Why is it so hard to focus?
We live with technology all around us; phones in our pockets or purses, tablets on the nightstand, and computers at home and at work. This technology has created a sense of urgency with every beep, ding, and buzz. As soon as something flashes on the computer screen we feel the need to tend to it. It seems like every time the phone rings or dings we answer it, as opposed to how it once was where the phone could go to the machine if we were busy.
With that in mind it’s no wonder we can’t focus and complete our daily tasks. We’ve all heard of multi-tasking, the idea that we can do more than one thing at the same time. Multi-tasking may include eating while driving or checking Facebook while in a daily meeting. The reality is that our brains can’t actually multi-task, they can only toggle, which is switching between tasks rapidly. You can see why it’s hard to focus when you’re constantly asking your brain to switch gears. Imagine if that happened to you at work, with two people bombarding you with questions and documents, and you trying to help both of them as quickly as possible. That’s what you’re asking your brain to do on an hourly basis with the windows on the computer, or the apps on your phone, the constant checking is pulling your brain from one task and forcing it onto another.
On top of multi-tasking, we’re also experiencing sensory overload, whether we notice it or not. In addition to the constant dinging and buzzing of our phones and devices we also have background noise, like sirens and washing machines, or in the office the clatter of keyboards, chatter of co-workers, and humming of the air conditioning. Our brains have to process and filter all this stimuli so we know which ones apply to us and which are really in the background. Imagine you’re in the car (p.5) taking the kids to school and you’re expecting an early work phone call. You’ve got your phone and ears primed to accept the call as soon as it comes in, and the kids are talking and watching a movie in the back seat. You’ve also got an ambulance flying by on the other side of the road, and a school bus in front of you. All those sights and sounds require processing, and can easily distract you from the most important task at hand, driving the car.
At the end of the day do you often feel stressed or burned out, on top of out of focus? That’s because of the daily multi-tasking and sensory overload. Our brains can only handle so much, and the more we throw at it, the more our stress hormones, cortisol, increase. It’s gotten so bad that it’s hard for anyone to do just one task. When we try to focus on one thing, like just walking down the hall, our brain struggles looking for that adrenaline we get every time we check our phones. We’ve become addicted to multiple stimuli at one time, making it impossible to focus on just one thing. The only way to get away from this cycle is to remember that you have a choice. You don’t have to answer every email or phone call as soon as it comes in. By prioritizing your tasks and taking frequent breaks you will avoid losing focus and feeling stressed. The most successful people know how to balance all this input and remember that not everything is as urgent as it may seem.
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