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, or call 317-833-3000. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.