Monday, August 1, 2016

Let's Play Concentration: Plug In and Tune Out

This morning I read an article on tips to increase productivity posted by a certain brilliant agent I know *wink, wink*. This started a discussion about one of the tips warning how multitasking is counterproductive. Another author and I tweeted that it's kind of hard not to. It's how we are programmed nowadays. Multitasking is everywhere. Working jobs, busy lives, media devices all contribute to the need or desire to try doing several tasks at once. And it's okay sometimes. After all, the clothes washer will do its thing while you sweep the carpet or cook dinner or write that next chapter or do your homework. That's not the kind of multitasking we're talking about here. 

Think brain work. Try to watch your favorite television program while doing homework. Every kid knows, every adult remembers, it doesn't work well. Oh, I'm not saying you won't get your social studies paper finished or answer those questions in Science, but how long you spend on it or how well you've done it is the problem. Taking away the TV, finding a quiet place without people or other noises to distract you, and the job is finished quicker and better. Media has spread way beyond your living room, though, and it's messing with your brain. It goes with you everywhere. Smart phones, iPads, Kindles, game systems, and so many other devices will grab your attention in unhealthy ways. There are studies done how the average teenager has a short attention span that's growing even shorter as I write this blog post. In a flash we all can flip from one page to another, skip over what doesn't hold our attention and we move along. Our brains are crying out to us, "Stop! Please stop and slow down." Taking time to enjoy the moment, to process, to focus is the way to exercise your brain. It needs it because it's become a saggy, lumpy blob, out of shape and in need of a tuneup.

With that said, I will admit there are people I know who can concentrate on what they're doing -- reading, writing, etc.-- in the middle of chaos and NOTHING about it distracts them! Go figure. I'm not wired that way. When I write, I need quiet. I'd say I'm not even one of those who typically listens to music while tapping the keys. I especially need solitude and no distraction when I read. But that's me.

So, I decided to find an article on what really helps me, besides no multitasking. I found one on how to improve focus. Author David Rock* says we need to train our brain, if we want to improve focus. I say improved focus and increased productivity go hand in hand. Right? Anyway, Rock claims there are three parts to brain training: 1) Do creative work first; 2) Allocate your time deliberately; and 3) Train your mind like a muscle.

I love number one. All writers do! This one advises you do the creative tasks while your mind is well-rested and alert. Save those easier tasks like reading your email for later when your brain doesn't have as much energy. With number two Rock states how we only have a few hours a week when we're truly focused, and those times are usually in the morning or late at night. So, capitalize on those times. And finally number three is part of the whole media frenzy thing I mentioned earlier. Our attention spans are damaged along with our lazy brains. Rock advises to train the mind you need to start small, maybe a few minutes, when all distractions are removed and you just concentrate. Build on the time gradually. It's like you have to rewire or reprogram your mind to do what it used to do, or for the younger crowd, what it never has done but should. 

I'll admit I am as guilty as the next person. I spend so much time on my phone or computer that it's become a problem. I don't know about you, but I'm gonna start training my brain and build my focus!

Here's to writing that next great novel! Happy reading and writing, all. Enjoy your week. 

How to Stay Focused: Train Your Brain