Can you focus on this article without touching your smart phone?
In the few minutes it takes to read this article, chances are you'll pause to check your phone, answer a text, look at your twitter feed or see how many likes your last Facebook status got. Even if you aren't actively waiting for it, smartphones have a habit of inundating you with push messages. And this affects your focus and performance; an experiment by Alessandro Acquisti, a Professor of information technology, and the psychologist Eyal Peer at Carnegie Mellon, suggested that performance drops by over 20% when regular disruptions occur during a task requiring focus.
Multitasking defeats focus and reduces productivity
The concept of multitasking is a myth; instead the conscious mind is forced to continuously "alt-tab" between operations, which takes time, and brainpower. David Rock, in his book Your Brain at Work argues that the average brain takes 25 minutes to reach full productivity to focus on a task, so if you are constantly interrupted, your chance of being fully productive at all during a working day, is highly unlikely. And the less productive you are during the day, the more distracted hours you have to put in to complete your tasks, adding to your stress levels.
Forest: There's an app for that
One of the more interesting recent solutions to this comes in the form of a new app, Forest, which is a mix of mindfulness and gaming, all wrapped together in a pretty app that encourages and rewards you to leave your phone alone when you need to focus.
After a brief introduction, the app offers you the simple opportunity select a tree to grow and to start the timer. Should you pick up your phone during the timer count down, you'll get motivational messages to leave the phone alone. After all, are you sure that your phone is so important, that you can't leave it alone for another 15 minutes?
Improve your focus and plant trees
Complete a session and you have a tree! The tree is planted in a forest which gives you a cute visual reminder of how much time you've left your phone alone. As your practice grows, you earn coins that you can spend on real trees that are then planted by the app's partner charity Trees for the future.
For me, this gamifies the practice of leaving your phone alone and makes me feel better about life when I know that a real tree is being planted. Saving up for real trees takes time; for most people it will take them a couple of weeks. Sure, that's not for everyone, but if the idea of improving your focus and productivity as well as saving the planet one task at a time appeals you to, go check out the app.
Forest is available now on iOS and Android, the website is found here.
Sullivan, Bob, A focus on distraction, 2014, New York Times. Link here.
Rock, David, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, 2009, Harper Collins. Link here.
Barker, Eric, The Neuroscience of Mindfulness, 2016, Time Magazine. Link here.
American Psychological Association. Is multitasking more efficient? Shifting mental gears costs time, especially when shifting to a less familiar task. August 5, 2001. Link here.