Keeping focus — I’m in the zone
I was recently watching a TED talk given by Tristan Harris on the subject of how the technology we have invented to aid our productivity both professionally and personally needs to do more to protect us from distraction.
I strongly suggest you watch it but here are some of the headline figures in this talk in which Harris describes how we are ‘bulldozing’ each others attention constantly.
Research from Microsoft indicates that it takes 23 minutes to regain your attention following a distraction. During this time you will cycle through two other non relevant tasks. This distraction also trains and conditions bad habits. The more external interruptions we receive the more we also self interrupt, up to every 3 and a half minutes. It’s an infinite loop of distraction and the more we have to distract ourselves with, the bigger these numbers will get.
It got me thinking, which I’m sure the founders of TED will be glad to hear.
In my professional and personal life, I surround myself with a variety of applications to collaborate with colleagues, manage external development teams, monitor my fitness, manage my finances, check the train timetables, share notes with my wife with food shopping lists, get hourly updates on the weather wherever I am. All this is just the first page of four on my applications list on my phone.
You get the picture. I spend more time flicking through these notifications that are all demanding equal attention, anytime, anyplace. This I have found often blurs the lines between my personal and professional life.
I now find it’s just as easy to send a message on Slack to the team about a meeting we had that day at 10pm just as I’m getting into bed as it is to open Pokemon Go at 10am in the office.
This really alarmed me, sometimes I’m left with the feeling that by committing fleeting moments of my attention here and there that I’m not really achieving anything. Something had to be done and to get the best out of both my worlds I set about trying to arrange my apps in a better way that allow me to get the best out of them when I need them most. What use is an hourly weather update when I am sat in the office all day anyway?
The first thing I did was pick up my phone. It has all the answers, right? I decided to spend a few minutes going through all the notifications settings of each of the major apps I use for both work and play. I figured an hour spent here will save me several over the course of just one week alone.
Next, and this is when I truly realised the extent of the problem, I downloaded another app. I know at this point this sounds totally counterproductive but hear me out. I initially searched in the Google Play Store for ‘productivity’ which didn’t really return what I was expecting, just more of the same to-do list style apps that I have tried and tested and bought the t-shirt. I already use Evernote to manage my daily diary and Google Keep for personal notes.
Also in this search page were stopwatch style apps that still put the onus on the user to self manage their time but still didn’t address the problem of the distraction in the first place.
I changed my search to ‘focus’ which just returned camera related apps. At this point I was rubbing my hands and questions were racing through my head at a million miles per hour. Am I the only one looking for this? Have I found a big gaping gap in the market? Before I booked a one way flight to San Francisco, I amended the search slightly to ‘focus lock’ and there hidden away were a few solitary apps. Dammit.
Out of all the options, I opted for AppBlock as it received slightly better reviews than the other two on offer, but they all looked pretty similar. The concept behind them it is very simple, it allows you to select which times certain apps can send you notifications or if you are really struggling for a shred of self discipline, even be opened.
So far it’s been brilliant and has certainly assisted in getting me off my phone during the weekends as my wife will happily testify.
The only issue is it’s only on my phone, which I use very little during office hours anyway; luckily I’m not a Pokemon Go fan. It feels like a good start, but has so much more to offer so maybe my ticket to San Francisco will come in useful after all.