Post-A-Day 2011: How Do You Stay Focused?


This is the perfect topic for a Friday, especially since it’s already 9:30 pm and my intended post for today is sitting in my Dashboard, still nothing more than a title. I want it to be amazing, because it’s about an amazing collection of works, but I think it’ll have to wait for Sunday. Instead, while I struggle for focus I’ll explore what helps keep me…well, focused!

I belong to the vast majority of people in the world who regularly brag about above-average multitasking skills. I can knit while watching television, read and carry on a conversation (though those who know me would argue that I choose to ignore them), or complete two work-related projects at the same time. However, studies conducted since 2007 and before indicate that the myth of the multitasker is just that, and that splitting our attention between two or more tasks actually impedes our efficiency.

In 2010, however, the studies changed focus from touting the dangers of multitasking and shifted to exploring the strange world of the “supertasker” — that is, individuals who have a heightened ability to focus on multiple activities at one time — and to explaining why it is possible for even the “average” person to do two things at once…though perhaps not three.

Crazy though it sounds, the only way I ever really feel focused is when there are multiple things going on around me. I always have a television or music on in the background, or I carry on conversations while I type reports and emails. My browser opens by default to four tabs — this blog, my Gmail, my calendar, and Facebook — so I can play those admittedly stupid Zynga-hosted games while I brainstorm about the post of the day and…well, you get the picture. I don’t know if this makes me a supertasker, since my focus has never been quantified through tests, but I very rarely feel less productive because I have more than one thing going on at a time.

I say “rarely”, of course, because there are days like today (or nights like tonight) where the specific things going on around me conspire to keep me from getting anything done. The last two days have been heavy with volunteer work: for me, that means collecting and editing documents to format for publishing on our Web site. It also means preparing for a quarterly meeting that is tomorrow afternoon (immediately after a meeting with our potential new landlords) and updating the staff list for a conference that seems so much closer than it did before Monday. The television is going, I’m carrying on multiple conversations via text, and of course I had to take time out to add a microSD card to my Nook and download some new books.

To follow the discussion in a Time article from April (linked below), I think my problem tonight is that I’m not filtering irrelevant information effectively. However, as I sit here and continue to write I think that my filter is kicking back into high gear and I find it easier to divide my attention equally between three different activities: blogging, watching Adult Swim (and really watching, not just letting it go in one ear and out the other), and talking to Brian.

At any rate, enough from me for tonight. Check out the articles below and consider what you need to stay focused…the other thing I need is coffee. I’m sure you understand.

MSNBC.com“Why you can’t do 3 things at once”
Time.com – “Supertaskers: “Why Some Can Do Two Things at Once”


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