Techno-Overload or Focused Attention?
When was the last time you had to put a conscious effort into something for work? Was it a project plan you had to create, maybe a marketing strategy, creative idea, coding, writing, or something else? Now, reflect on how you went about working on that project. Did the project have your undivided attention? Did you become distracted trying to complete it? What role did technology play in dividing your attention?
While technology is here to stay, its non-stop adoption, misuse, and addiction diminish our ability to focus, affecting workplace performance and well-being. Many studies prove that shifting between tasks makes us less effective when solving complex problems. Furthermore, multitasking today is not just about moving from one project to another; now, different forms of media and technology interrupt our ability to focus.
Let’s say you start to get into a project. Just five minutes go by, and what happens? You may get an email notification, a text, a social media alert, or new messages arrive in your slack. By shifting your awareness to those distractions, your consciousness has become divided. Still, we carry with us false beliefs that we must always be on, that we are good at multitasking, and that this is how the modern workplace operates. It is time to remove the blinders and address the reality of techno-overload.
Companies are about 30% less productive because of employee multitasking.
Technological multitasking tools take 40% of one’s productive time at work.
63% of the workforce use smartphones for multitasking.
Multitasking decreases individual performance by 15%.
30% of remote meetings suffer from email multitasking.
Still, people and organizations live in denial bout the ill effects of divided consciousness even with decades of research from Harvard University, Standford, and the American Psychological Association proving its negative impact on productivity. However, instead of creating solutions to rectify the situation, we continually adopt new platforms that promise to enhance collaboration but divide us from doing the work with a focused team effort.
Why does this continue to happen? One reason is that we, as humans, tend to overestimate our abilities; this phenomenon is called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Regardless of the research, people believe they are good at multitasking. One study shows that 42% of the participants believe multitasking improves their quality of life. However, divided consciousness is not only affecting our performance but also negatively impacting our well-being.
Have you ever heard about the importance of being in the moment? Sure, most everyone has, for centuries, thought leaders across various disciplines have researched and preached the importance of appreciating what’s right in front of us. The overload of information from different forms of technology and media hijacks our consciousness, causing anxiety, depression, and other behavioral challenges.
We become gripped with headlines, content, and comments that distort our sense of reality, making it seem like everything is going wrong in the world. Mindless scrolling through the feed might feel like a mindless activity to pass the time, but it is causing us to lose our connection with what's most important in life.
Since most generations use social media between 3-6 hours a day, how can anyone expect to focus on anything for more than a few minutes here and there? That’s one of the reasons studies have shown that people are only productive for a couple of hours at most out of the workday because they feel anxious and depressed,
So what can be done? Here are some helpful tips to help transform how you live and work by redefining why and how you use technology.
Be present when you are in a meeting:
Your mind can’t be in two places at the same time. If you are in a meeting, you should not be having side conversations, answering, or emailing about other projects. Why? Because we forget 80% of what we learn in 24 hours, you will remember next to nothing if you are not listening and participating. As a result, people need multiple meetings to absorb critical information they missed the first time. Respect that other people have prepared for your time by giving them your attention.
Practice clearing your mind of thoughts:
A one-minute meditation can work wonders for clearing your mind during the day, especially when thoughts become overwhelming. First, sit down, place your hands in a balanced position, and close your eyes. Next, breathe deep, moving air through the nose and mouth and continue breathing slowly, focusing on each breath as it goes in and out. Notice your lungs expanding and contracting with each breath. After around five breaths or so, gently open your eyes again.
Set aside time for non-work communication:
There are moments to connect with family and friends and time to get work done. If you leave non-work notifications on and alerts are constantly popping up, chances are you will check them, or at the least get distracted by wondering who the messages are from and what they are about. When you have to complete a task, try turning off your phone or putting it in another room so it’s out of sight. Limiting non-work communication to lunchtime will improve your productivity and decision-making.
Let people know when you are busy working:
We are most effective when working in one-hour periods, so leave a comment in slack or communicate to teammates that you will be back online at a specific time because you have to get a project done. There might be an unspoken expectation that you have to respond immediately to a note from someone; however, this is not the case if you communicate why you are not going to be available. Just be sure to use the time for work and not to waste time by engaging in personal activities.
Call someone when you need to collaborate:
Phone calls are underrated and help with collaborative problem-solving. 52% of Gen Zers are more productive at work when talking to a colleague because they can have a discussion rather than trying to communicate through text and share-based technologies. The lost art of communication is essential to humanity, and we can only capture its power by taking the time to pick up the phone and connect. Not all calls need to be Zoom calls; sometimes, talking while walking outside can be a refreshing approach.
Technology is not bad. However, we often go all in on adopting what is new while pursuing progress. Still, the promise of some innovation is greater than the reward. We must always learn to use technology as a tool and not make it our reality. The human experience, our mind, being in the moment, and connecting with other humans in natural, authentic ways will always be fundamental to our evolution at work and in life.