By Michelle Ensuque
I was listening to Johann Hari the other day talking about our ability to focus being increasingly destroyed and it made me think about my own situation. Increasingly I find it almost impossible to watch a TV programme without (at worst) playing a game on my phone at the same time or (at best) fast-forwarding to get to a good part.
Should I Focus on A Lack of Focus?
When did I become so impatient or lose the inability to focus?
And should I consider this as a problem that I have no control over, or, is it something I can influence?
I look at the world we live in and it feels as if it is almost speeding up beyond my ability to keep up. With the advent of the internet, the work environment has accelerated beyond all measure.
But in our personal lives, it appears we’re distracted too.
Social media platforms such as Facebook messenger have enabled me to keep in contact with people who don’t live anywhere near me, but Johann says that this is not the total intention of these sites. In fact, if we think these mega moguls have our vested interests at heart, we should perhaps think again. We are he says, “just business”.
These companies don’t necessarily want to drive communication directly between people. Their business model is to get us to keep scrolling and see the adverts. If we stopped to actually set up direct communication with someone, they wouldn’t earn a thing. I’m not an advertisers’ dream. But I have learned that many are not like me; they do succumb to the advertisements and that makes the mega moguls very happy.
Re-Focusing Is The Death of Productivity
Coming back to my own point about focus (see what I did there: took you away and brought you back into the room in just a couple of paragraphs), I love to shout about the fact I can multi-task – fist pump, go me! However, if I begin to focus on one task and then receive a text or a pop up on my emails, I read it.
In essence, my focus moves elsewhere. And when I return to the original task, I have to refocus which wastes time.
Switching from one thing to the next. Focusing and refocusing.
Add the work interruptions to personal notifications on my phone whilst at work and the switching becomes almost constant. So, how many times do I do that a day?
How productive am I really being?
Maybe Tech Isn’t The Problem
So focused is our attention on the little screens we carry around that we can feel bereft if we leave the house without them. But imagine all those people walking around with all their notifications on full volume, how overwhelming might that feel? It is incredible that we can cope with that amount of information at any one time.
When you really think about it, who are we actually connected to now: people or the technology with which we reach people?
Well, instead of moaning about how life was great before all this technological stuff became such a pain in the ass, maybe there should also be an acceptance that we are not what we once were. For the most part, I see technology as a good thing:
I can Google practically anything, including tutorials, that have saved me both time and money.
I can book a holiday myself online
I can pay bills and transfer money to where I need to without the need to set foot into a bank.
Put simply, I can be productive elsewhere because I’m no longer wasting time doing things that used to take a lot of my personal time. I do believe I am connected with people I would have otherwise lost contact with and, as I sit here today, I can connect with my husband living in a different country.
As a human race we are continually developing and if we want something different, we still have the choice to change something at an individual level, rather than wanting the world to change around us. After all, I might have lost my focus, but I haven’t lost my right to choose, have I?
How To Focus In a Changing World
So, do we need to change and how can we do it?
Do we think our lives will improve if we make the change?
If we can see no real reason to change, why would we do it? If you’re happy with the speed life is running at and you feel energised, why slow down?
Ultimately, I believe it’s a personal thing. However, if, like me, you notice that you can’t even concentrate on a TV programme without getting easily distracted and then feel dissatisfied as a result, maybe we can tweak things, to find a way back to enjoying life in the moment.
I don’t think I have the monopoly on tips, rather they are an accumulation of my thoughts based on working with clients and doing my own research but here are some ideas you could put to use:
What is it you would like to change about your ability to focus and why? Once you bring it to your conscious awareness you can act on it.
What is within your influence to enable that change? For example, if you want to stop all email traffic in your company, you have zero influence, but if you want to be less distracted by notifications, you have options
What is it that makes you want to move from one thing to another, just because your attention is diverted? Now that you know that, what could you do instead?
Where do you feel overwhelm the most? It doesn’t have to be just with technology. Rather than seeing it as one overwhelming issue, pick it apart and identify the most pressing element. Use item 2 to make the change
Use the ideas from James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, and create a new habit that you can stick to every day. The key is to start small. Those that talk about changing habits talk about the number of days it can take to embed a new one anywhere from 21 days upwards. However, I would disagree, because I’ve seen habits change just by working on the subconscious mind pretty much instantaneously. It really is about what feels like the right approach for you.
Sorry for stealing your focus for a couple of minutes but if you do recognise you find it difficult to focus, what exactly are you going to choose to do about it?
Michelle Ensuque is a behavioural coach whose project management and consultant career has spanned 30 years across public and private sectors.
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