Monday, March 9, 2009

I Fight To Stay Focused...And Often Lose

If I am sitting in my office with my feet propped up on my bookcase with a nice cup of coffee and a good book, I will remain there for hours...and hours...and hours. I get absolutely absorbed and transported by a good read. Not much else in life can create such sustained enjoyment as reading. So why is it I become a feather in the wind when I get in front of my computer?

My above anecdote gives me hope that I do not have a neurological, psychological or physiological problem such as ADHD or dyslexia that precludes my ability to focus. Instead, it seems to be something directly related to attempting to accomplish things via the computer. Since I spend so much time in front of my computer, I notice my inability to focus on a single task more than I might if I were not so attached to it. Case in point - I just had a thought to check my email, mid-sentence. So what did I do? I clicked over to the tab where my Yahoo! mail inbox was open. Why don't impulses to pay a bill, or make a phone call plague me while I am reading a book?

One possibility is that switching between tasks on a computer is so *easy*. It only takes a second to click a tab, close all the windows to look at a spreadsheet on my desktop, or other actions. It is almost as though if the thought to perform some action on the computer occurs, I am obligated to act on it. I mean, it's *right there* and it will only take 5 seconds. However, the price to pay for this diversion is very high for me. Once I flip back over to what I was originally doing, I must now re-adjust my mind to enter the "flow" of what I was working on. A computer operating system has a routine it uses to perform this switching between tasks called a "context switch" when it switches between system operations and user operations. This is a very expensive operation in computers, but can be even more expensive for humans, because we require much more orientation and focus time when beginning a particular activity.

So my goal is to adhere to a set of rules that will prevent so many "context switches":

- Before working on a particular action on the computer, set a clear goal to accomplish before flipping over to do anything else.

- Check email at most once per hour. Anything more frequent is a waste of time. Even for checking email, have a set goal. "I will check my email - I will take whatever action is needed for each email, then delete so my inbox is not cluttered."

Ok, now I can check my email ; )

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