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Start Page: Interruption addiction takes focus to break

Kim Brand
March 27, 2013
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StartPageBrand.jpgTime management systems used to be popular. They are irrelevant now because you don’t have any time to manage. “Time Management” is an anachronism like “How to Win Friends” or “The Palmer Method.” The critical asset you must now learn to manage is your attention.

Ever since the invention of the telephone in 1876 some “gadget” has without warning or apology demanded your personal attention on a schedule it controlled. The purpose of the communication was almost always to put another item on your to-do list. People who cared about getting things done soon learned to insulate themselves from the interruptions; they employed secretaries, then automated call attendants and voice mail.

However, with the invention of the mobile phone we started “mainlining” the interruptions. Taking or making a call on the go signaled the status of being important and created the illusion of greater productivity. We began to multitask.

Email arrived in the 1980s. Interruptions could be automated, and the cost to create an interruption fell dramatically. Only 10 years ago, Blackberry devices began delivering email to your phone so your office could be anywhere you were . . . now, interruptions could be delivered everywhere!

Research has shown that a mind in a constant state of interruption loses its ability to focus and plan. A CNN report concludes that the constant interruption of email actually lowers your IQ. But the assault on our attention has become more severe than phone calls and email. We have allowed many more sources of interruptions to invade our thinking time: Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, chat requests and text messages among them.
startpage-factbox.gifMy belief is that we have become addicted to these interruptions. When something in our world isn’t interrupting us we now crave the stimulation to a degree that we generate thoughts to interrupt ourselves. (Ever check your email in the bathroom?) Worse, we have become accustomed to shallow thinking and diluted focus.

According to Maggie Jackson, author of the book “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age,” technology is responsible for “… eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention – the building block of intimacy, wisdom, and cultural progress. … The erosion of attention is the key to understanding why we are on the cusp of a time of widespread cultural and social losses.”

My ambition is to take back the attention I lost when I turned my life over to the gadgets that were supposed to make me more productive.

Rule 1: Establish boundaries and expectations

Anyone who depends on you has likely become dependent on being able to interrupt you at any time and expect an immediate response. Fix that. I include a link to my email policies in my signature block. One of my rules is to set the expectation that a reply might take a day. For faster service, call the office.

Rule 2: Turn it off

This applies to your phone and your email. Don’t tempt yourself. If you can’t stand knowing that your phone won’t be answered, hand it to your secretary. Your callers will be impressed; they may be better served and you’ll be able to enjoy some quiet time. Don’t cheat: turn off the email – don’t just minimize it or disable the pop-ups.

A byproduct of turning off your email and phone means you won’t be interrupting others as often. Bundle your communication activities into a few time periods a day.

Rule 3: Prioritize

Today, the most critical resource you manage is your attention. The expression “pay attention” is literally true. When you pay attention you are trading something precious for what in many cases may be worthless – and you can’t know until you pay it. In the bargain you lose the capacity to focus and sacrifice your state of “flow” where studies have shown many of the greatest ideas and progress you desire originate. Some researchers estimate that it may take 15 to 20 minutes to get back to where you were working after a single interruption.

Prioritizing may be the hardest part because it means admitting that you can’t multitask. Multitasking is a powerful illusion we fool ourselves into believing is possible. Actually, your brain can’t do more than one thing at a time and fMRI scans prove it.

This article is part one of two. In my next article I will show you how to use Outlook rules to create “attention zones” that can help prioritize your limited attention to the most important emails. If you can’t wait, send me an email, and I’ll send you the second installment of this two-part column in advance.•

__________

Kim Brand is a technology expert and President of Computer Experts Inc. He is the inventor of FileSafe. He speaks and writes frequently on technology subjects – making them interesting and understandable. Brand can be contacted by email, info@ComputerExpertsIndy.com or call 317-833-3000. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
 

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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