Modern technology is meant to help us do it all, with the potential to keep us informed of everything we’re meant to do, everything we’ve done and what our best friend had for dinner (essential info). While doing one thing, we can be constantly aware of hundreds of others.
However, that old saying, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none,’ makes a good point; if you try to do everything, you’ll do nothing as successfully as you could.
The email telling me about my next dental appointment in 2017 is in my inbox before I’ve made the 7-minute walk home from the dentist and reached for my calendar hanging on the wall (I know. I’m so retro). My laptop nags at me; I’ve still not installed that Adobe update. My tablet pings to tell me about the performance of my Facebook page (vital; without an FB page, will I ever work again?!). My work mobile jingles with a message from a prospective or current client (I’m not sure; should I check?), a torrent of Twitter notifications appear at the edge of my screen, someone has commented on my blog and just when my brain is set to explode, the landline rings. I dither. Is it family (could be urgent) or, more likely, a sales call I’d be far wiser to ignore? Aaargh!
And that’s why I’m suggesting that trying to do it all – to be constantly aware of it all – may be stopping us from doing anything well. It’s dragging our focus away from the task at hand, meaning we don’t give it our best and it takes longer than it should.
Doing one thing at a time may be the best way to do anything – and all that electronic chatter is preventing us from doing this.
Addicted to Connection
The trouble is that as much as many of us complain about the constant instant messages, notifications, tweets, DMs, texts, emails, Skype calls etc., we may feel lost without them.
But why? Well, these communications provide a connection to others. They make us feel we’re in contact with a network of our fellow human beings; that we’re not alone. That’s quite a powerful draw, even if it’s a subconscious one. They also make us feel wanted and that others are taking notice of us; they’ve responded to something we’ve done, said or typed, or they’re trying to get our attention. Even while we are moaning about the constant interruptions they provide, we may also be getting a buzz from the interaction.
But that buzz can be the downfall of our focus and productivity. Talking of buzz…
‘It’s On Vibrate, so that’s OK. Right?
Ah, the Smartphone. Simultaneously ingenious and a curse on conversation!
You can put your phone on vibrate. You can even put it on silent and move it more than an arm’s reach away. But all the time you can still hear it make some kind of sound or you can see the screen light up briefly as your phone receives a message, then you’re not free of its allure – and you’re distracted.
But I don’t pick it up! I hear you cry.
Well done, you. But you noticed you had a message. Your focus was on the phone and the message while you made the decision to ignore it and also decided when you would check it later. And even if you dragged your eyes back to your task, somewhere deep inside your mind, a little voice would have said: I wonder who it’s from? I wonder if it’s urgent. Perhaps it’s a reply from Katie. Perhaps someone is offering me work, and I’ll lose it if I don’t get back to them?
This means you’re not only losing focus and precious work time when the notification grabs your attention, but for some time after, too.
Those Nagging Notifications!
This isn’t just a theory of mine. This distraction effect has been backed up by research.
A study done by researchers at Florida State University discussed auditory and tactile notifications, and concluded, ‘Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance. We found that cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupted performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants did not directly interact with a mobile device during the task. The magnitude of observed distraction effects was comparable in magnitude to those seen when users actively used a mobile phone, either for voice calls or text messaging.’
So what’s the solution? Or course, you could turn off those notifications – or put your phone in another room until break time!
If this makes you shudder, then consider gaining more control over your notifications so that you’re only notified of the important stuff – when and where you wish to be. There are lots of apps available out there that can help, such as Dynamic Notifications for Android and Moment for iOS devices.
Modern technology can only help us if we have control over it, so remember – you’re the boss!