Focus in the Age of Distraction by Jane Piper

Tim Horan's kindle e-reader with the cover of 'Focus in the Age of Distraction' by Jane Piper on the display.

What a time to be alive! Our industrialised society appears to be on its knees. Economic, political, and environmental crises jostle with each other to deliver a fatal blow.

One crisis which receives little attention – how ironic! – is the attention crisis. We live in an age where the devices we rely on for work are engineered to distract us. Melodramatic, much? Let me know how many times a day you reach for your smartphone before you scoff at my sensational prose.

Constant distraction, aided and abetted by smartphones, tablets, browser notifications, and social media apps, is a problem. If you are a knowledge worker, proficiency in your job depends on blocks of uninterrupted time. If you want to achieve more than proficiency, your work conditions must be conducive to achieving a “flow state.”

“Convenient” technology which enable us to be connected 24/7 to our jobs, disrupts distraction-free blocks of time and prevents a “flow state”.

Focus in the Age of Distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less by Jane Piper arrived on my kindle* e-reader just in time. I was ready for Jane’s tips as I sat within the smoking ruins of my carpet-bombed attention.

Tim Horan's kindle with the subheading "Technology: From 9 to 5 to 24/7" from Jane Power's book 'Focus in the Age of Distraction' on the screen.
Let’s not mince words. “Always accessible” means “always distracted.”

The first of Jane’s tips feels subversive. How many of us are brave enough to follow the below tip?

Tip 1: Avoid Digital Distraction: Turn off any alerts from your social media and email.

Power, 2018

Relentless app notifications grind our attention to dust and add to our stress levels. A colleague of mine recently began the day by opening Slack, only to be confronted by 500+ unread messages. His name was tagged in most of them! His solution was clever. He marked all as ‘read’ which dispensed with Slack’s angry red alerts. He followed up by informing everyone in the company that if anything was truly urgent to please call him.

Jane’s helpful tip to easily switch off all intrusive notifications with a single tap is to place your smartphone or tablet in airplane mode.

I am always receptive to helpful tech tips, but I believe the best parts of Jane’s book deal with examining our behaviour at work. This makes sense since the author is an Organisational Psychologist. Jane has some words for those of us who think we can multitask.

Tip 4: Avoid multitasking: Research shows if you concentrate and focus on one task at a time, you will be able to complete it faster. Prioritise and complete one task after the other.

Power, 2018

There is a section of Jane’s book that took me by surprise. She notes one of the best ways to avoid distraction is to find work that is suited to us. If we feel bored or distracted at work, perhaps we are not working on projects aligned to our “personal sense of purpose and strengths”.

All of us will benefit from asking ourselves what type of work challenges and rewards us? It is easier to concentrate and focus on work aligned to our values and gifts.

I recommend Focus in the Age of Distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less by Jane Piper if you want to achieve deep focus and discover a healthy balance between your career and life. If these goals are not for you, please close this browser tab and attend to the 532 app notifications on your smartphone.

*Yes, I know I come off like a hypocrite for using an infernal device from a tech monopoly to read a book on how to keep technology under control. However… my kindle is one of the few electronic devices I own where it is designed to do one thing – let me read books. I am not assaulted by social media or email notifications while I use it.

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