How do we teach focus in a world that is constantly drawing our focus elsewhere? One idea is to use “technology breaks” where you check your phone, the web, whatever, for a minute or two and then turn the phone to silent, the computer screen off and “focus” on work or conversation or any nontechnological activity for, say 15 minutes, and then take a 1-2 minute tech break followed by more focus times and more tech breaks. The trick is to gradually lengthen the focus time to teach yourself (and your kids) how to focus for longer periods of time without being distracted. I have teachers using this in classrooms, parents using it during dinner and bosses using tech breaks during meetings with great success. So far, though, the best we can get is about 30 minutes of focus.
Dr. Larry Rosen in his Psychology Today blog entry entitled “Attention Alert: A Study on Distraction Reveals Some Surprises” claims that beeps, vibrations and flashing images are not the only distractors. Our minds are also wondering if someone commented on a Facebook post or if someone responded to a text, etc. We not only need to quiet our devices but also are minds to focus. Dr. Rosen is “convinced that learning to live with both internal and external distractions is all about teaching the concept of focus.”
Teaching focus is not new. Educators are constantly dealing with distractions and seeking to provide focus to the lessons at hand. Perhaps one of our greatest and most important challenges is to teach focus in an age of technology.
I like to call this changing gears. Students need to learn how to change gears from talking with friends, to listening, to writing, to reading, to on topic discussion, etc. One of the ways to facilitate the changing of gears is to teach students to turn off devices. Once the device is quiet, the mind will follow.
There is no turning back. We live in a connected world and we are better because of it. We know more than ever before and we are more social than ever before. But we have to learn to take care of our brains to avoid an iDisorder. Don’t blame Steve Jobs for your compulsions. Take control and do something good for your brain. You will be a better person for it and have better relationships with those around you.
Do you have an iDisorder? How do you tune out distractions?