Skills for success in our Attention Economy
New research shows us that modern habits like 'Media Multi-Tasking' are destroying our ability to pay attention. But, attention is the key skill and resource we need to be effective!
We need attention for our information economy - to process the incredible volume of information we are sent, sifting through, or searching for to complete our work.
We need attention for our knowledge economy - to understand, find, recall and utilise valuable information.
We need attention for our network economy - to connect brains, bodies, and whole businesses with our important messages - across the globe and in physical and digital environments.
So how do we become attentionally skilled and resourced? One short answer comes from research that increasingly points us to attention training systems including Mindfulness practice.
Read on or contact me for more info. That is, if I still have your attention?
Media Multi-tasking and Attention
We frequently we switch between various forms of media (i.e. ‘media multitasking’) and this is leading to poorer performance on tasks that require our attention.
The modern professional spends more time in knowledge work than ever before - constantly stimulated (and distracted) with loads information each day and into the night thanks to our trusty smartphones.
To stay on top of everything and not fall victim to #FOMO (fear of missing out), our lives require more and more attention is invested in processing information. Let's take these ingredients together - focus now...
Our modern lives mean we are receiving vastly greater volumes of information than before.
Our modern 'knowledge work' requires more sustained and tuned attention.
Our media multi-tasking is eroding our ability to pay attention.
The above set of challenges is a recipe for burnout and poor performance if we don't address it.
So, what can we control?
You could say there is value in information, and therefore, receiving lots of information is valuable. So, perhaps we don't fundamentally change item 1.
You could say that it is valuable that we are knowledge workers these days, and that tuning our attention for knowledge work is a good use of our mental capacity. That would suggest we don't fundamentally alter item 2 either.
Let's see... Aha - here's the issue. Item 3. Media multi-tasking.
It doesn't look like its adding value, and instead is making it more difficult for us to manage items 1 and 2. That is, switching between media as frequently as we do is undermining the very attentional capacity we need to capitalise on the value of information and our knowledge work.
What's the solution, Adrian?
You can thank science for providing us with directions for addressing this challenge (Go Science!).
A recent scientific report investigated the extent to which the attentional deficit associated with frequent media multitasking could be temporarily improved through a short-term mindfulness intervention. The study found that the short-term mindfulness intervention provided benefits for both heavy and light media multitaskers. That being noted, heavy media multitaskers showed worse attentional deficits and also obtained a much larger benefit from the mindfulness intervention.
What I find particularly important to highlight is that the study indicated that the improvements were short-lived. That is not the failure of mindfulness, however, but instead a failure to persevere with practices that are valuable. When it comes to mindfulness, it's not sufficient to practice as a 1-off.
Instead, we need regular and longer term mindfulness practice to continue training our capacity for high-quality attention. When we do this, not only do we cope better with the information and media demands of our modern times, we improve our health, wellbeing and relationships.
Research by Aetna has shown that spending time practicing mindfulness actually gives us more time back in our busy schedules. Benefits including improved attention, self control, more efficiency and less procrastination and distraction actually give us 62 extra minutes per week!
What could you do with 62 extra minutes per week?
More on these important topics in the forthcoming book - Meditate On This!