Can your device help you focus?

We all know that focus is powerful and our devices can be a big part of the distractedness problem. But what if they could also be part of the solution?

Reports vary on exactly how many hours the average adults spends on screens each day – different studies report anything between 7 and 12 hours. However, it only takes a few moments considering our own days, and the amount of time spent across desktops, laptops, phones and tablets to know that it’s a significant part of our day, and often the place we’re performing work that really requires us to focus and be at our mental best. 

So how, then, can we leverage our devices to actually help us to focus?

Focus@will

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This is a subscription service of streaming instrumental music that is supposedly designed to help you concentrate on your work. I can’t speak to the credibility of the science, all I know is – it definitely helps me focus. 

I was skeptical at first, and went through two rounds of of the free 15-day trial before subscribing, but I’ve had no regrets since.

You can choose from a range of different types of sounds and music, as well as either low, medium or high energy variants.

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I’m a big fan of the ‘Water’ channel, which kind’ve makes me feel like I’m working on a balcony overlooking the breaking waves of the ocean. Kind’ve.

Focus@will helps me get ‘in the zone’ and dive deep into creative, analytical or detail-driven work. I’m a fan, and it’s a great way to set up your device to be an asset rather than a liability in the fight for focus.

 

Notifications

If you are trying to do work that requires insight, creativity, attention to detail or strategic thinking, then you simply cannot do you best work if you allow yourself to be constantly interrupted by notifications.

You are not the exception to science. You just can’t.

Professor Gloria Mark, from the University of California, is a leading voice in the newly emerging field of ‘interruption science’, She spoke with Fast Company about the effects of constant interruption on knowledge workers through things like notifications –

We found there is significantly more stress. We did a laboratory experiment where people did a typical office task: they had to answer a set of e-mail. In one condition, they were not interrupted. In another condition, we interrupted them with phone calls and IM. We used a NASA workload scale, which measures various dimensions of stress, and we found that people scored significantly higher when interrupted. They had higher levels of stress, frustration, mental effort, feeling of time pressure and mental workload. So that’s the cost.

Why allow something to be the norm when it undermines your performance and increases your stress?

Unless your role is dealing with ‘interruptions’ (and this is true of many rapid-response, problem-solving roles), then you should be turning off your notifications (including email sounds and previews!) for batches throughout the day, in order to focus on high-value, high-focus tasks as required.

 

Blockers and Trackers

You need to be on your device, but you don’t want to be distracted by the internet – or, perhaps, by specific sites therein. Fortunately, there are a variety of options to help you focus on the task at hand, depending on your needs.

One of the most well-know is Freedom, an app designed by a man named Fred Stutzman, who was getting frustrated at the way he allowed himself to be distracted by online sites when he was trying to work on his PhD. It works across all devices, and allows you to block certain sites, schedule specific session times for blocking, or even block the whole internet if there’s something you REALLY need to get done!

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RescueTime is a slightly different app, which tracks how much time you spend on different sorts of sites and apps, in order to give you an accurate idea of how much time you are spending on all those ‘distraction’ parts of the web (and, therefore, prompt you to be more deliberate about how you spend your time).

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At a much simpler level, you can also experiment with turning your mobile device to airplane mode, or simply turning wifi off on your computer. I started experimenting with this after noticing the different nature of the work I would do whilst on (non-wifi-enabled) airplanes, and it serves me well for certain kinds of tasks.

 

Yes, our devices can derail us in the fight for focus. But they can also help us, if we wield them well.

What is one thing you could experiment with to allow your device to better help you to focus?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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