Estimated Read Time: 6 minutes
This morning's article is particularly important for two reasons:
- Over 90% of you said that social media/smart phones were the biggest time wasters in your life, and
- 100% of you were crazy enough to commit to getting up at 4:30AM, so I can only assume that managing your time and attention matters to you.
With that settled, let's get into it.
In a world filled with endless distractions and companies willing to do anything to capture our attention, it’s worth taking a look at the impact of having our attention spread a millimetre in a million directions, all day long.
I'll cut to the chase here cause I think we all know it – the biggest culprit of this is social media.
If you don't believe me, just take a read of the article "How Technology Hijacks People's Minds" written by Tristan Harris, a design ethicist at Google. In hindsight, I probably should have sent this on Friday because it's pretty sobering and you'll need a drink after.
But, as social media and technology inevitably inch their way deeper into every aspect of our lives, the more we know, the better off we are.
Just know this won't be some big rant on why social media is bad and why we should all delete our accounts and run away. It's simply a critical and healthy look at the other side of the coin.
While there are many tremendous benefits that social media can bring – whether it’s inspiration, an easy way to connect, or lowering the barriers to communication, such as we're doing with this program – few of us have stopped to ask about the costs of these mediums and the impacts they have on us – mainly our time and attention.
Thankfully, science has once again saved the day. Most of our time management issues aren’t time management issues at all – they are attention management issues. And living in a world filled with endless distractions, understanding this is more important than ever.
The science is clear: when you spend a significant amount of your day task shifting every 15 minutes, even if you’re not multitasking, you’re not being effective – at all.
What We Gain From Being Fully Engaged
The simplest answer: time.
According to Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, one of the most well regarded books on the subject of focus (and comes highly recommended), "when you turn your attention from one target to another, the original target leaves a “residue” that reduces cognitive performance for a non-trivial amount of time to follow. If you're like most and rarely go more than 10–15 minutes without a check, you have effectively put yourself in a persistent state of self-imposed cognitive handicap. The flip side, of course, is to imagine the relative cognitive enhancement that would follow by minimizing this effect."
When we engage in deep work – the process of focusing intensely on a single task – we become fully engaged in the activity at hand. In being fully engaged, we remove all of the switching costs associated with our fleeting attention span and not only do tasks become easier, we get them done faster and better.
For example, if I have Facebook, Instagram, Slack, or email open while I’m writing this blog post, it takes more than an hour (or two).
If I have nothing open and sit in write in a single stream of consciousness, I can usually have it done in under 30 minutes.
The end result? I get a way better blog and still have 30 to 90 minutes of freedom where I can scroll through the coolest apartment set-ups around the world on Pinterest – guilt free.
PS. I just tested this theory with Facebook open and yep, it's true. This took me forever to write.
This is something that has become noticeable in every single one of my activities – whether it’s writing blogs, creating new concepts for Chasing Sunrise, or cleaning my apartment, when I'm fully engaged in a task, I'm able to complete it in significantly less time.
It can be tough to have the discipline, but it's worth it every time.
Focused Attention Reduces Anxiety
More than just destroying the ability to get the important stuff done, a constantly disrupted attention span has been closely linked to anxiety. Along with the rise of ubiquitous smartphone use and social media use came an explosion in anxiety-related disorders.
You know that low-grade anxiousness and scattered feeling you have all day long because you never have enough time, things seem a bit all over the place, and tasks feel overwhelming – yep that's it and it's likely caused by technology.
When we’re constantly being shifted from one task to another and getting hooked on the dopamine that follows, it’s a recipe for anxiety. It overrides the neurological wiring in our brain and trains it to always be on, craving more dopamine, and never in the relaxed, restful state it needs to regenerate or stay focused.
This of course become a negative loop. A lack of focus causes more anxiety, which causes us to shy away from the work and distract ourselves, which causes another dopamine hit, which causes a lack of foc... you get the point.
A Quick Test To See How You're Doing
If you agreed with any of the above, then it's time to put your money where your mouth is.
Turn off all the notifications on your phone and avoid all social media for just one day.
Just see how it feels to spend a single 24-hour period fully engaged in what you're doing.
If it helps, delete the apps from your phone, use Focus for your computer, and buy this bad boy for anything else that distracts you (seriously, I just bought one and it's paid itself off in less than a day).
Notice how you feel before and after doing this I bet you’ll notice a significant difference in how much you get done, how you feel, and your anxiety level. And less anxiety results in better focus, which in turn enables you to get more done in less time, which means you can sleep in until 6:30AM, guilt-free.
If you treat your attention with respect – aka don’t fragment it – you allow it to stay whole and when it comes time to work you can actually get one thing after another done and do so with intensity.
And that, my friends, is the recipe for a happy and accomplished life.
PS. I've put a 15-minute talk below from Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. It talks about his life without social media and what he gains from it. Considering he has a Ph.D from MIT, is an associate professor at Georgetown University, and has authored five different books, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume he knows a thing or two about focus. It's worth taking a watch and at least considering if less time on social media is right for you.
PPS. This is a topic that I care deeply about and would love to have a conversation about it. I've posted it into the Facebook group and would love your thoughts and feedback around it. How do you manage a world of ever-increasing distractions?
And as always, somethign to kick off your morning.