I’d like an honest answer, please.
When was the last time you were able to focus?
You know, really focus, like the laser concentration you generate when the waiter approaches your table with the pizza you ordered.
Moments of laser focus probably don’t occur when you are at work. According to a recent LinkedIn post by Nir Eyal and Chelsea Robertson, “research shows interruptions occur about every twelve minutes in the workplace.”
Five interruptions an hour may seem like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the 20 interruptions an hour academics experience. Let’s face it — those endless invitations to toga parties do take their toll.
The focus of the Eyal and Robertson post is “Your Ability to Focus has Probably Peaked: Here’s How to Stay Sharp.” It presents academic research, conducted by uninterrupted scientists, hopefully, on our inability to pay attention at work. This is relevant research for people who find themselves drifting into la-la land the moment an important meeting begins.
(I’m not pointing fingers here, but you know who you are.)
As it turns out, the ability to pay attention involves two separate functions — “enhancement,” our ability to focus on the things that matter, and “suppression,” our ability to ignore the things that don’t.
Our “attentional capacity” peaks near age 20, as does pretty much everything else. For old coots, 21 and older, the “enhancement” component still functions, (“As your doctor, I must tell you that you are seriously obese, have high cholesterol and should immediately switch to a diet of brussels sprouts and kale.”) It’s the “suppression” factor that runs out of steam, (“Did you order the triple-cheese pizza with extra cheese?”)
Fortunately, the scientists have come up some pretty nifty ways to get us back in focus.
“Have you ever noticed someone squinting their eyes in an attempt to recall something?” the authors ask. This technique (SET ITAL) does (END ITAL) improve focus since “your brain isn’t working so hard to filter out visual information and can devote more attention to scanning your memory.”
The logical conclusion: Forget squinting. If you want to be more focused at work, work with your eyes closed.
Of course, it is possible that working with your eyes closed will make you fall asleep. If you ask me, that’s a small price for you — and your management — to pay for the hyperfocused productivity you will experience in the five minutes between when you wake up and when you go home.
“Clearing your virtual desktop of clutter,” is also recommended. “Limit yourself to one monitor, one browser tab or window, and one computer program or app at a time.”
Excellent idea. I recommend the app from Ashley Madison. It will show your manager that you are open to new and innovative technology solutions, which will no doubt improve your chances for promotion, especially if you find your manager’s contact information under “hot, hunky and ready to party.”
It is disappointing to learn that one of the best ways to improve focus is by “stimulating the brain’s ability to strengthen and reorganize existing neural conditions, a process called neuroplasticity.” It’s bad enough that this process has a name that sounds like one of Ultron’s superpowers, it’s also best accomplished by “physical exercise, meditation and spending time in nature.”
Clearly, none of those things are going to happen. (Spending time in nature may indeed improve your ability to focus, especially if you have a meeting with a hungry grizzly whose maple bar that morning is y-o-u.)
In lieu of meeting with predators who are not on your company’s management team, your fallback strategy for improving focus could involve video games, which are “designed with a primary goal of engendering high levels of immersion, engagement, and enjoyment for the players.”
Quoting yet another research study, the authors report that “video-game play linked better cognition and high scores in memory tests in gamers vs. non-gamers.”
“But not all video games are created equal.”
Playing a first-person shooter game like “Medal of Honor” showed improvement in cognition, while playing a namby-pamby no-shooter game, “Tetris,” did not.
The conclusion is obvious. If you want to be more focused at work, get yourself the most violent, vicious video game you can find and play it from 9 to 5. Crank up the volume, and fill your workspace with yelps, yips and cries for vengeance.
Focused or not, you still won’t get any work done, but no manager will want to come within 50 feet of you.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.