Ever had one of those moments when you were so focused on a task (read: scrolling through your Insta feed) that the outside world seemed to disappear? I’m the first one to put my hand up when it comes to distractions and social media, entertaining my (continuously) shortened attention span on a daily basis, interrupting myself from what really needs to be done. Multitasking has always been seen in a positive light; with the workplace, and even home, favouring our ability to handle several things at the same time. Simultaneously checking your phone or emails, taking 10 seconds to reply to that text, writing that report and posting on Facebook…these mannerisms have become subconsciously engrained into what we now believe is an accepted form of social behaviour.
Whereas monotasking is the old fashion way of doings things, and advocates for mindfulness are saying that this form of focus is actually harder to master, requiring rigorous training to develop our awareness and not give-in to distractions. Multitasking, much like a nasty smoking habit, can be difficult to overcome and requires certain elements like willpower and self-awareness.
Amodrn spoke to Marike Knight, mindfulness expert at Melbourne’s Happy Melon, to share her thoughts on what it takes to harness the monotasker within.
Mindfulness expert Marike Knight on Monotasking
In today’s society of smartphones, apps and other distractions, what do you think is the main culprit of our constant need for entertainment?
I think you have hit the nail on the head with the above. And interestingly a study by Microsoft has found that our attention spans have gone from 12 second 10 years ago to 8 second. That’s one second less than a goldfish! If you think back 10 years, this was the very beginning of smart phones so I believe the rapid pace of technology has definitely been a major contributing factor. We don’t know how to be by ourselves anymore. I see it in restaurants, the minute one person gets up to go to the bathroom, their partner is straight on the phone. Commuting home we are hooked in, while exercising we are online. There just doesn’t seem to be an off button anymore.
Do you think there is a tendency to want to distract ourselves from negatives thoughts, feelings, or overthinking?
Absolutely, these days it is so easy and acceptable to be distracted by technology. These habits have very quickly become maladaptive coping strategies that we turn to whenever we feel the slightest shred of boredom, loneliness, discomfort. It may feel good in the short-term but in the long-term it can be incredibly damaging.
There is a study being conducted by the University of Michigan that has been looking at levels of empathy in university students over the past 40 odd years and in the last 10 years they have seen a drastic decline in empathy which again, they are attributing in part to smartphone use. What they are stating is that at university there has always been a propensity for students to sit around and debate, converse and go deep together, which helps cultivate this capacity from empathy. But with the advent of smartphones they are noticing that in the group context there is always at least 2 or 3 students with their smartphones out while conversing which they say inhibits the ability of the group to go “deeper”, which then creates a destructive cycle, whenever someone is uncomfortable with a topic they pick up their phone and so on and so forth.
How can we become more mindful and train ourselves to simplify and focus on one task, in other words, monotask?
Like anything it takes practice and discipline. The practice of mindfulness is not a calming or peaceful practice but rather rigorous training to develop our muscle of awareness, the more we do it the easier it gets. The mindfulness practice I suggest for people trying to practice it at work is these two rules:
1) Set an intention on what you are going to focus on.
If it is writing a report for 1 hour set your intention to not be distracted by anything. Not by emails, or the conversation two cubicles down, or the text message from your friend that seems urgent, not much is so urgent that it cannot wait for 60 minutes.
If your boss comes in red faced, you are not going to say, “sorry boss, but I have set my intention to focus on this report, can you come back in 60 minutes?” Instead, you decided that this is a distraction that is worthy of your attention, you completely set down what you are doing and give your full attention to your boss
It’s been said that smartphones and social media are like an addiction, what can we do to put down the phone and be more present with our loved ones, friends and family?
All you need to do is notice how un-present you are when on the phone texting and trying to listen to a loved one about their day to realise that you can’t do both together and really be there. In fact, by choosing to do both at the same time what you are doing is choosing not to listen to that person fully. Is that really what you want? Notice how much more connected you feel when you put down the phone and open you ears, your eyes and your heart to someone and just listen, without judgement, without the fear of there not being enough time, without wanting to give advice or thinking of what next to say, just listening. It’s about the most beautiful gift you can give a person.
I also think making particular areas in the house no-tech zones is a really good idea. Keeping phones and iPads and computers out of the bedroom (so that it is not the first thing you wake up with and the last thing you go to bed with) is essential.