Get Rid of "Reactive" Habits to Improve Your Focus
Eric Barker stashed this in Diabolical Plans For World Domination
Georgetown professor Cal Newport explains how reactive habits demand our attention.
When Facebook buzzes to let you know there’s something you need to respond to right now, or when you have something on your mental to-do list that you need to remember to do now, your brain pulls resources away from what you should be focusing on:
It might seem harmless to take a quick glance at your inbox every ten minutes or so. But that quick check introduces a new target for your attention. Even worse, by seeing messages that you cannot deal with at the moment (which is almost always the case), you’ll be forced to turn back to the primary task with a secondary task left unfinished. The state that almost every knowledge worker spends their day in is a terrible state if your goal is to actually focus with any intensity. I think it’s the equivalent of having a professional athlete who’s coming to most games hungover.
If you want to get a better handle on those reactive tasks, put them in their proper place. Close the Facebook tab until a time designated for dealing with social media. Stop replying to every email the second you get it (or at least only prescribe that level of urgency to the ones that are actually urgent). The less you’re reacting to other people’s priorities, the more you can focus on your own.
How To Focus: 5 Research-Backed Secrets To Concentration | Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Summary of the Eric Barker article "Here’s How to Focus":
- Focus is a muscle: The more time you spend focusing, the better at it you will get. Don’t give up.
- Clear your head: Got concerns? Write them down. Make a plan for how to conquer them. Then get to work.
- Location, location, location: Go where you know you’ll get stuff done where there are no distractions.
- Stop being reactive: Turn phone notifications off. No interruptions. It all starts and ends with you.
- Get your sleep: Or you’ll be dumb and impulsive. More sleep means better performance across the board.
Yeah, if you are really focused you’ll perform better at work. Duh. But what’s an even more important reason to build up that focus muscle? You’ll be happier.
“Five years of reporting on attention have confirmed some home truths,” Gallagher reports. “[Among them is the notion that] ‘the idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right.”
Paul Dolan teaches at the London School of Economics and was a visiting scholar at Princeton where he worked with Nobel-Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. He explains the importance of attention in his book, Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think:
Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention.What you attend to drives your behavior and it determines your happiness. Attention is the glue that holds your life together… The scarcity of attentional resources means that you must consider how you can make and facilitate better decisions about what to pay attention to and in what ways. If you are not as happy as you could be, then you must be misallocating your attention… So changing behavior and enhancing happiness is as much about withdrawing attention from the negative as it is about attending to the positive.
You create your world with what you pay attention to.
There are a million things happening right now: some good, some bad.
Focus on the bad and life’s not going to seem so hot.
Focus on the good and whaddya know — the world’s suddenly a much better place.