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In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains , Nicholas Carr explains how our brain, through neuroplasticity, adapts in response to changes in our environment, like technology innovations, which means we gain and lose certain skills. Social media, email, and team communications tools stimulate our very human desire to want to connect with people and access novel information but diminish the focus and processing skills that our literacy culture of books and newspapers built up. As Carr writes :
“[E]ach interruption brings us a valuable piece of information… And so we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us, in ever more and different ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.”
Designate a place to add and organize your tasks that’s not your head: a pen-and-paper to-do list or a digital task manager like Todoist . By capturing tasks to come back to later, you can free your attention to focus on your immediate work, not remembering what you need to get done in the future.
Once you know what you’ll focus on, you’ll need a daily structure for staying focused on it. You may not be able to eliminate context switching from your day entirely, but these strategies will help you cut down on the number of times you have to shift your attention:
Something beats nothing . High performers work for fifty-two minutes and then break for seventeen minutes.
Moving beats stationary . One study showed that hourly five-minute walking breaks boosted energy levels, sharpened focus, and “improved mood throughout the day and reduced feelings of fatigue in the late afternoon.”
Social beats solo . Research in South Korean workplaces shows that social breaks—talking with coworkers about something other than work—are more effective at reducing stress and improving mood than either cognitive breaks (answering e-mail) or nutrition breaks (getting a snack).
Outside beats inside . People who take short walks outdoors return with better moods and greater replenishment than people who walk indoors.
Fully detached beats semi-detached . Tech-free breaks also increase vigor and reduce emotional exhaustion.
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