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Undivided Attention

When was the last time you felt deeply engrossed into something? Maybe you were creating a unique algorithm to make your product more awesome or maybe you were just contemplating on Quantum Physics principles? Or were you just doing your daily things, say, having a conversation with someone, cooking or painting or playing a Casio with your undivided attention.

When did that last happen? Was it within last 24 hours? If yes, congratulations, you are one of the people who are able to focus deeply in present day world. Honestly, it's a skillset, in fact 21st centuries biggest skillset as Nir Eyal quotes in his book Indistractable.

Ours is a monkey mind, it keeps jumping from one thought to another. However, we can control it to truly focus on something and subsequently, create wonders!

Having focused hours is a must for anyone who wants to do anything impactful in one's life be it up-skilling or concretizing a nobel idea. But, in the present day lifestyles are we actually able to get these focused hours? Let's dig deep.

What do you need in order to focus on a task?

Besides time and space, you need to calm down the internal triggers and the external triggers.

Internal Triggers: You need peace of mind and motivation to focus on task at hand. If multiple problems are running at the back of your head, it becomes really difficult to focus.

For example, I need to be in my "zone" to work efficiently. By zone I mean , the phase when my mind puts all the active thoughts or problems aside and let me be in the moment, while focusing "only" on the task at hand. Remember the times while working, when you forget what time it is or whether you have had lunch or not? That kind of stuff is likely to happen when you are in the zone, you are so engrossed that you forget everything else. Undoubtedly, being in the zone (or in the flow as Mihaly would say) is one of the most fulfilling experiences.

External Triggers: Needless to say, with the advent of technology these have increased exponentially. Previously, people or noises around used to be the prominent external triggers that acted as distractions when you wanted to work. But today, the most frequent source of distraction sits right in front of you inside your personal laptop. These are mails, chat groups, notifications and all the different pings and dings coming from tabs and apps spread open all across your desktop. Had the problem just been the notifications it would still have been easy to solve, but the problem in more complex.

The problem is that one cannot simply turn these off. Being online is treated as an equivalent to "being present", even "being working" by some. The instantaneous channels of communication have led to an increase in expectation of availability subconsciously. People are not available for only 9 to 6. People are available all the time or as soon as they get to their laptop irrespective of the time.

Several unacknowledged protocols have developed too, such as if you are online you are expected to reply, leaving the messages on seen is considered undesirable, you can receive a mail/message anytime of the day and you are expected to be online and connected for most part of the day!

This blurs the boundaries between work life and personal life. But apart from blurring the boundaries, this behavior affects ones ability to work deeply. Flow or zoning in gets difficult.

As Cal Newport puts,

Without deep work, it's impossible to solve difficult challenges. Mind needs it's zone to operate most efficiently. A zone where there are no random pings to deviate your focus from the task at hand to some other task.

Hence, the need is that we establish right protocols when we use these tools. We cannot get rid of them completely, because undoubtedly they are super useful, and great at team collaboration. In fact, in times like these where all nations are struggling with the Corona Virus pandemic and states/countries are locked down, we can not imagine making advances in our work without these tools, they have proven to be immensely beneficial and indispensable. However, despite all the great things they offer, just like any other piece of awesome tech, we need to put some regulations here too, as a community.

There should be official zone hours, meeting less Mondays, or people should feel free to put status like DND or available after so and so time.

But have you noticed that most of us don't do that. Why? Because we think responding to a random ping won't take much time, we expect the same response time from the other person when we ping and we take it in the true spirit of collaboration. While this is true, we need to acknowledge the fact that responding to that ping actually broke your flow/zone. And you'd need to spend some transition time getting back to it now.

This is an evolving challenge, but pros and cons weigh closely, so putting up a solution directly might be difficult. But what we can start doing is being mindful of your own time, mental peace, flow and efficiency. Workplaces can further develop a culture where people feel free to be more vocal about "zone hours" or switching off all external triggers without disappointing anyone.

Remember, you need time with self, for your work and you don't have to be connected and responsive all the time. Have a balance, give it a shot!

Also, if you are looking for more tips/tricks on how to do so, I recommend reading Inditractable by Nir Eyal and Deep Work by Cal Newport.

If you liked this post, please like/share/subscribe. For more engaging discussions let's connect on Twitter @4ditiBhatnagar


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