out. Again something commonly heard and experienced by us all. And when we are totally stressed out – our ability to cope and manage becomes even more diminished. Mistakes increase, time taken to complete a task also increases – which in turn puts more pressure on us. So we are caught in a downward spiral that many of us find difficult to get out of.
What can we do?
Well a few simple things that we can do to control the situation and then gradually get back control of our lives
- When a document reaches your desk or when you open an email, etc., you make it a discipline to complete it before getting on to the next task. So one thing at a time.
- Getting into the mindset of thinking – no matter how many things there are to do – I can only do one thing at a time – so let me do that the best I can – and then move to the next.
- Keeping the phone away and switching off all automatic notifications. Getting into the practice of checking the phone for messages and also checking email only at pre-determined times in the day, e.g., checking email at 10am, 2pm and 5pm.
- Building some form of mindfulness, quiet time, meditation, prayer – practice. Was reading Tim Feris’ book Tools of the Titans where he says that more than 85% of the top leaders he had interviewed had some form of a regular meditation practice.
- Sleeping well, eat well and get regular exercise. Leaving out sugar and white flour based food would be best. I have radically reduced my rice intake over the last couple of years and see a drastic change.
- Walk as much as you can during your work day, take the stairs instead of the lift, and try to get in some ‘two minute’ mini workouts – even a couple of wall dips should do.
- Take regular breaks at work to recharge. You may think that this is crazy – how can you take a break when you are already overloaded. However the break will help you to re-charge so that you can be more productive and your brain is reset – as against being stressed out and overloaded when nothing gets done.
Finally – for us to do anything at all – we have to make the choice to do so – and also make the choice to refrain from excuses as to why something cannot be done. If we really want to do something we can always find a way.