Johann Hari, the author of Stolen Focus, outlines ways to concentrate in a world where the ability to stay on task is under constant attack.
We need to challenge the concept of productivity. The idea of a good worker being the one who responds immediately comes with a huge cost. When we’re interrupted by a text message, it takes, on average, 23 minutes to get our focus back. But most of us never get 23 minutes. The average office worker focuses on one task for less than three minutes. The average CEO of a Fortune 500 company gets 28 minutes of uninterrupted focused work time a day. Personally, I would criminalise workplace instant messaging.
There are practical ways to protect people’s focus. Avoid open-plan offices. Buy everyone in the organisation a kSafe – they can lock their phone inside for a time they set – and a subscription to [site- and app-blocker] Freedom. The New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian gave every worker a mug and a flag; if you don’t want to be interrupted, you put the flag in the mug.
Companies are more productive in four days rather than five. This is the consistent finding of four-day work experiments at Perpetual Guardian, Microsoft in Japan and Toyota in Sweden. Stanford University’s Jeffrey Pfeffer explains it this way: you want your team to walk onto the pitch rested, calm and ready for the match. If that’s true of your sports team, it’s true of your work team.
If you want a culture that encourages deep thought, make a workday walk the norm. We’re taught to think of a mind wandering as a bad thing. But when we take time to let our thoughts float without any obvious thing to focus on, we’re processing the past, anticipating the future and making c onnections between things not ordinarily connected, which is the heart of creativity. There are many more important things in the world than paying attention but you won’t achieve anything without it.
Image credit: Adam Amengual