Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Focus Is For More Than Just Tasks

Recently, I was going through some articles that I’d archived in Instapaper and came across a piece that was published in one of The New York Times’ blogs in 2012. Titled “Your Brain on Ebooks and Smartphone Apps”, the post recounted the change in the writer’s behaviour thanks to his use of mobile and internet technologies.

Take a moment to head on over to the Times site and read the post. Done? Great. Let’s continue.

While I use a lot of mobile and internet technology, nothing like that has happened to me. I’ve seen it happen to other people, but not many.

Having said that, the problem seems to be one of forming a habit based on technology combined with a lack of focus. Let me explain.

If you’ve seen the movie Batman Begins, you might remember one quote:

Always mind your surroundings

That applies to the way in which you use technology and interact with the world as well. You need to make a conscious effort to be mindful of what you’re using or doing.

Many people, though, go through life on autopilot. Like the writer of the post that I mentioned earlier, their habits help turn their brains off and they wind up swiping a paper publication in the same way that they would a touchscreen.

They form habits. But the habits take control. The unconscious expectation is that the habits will lead them down the right path or have them act in appropriate ways. That doesn’t always happen.

I’m not saying that habits and conditioned reflexes are inherently bad. They aren’t. But they do pose a problem when they take too much control. To stop that happening, you need:

  • To be mindful of what you’re doing and what you’re using. Always.
  • The ability to quickly switch gears — for example, use one set of behaviours with technology and another set of behaviours with real, physical things.
  • The ability to focus.
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