We live in a time of massive opportunity, massive choice, and massive distraction.
We are no longer limited to our immediate physical environment when we make our choices.
Friends are available around the world.
Information is at our fingertips with electricity, internet, and a device.
It feels like we are in a time of no limits.
And yet….There are still limits.
To our time. To our energy. To our attention. To our focus.
Each of us have 24 hours in a day. Each of us have variable energy. Each of us can only pay attention to so much at once.
We struggle to accomplish anything if our focus is diffused.
We don’t multitask. We do serial task-switching.
Task-switching has a cognitive cost. Task-switching has a time cost.
Disrespect the drain of task-switching at your own peril.
The difference, for me, has been in the number of distractions.
In the mid-90s, I did research in the library, dragged books and xeroxed sheets home, and typed on my computer – which did not have an Internet connection. Home internet was the purvue of skilled computer scientists and engineers.
If I wanted internet, I needed to go to the University computer lab and use one of their machines.
There wasn’t much on the internet at that time anyway. Much of what I needed could only be found in paper or microfiche form.
The distractions at home when I wrote my Masters Thesis were: cable, one roommate (who was also working on a graduate degree), and cleaning (desperation procrastination).
I didn’t have a mobile phone pinging me all the time, or email (I had to go to the one computer in the History department for that – and by that time, I had already talked to the person), or notifications on my computer reminding me of someone’s sale or something some Dell or Microsoft executive thinks I should do.
I didn’t have to wade through advertisements, pop-ups, and email requests to get information.
Writing, and focusing on that writing, is more challenging.
The call of “just one more piece of information” is harder to ignore – because that piece of information is right there…
There is so much more noise to wade through. More people demanding my attention. More paths for that demand – phones, computers, TVs.
With the increasing number of opportunities, it becomes harder to stay on task when the going gets hard.
The new thing feels so much easier. New things are exciting.
The slog in the middle – not so much.
This is why focus and prioritization is such an important skill.
It’s the only way we have a fighting chance of getting anything done.