In a world of distractions, have you considered ‘monotasking’?
You're in your open plan office. Maybe you have your headphones in but it doesn’t really matter. Ping, there's a Slack message about which cake to buy your colleague for her birthday; ooh a new email; you read said email and treat yourself to quick scroll through Instagram, after which you start to wonder: should I get a new fringe like Hillary Duff? Cue a deep dive into Pinterest before resuming to the task at hand. Which was, erm, something important?
Dr Kristy Goodwin with her family.
It's little wonder says Dr Kristy Goodwin, a researcher and speaker in technology, productivity and wellbeing, we're in a state of chronic distraction.
What's more, our gold standard way of coping with this onslaught of distractions, multitasking, is proving not to be the solution we thought it was.
"Research tells us that the brain is incapable of multitasking," says Dr Goodwin. What we end up doing is "task switching", hopping between one thing and the next with ineffectual results, and "continuous partial attention."
Instead, Dr Goodwin advises people learn how to "monotask". That is, the now greatly difficult task of doing one thing at a time.
It's something Dr Goodwin teaches both executives at big corporate companies and students.
Dr Goodwin will be speaking on monotasking, and more, at The Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young People 2019, a seminar of ideas around youth mental-health wellbeing in Melbourne next week. It's being organised by not-for-profit Generation Next, which works to raise awareness of mental illness in young people.
Dr Goodwin says she is seeing a lot of stressed out, anxious students. They're a generation with unprecedented access to technology designed to exploit weaknesses in our psychology.
As Dr Goodwin points out, the area of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, which directs our attention, is one of the last to develop.
In females, the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until the early twenties, in males the mid-twenties.
Digital amputation is not a long-term solution [to distraction].
So while staying focused is now hard for everyone, it's super hard for young people.
"[The] really big concern is fractured attention span, you cannot learn in this distracted state," she says.
In her talk, "Managing attention span in the age of digital distractions", Dr Goodwin will outline strategies for regaining focus, stress the need for people to train their attention span (like you would a muscle group at the gym) and why banning technology isn't the answer.
"Digital amputation is not a long-term solution, [instead it's about] 'how do we leverage the benefits but minimise the risk'," she says.
Instead Dr Goodwin has practical strategies including turning the phone to aeroplane mode when students need to study, the "proximity strategy" of putting your phone out of sight and therefore out of mind and moving all your weaknesses (be it Snapchat or your news app) off the homescreen.
Dr Goodwin is also an advocate of allowing yourself the time and space to be bored, mindfulness, improved sleep habits and boosting physical activity.
"Teachers say they're seeing a generation of students so habituated to always being busy and distracted, they're missing quiet space and boredom," says Dr Goodwin. "I also say to my big corporate clients that the best hack for focus and creative ideas is pockets of down time and boredom."
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