"Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind"
~ T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
When T. S. Eliot's poem Four Quartets was published in 1943, distractions were nothing like they are now, but the words remind us that the problem of distraction is far from new. Today, however, we have more bells and whistles than ever with which to amuse inspire distract ourselves.
As much as we might gain from the wealth of information and entertainment available for the mere click or finger swipt, a recent Fast Company article, "The Sneaky, Sucky Way Distraction Punctures Your Creativity," discusses the high cost of our modern distraction habit. The author, Drake Baer, writes that while we might feel more productive (and probably more creative) as we constantly switch our attention, in reality we lose much more time than simple arithmetic might suggest:
"[W]e get hit with a minor interruption—something that takes a moment to take care of—every three minutes... And the kicker is the time it takes to recover from such sundry slips of attention: It's a full 23 minutes until we get back on track..." Read More
In other words, three steps forward and one step back lead to being much further behind than when we started.
Students are by no means the only ones affected. Teachers, parents, office workers—we all face the challenge of managing our attention rather than letting it be managed. We're not weak because we often fail: we're human.
One thing that has worked for me is to set short tasks of 45 to 60 minutes or longer that I do with no interruptions whatsoever. None. The easiest way to do this is to turn off my cell phone, open only the software program I need (and if I don't need the internet for the task, disconnect), hunker down, and work. When the task or the assigned time period is finished, and only then, I can take a few minutes to check email or reward myself with chocolate or play my turn in Words With Friends. It is difficult at first, but it's a habit that gets easier and more automatic with time.
What anti-distraction strategies and techniques work for you?