I just finished reading an incredibly interesting and at the same time frightening book. This book started a series of thoughts and processes in my head about how we work today.
The book is called Skärmhjärnan - hur en hjärna i osynk med sin tid kan göra oss stressade, deprimerade och ångestfyllda (the book is not yet in English), written by Anders Hansen (who also wrote “The Real Happy Pill: Power Up Your Brain by Moving Your Body”). It’s a fairly easy read but has tremendous powerful insights. It offers explanations and understandings as to why we can’t stay away from our mobile phones, what happens with us when our phone or computer says “ding!” and how we’re always searching for new information and new input from left, right, and center. It explains how our brain works and how it’s evolved and adapted for our survival since our early days at the savannah when our attention had to be focused on our closest whereabouts to stay alive. The problem is that our brain doesn’t know we’re living in a high technology society. It still believes we’re at the savannah, and reacts accordingly.
I’ve done some further research to figure out how this affects our work and on our efficiency, ability to focus and perform.
I think we all can relate to not being able to ignore a notification, message or mail on the phone or computer even though we’re in the middle of another task. Our brain that is triggered by the message “new” chooses to stop doing what we’re doing in order to read the mail, message or notification. When we’re done reading and return to our task with our attention, the information about whatever it is we were just reading will remain in our brain for some time. This is called attention residue. The time it takes to switched our brain back to our initial task will depend on how emotionally charged the information we were reading is. The more emotions evoked, the longer it takes to truly switch focus back to what you were doing before the interruption.
So, what can we do about this? What is it we as an organization can do to help our co-workers do their job as efficient as possible without all these interruptions?
We’ve got an ocean of systems, platforms and devices to engage in. There are e-mails, mobile phones, intranet, webpage, different systems, meetings etc. Our energy is being pulled in different directions constantly and it’s making us inefficient. I believe that if we succeed in gathering as much as we can in one place, a lot would’ve been done in easing our days at our workplace.
In order to be as effective as possible and in order to do everything we’re required to at work, we need to be able to focus on what we’re doing. Some tasks don’t demand much focus, and interruptions aren’t too much of a problem. We manage to switch between more mundane tasks and e-mail. However, if we’ve buried our heads in more substantial work, such as budgets, strategies or preparing for an important meeting, then these interruptions are more of a problem. It might take us much longer to complete a task, and this time shortage can make us more stressed out.
This is some of the things you can do to minimise attention residue:
- Turn off your e-mail while your working with something else. Just to hear the “ding!” is enough to break focus, even if you don’t read it.
- Turn off notifications on your mobile for social media etc. You’re not going to miss out.
- Have a day cleared of all meetings if you can. Dedicate this day to a task that will require your attention all day.
- Plan your time rigorously. Allocate time slots for your tasks in your calendar. And make sure you’re not going to be interrupted during these slots.
My attitude towards my work and my own time has changed already; I’ve started planning my time more rigorously, and I’ve incorporated meeting-free-Wednesdays.
PS, if you want to read more about attention residue, I’ve compiled a suggested reading list here: