What holds attention determines distraction

Even checked distractions will lead you to distraction. What holds attention determines distraction

This very day I have been repeating over and over to myself a verbal jingle whose mawkish silliness was the secret of its haunting power. I loathed yet could not banish it. 

What holds attention determines action.

William James, The Principles of Psychology

Was it a rhyme or a sick joke that got in the thinker's way? What do you think James was referring to?

Fast forward to modern day distraction

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Working against attention residue

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gif via The Daily Dot

Going to work to answer emails won't make you a better emailer, just as another five minutes on Twitter won't improve your social networking game. Email, Twitter, and incoming messages drain our cognitive fitness.

Continuous partial attention fragments our mind and impedes deep thought, which is at the core of doing meaningful work.

How are we alive if all we do is process tasks?

Digital knowledge work seems to be typing into little boxes all day. We confuse distraction with busyness.

If we are the CEO of us, perhaps we need better focus engines to keep our eyes on the donut and not the donut hole.

Listen to You 2.0: The Value Of ‘Deep Work' In An Age Of Distraction

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One infinite loop

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  • Smart watches
  • Kindle books
  • Spotify streams

The newest technologies erode their physical counterparts, but they also revitalize interest in the old stuff.

The sensory, tactile experience of analog items as those listed above literally feel more special. They are stimulants: the subtle noise of a telltale “tick-tock,” the fresh smell of an unopened book, or the surface noise of vinyl, not to mention the album art that doubles as real-life Instagrams to make fancy wall art

People want reality. They want to disconnect from the internet's dizzying pace and reconnect to those micro moments.

Nature nurtures and refocuses our sense of being. We are more than just robots seeking the temporary therapy of distraction.

Filtering out clickbait

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Filter wisely (via imgur)

Clickbait is the result of a 24/7 news cycle. Media companies create stories of unimportance so that they can get another click to drive up revenues. The entire operation intends to suck your attention and waste your time, along with depleting your brain cells.

In short, the news makes your brain fat. That's why you have to step away from Twitter and reset your RSS feeds every six months. Delete the newsletters that contain links to useless articles. Or just read books. Consuming all the headlines makes none of them significant, leaving little room in your head for remembering what is actually important. Shane Parrish of the educational Farnam Street blog recently dissected the abundance of media in an article entitled ‘The Pot-Belly of Ignorance‘:

“Clickbait media is not a nutritious diet. Most people brush this off and say that it doesn’t matter … that it’s just harmless entertainment.

But it’s not harmless at all. Worse, it’s like cocaine. It causes our brains to light up and feel good. The more of it we consume, the more of it we want. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Be careful what you take in as it directly influences what you put back out. Even more, reflect on what you read since that's where you connect ideas and start to develop your own. Of course, you need to identify the trustworthy sources. Start with the publication and curators you trust and make a list of potential resources based off of their hyperlinks.
Fill your mind with less, not more. And most importantly, work it off, trying to make sense of what you absorbed in the attempt to craft an original thought.

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Multi-tasking: how to survive in the 21st century

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Answering emails during a meeting. Tweeting a live debate. Multitasking is more tempting than ever because it's too easy to flip between screens of content.

“What we’re often calling multitasking is in fact internet addiction. It’s a compulsive act, not an act of multitasking.”

Conversely, multitasking sustains creativity. Switching between projects may help you to see how they connect. Multitasking leads to flow which leads to new ideas.

“The act of switching back and forth can grease the wheels of thought.”

Either way, we can hardly remember when our brain is half-engaged. Pro tip: if you're suffering from the anxiety of unfinished tasks, aka the “Zeigarnik effect,” write them down and come back to them later.

Tim Harford: “Multi-tasking: how to survive in the 21st century”

Meet The Super Taskers

His findings put a new spin on memory lapses, suggesting they may often be due not to recall errors, but a failure to tune out distractions.

Memory is a combination of focus and flow, both of bridge together during multi-tasking. That is, if you’re one of the 2 percent who’s a “Super Tasker.”

You Can Tell Everybody This Is Your Song

When all of our information — images, art, news, modes of communication — is mediated through the same screen, the notion of value, of what is important and unimportant, even in a subjective, personal sense, becomes murky. Births, deaths, celebrity mug shots, piano-playing kittens, children we don’t know engaging in wackiness, war, poverty, photos of salt shakers and table sets, tales of the mundane, puns: This is all funneled and flattened, much to our delight and convenience, of course. Everything is a headline, everything is front page

The mobile screen begs for quick attention. You could say the same for paper and countless other formats, but those we're harder to flick away so we spent more time on them. Nowadays everything is just a swipe, the focus of a fish.

Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity

Remember, too, that stress is not a function of events; it’s a function of the view you take of events.You think a particular thing is going to happen and that when it does, it’s going to be awful. But prediction is an illusion. We can’t know what’s going to happen. So give yourself five reasons you won’t lose the job. Then think of five reasons why, if you did, it would be an advantage—new opportunities, more time with family, et cetera. Now you’ve gone from thinking it’s definitely going to happen to thinking maybe it will and even if it does, you’ll be OK.

Control the mind, control the reaction, control the stress. Keep it all in perspective. And then relax in the moment.

It’s going to sound corny, but I believe it fully: Life consists only of moments, nothing more than that. So if you make the moment matter, it all matters. You can be mindful, you can be mindless. You can win, you can lose. The worst case is to be mindless and lose. So when you’re doing anything, be mindful, notice new things, make it meaningful to you, and you’ll prosper.

The Problem With Multitasking

Today’s machines don’t just allow distraction; they promote it. The Web calls us constantly, like a carnival barker, and the machines, instead of keeping us on task, make it easy to get drawn in—and even add their own distractions to the mix. In short: we have built a generation of “distraction machines” that make great feats of concentrated effort harder instead of easier.

Having a computer in our pocket (our Smartphones) also means we’re a vibrate away from checking when we really don’t need to.

My Kids Are Obsessed With Technology, and It’s All My Fault – NYTimes.com

A father wrestles with technology in the age of distraction:

Midway through my 20s I underwent a reformation. I began reading, then writing, literary fiction. It quickly became apparent that the quality of my work rose in direct proportion to my ability filter out distractions. I’ve spent the past two decades struggling to resist the endless pixelated enticements intended to capture and monetize every spare second of human attention.

When we whip out our smartphones in line at the bank, 9 times out of 10 it’s because we’re jonesing for a microhit of stimulation, or that feeling of power that comes with holding a tiny universe in our fist.

But the only reliable antidote to such burdens, based on my own experience, is not immersion in brighter and mightier screens but the capacity to slow our minds and pay sustained attention to the world around us.

Apps like Instagram help see the world around us. Twitter helps us learn from people of interest. The Internet is a force of knowledge and creativity but also a sharp distraction in doing what matters. Attention is scarce.

“Too Much Twitter”

Imagine if instead of showing interesting things from all around Twitter, Discover focused on your own timeline and showed you the most interesting and important things since you last checked Twitter. It could display the tweets by people you follow that were the most retweeted and the most favorited. It could show the links that came up the most often over the past hour (or two hours, or four hours or whatever) on your timeline, or that had people talking. If two or three of the people you follow message each other back and forth for multiple tweets, it should put that conversation in front of you, starting with the first tweet (especially if more people join in).

In the age of multiple streams and endless distraction, curation is king.  We need summaries so we can have even more time to waste time.