Stating the obvious, our decreasing ability to keep our attention on our tasks has become a widespread global problem.
The following graph taken from Google Trends show the increasing global interest in the topic “how to focus”. The rapidly increasing interest in learning to focus is a testament to our decreased ability to actually do so. Or at least, it indicates an increasing awareness that our inability to focus is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. The graph shows that after years of “flatlining”, the global interest in “how to focus” takes off dramatically around the second quarter of 2007. It is also interesting to note that the growth seems to start tapering off just a few months into 2011.
Curiously, there is an almost perfect overlap between the Google Trends chart above and the one below that shows the growth in Facebook users over time. See how Facebook’s popularity takes off early 2007. Although the graph below does not extend that far but according to comScore, Facebook has been leveling off since April 2011 – which again perfectly overlaps with the changes in interest in “how to focus”. Is this all nothing but coincidence? I don’t think so. I also don’t believe that it’s a coincidence that the age of smartphone dawned in 2007 with the launch of first iPhone on June 29, 2007.
What are we supposed to understand from these charts that move synchronously? First and foremost, the fact that ubiquitous smartphones and popular Social Media sites brought an unprecedented level of potential distractions to our lives. The good news is every bad thing has an end and with the rapid penetration of social media and mobility into every household in the past 5 years, we seem to be reaching the limits of potential sources of distraction in our lives. The bad news is these sources of distraction are not going away (especially since they also improve our lives in so many different ways) and this age of distraction is here to stay. We are going to have learn how to deal with it.
In a series of articles, I will explore various approaches to surviving the assault of distractions and (re)building our focus. These various approaches serve either one of the following two objectives:
(1) making the most out of our limited attention span: Here, we are accepting “the fact” that our attention span is naturally limited and we concern ourselves with getting more effective in how we use that focused time available to us. The classic time management methodologies including Pomodoro Technique, GTD, and Covey’s Focus really aim to achieve this objective by developing tools and techniques that improve our effectiveness and efficiency in managing our time and tasks.
(2) expanding our attention span: Here, the assumption is that we can actually train our brain to stay sharper and focus for longer periods of time. This is an interesting area where Pomodoro Technique is potentially applicable. I will try and explore it in the following article.