The rise of technology has caused an increase in distractions and a decrease in our ability to focus. How do we harness our attention to focus more and become more creative? Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus, discusses how our ability to focus leads to a more productive, creative, and meaningful life.
Watch the video to find out how distractions affect not only our attention spans, but our ability to ideate and plan. By the end you’ll know how to live a more productive, creative, and focused life.
Technology and the ability to focus
His journey into the science behind focus began when he decided to experiment with his own attention and focus. For a month he eliminated all distractions (like having his phone nearby while he worked or watching TV while he ate) for a month. He also went on to plan the amount of time he should spend on daily tasks, such as work, and when to eat, and how long he should take a break for.
He also purposely increased moments of boredom to see what would happen. It took about a week for his brain to adjust to this low level of stimulation, and he found the following three things happened:
- His attention span increased. It wasn’t a flawless transition, but Chris found that he could focus on tasks more easily, and for longer periods of time.
- He had more ideas. In those moments of boredom or a short break from work, he found he had more ideas and more solutions to problems.
- Chris also found that he thought more about plans; more specifically, plans about the future.
To understand what this meant, Chris went on to research more about how technology affects our attention and our ability to focus. This is what he found.
When we work in front of our screens, and have other distracting devices nearby like our phones, we only focus on the task at hand for 40 seconds before we’re distracted or interrupted. This number drops down to only 35 seconds when we have applications like Slack or Whatsapp running in the background. The reason for this isn’t what we might think though. We think we can’t focus because we’re distracted – however, research shows that this is only a symptom of a deeper problem.
We can’t focus because our brains are overstimulated, which causes us to seek distraction. In fact, there’s a natural mechanism in the brain that rewards us for these distractions, called the Novelty Bias. This mechanism releases small pops of dopamine (the ‘happy’ hormone), the same kind we feel when we eat an entire large pizza, or go to the gym, or make love. We feel this same burst of happiness when we log onto Facebook, when we should be focused on something else.
So not only do we crave distraction, but our brains reward us for these distractions. This goes against the idea that we should be doing more, against hustle culture and multi-tasking. We’re doing so much that our minds never wander to create ideas and solutions. To be more productive and creative, we actually need more space. Distraction is not the enemy of focus; overstimulation is.