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Everything that I read and every piece of evidence I have gathered tells me that as humans, when it comes to thinking, we cannot multiplex. I’m not talking about the age old, much joked about, difference between women and men: that’s about ‘doing’ more than one thing at a time. I’m talking about thinking, or more importantly engaging in, more than one thing at a time. Everything is telling me that we need to stop trying to multiplex, and focus on one thing at a time.

For myself, I have put a lot of energy into improving my own productivity, and something that I have become more aware of is the number of times I’ll be doing one thing, and get distracted by something else, normally a thought. I have had to build disciplines into my ‘trusted system’ to make sure I stay focused. I have switched off as many alerts as I am comfortable with; have stopped having the internet running in the background; have got into the habit of having protected time and many more things. However, most of these things can only remove external distractions. The real challenge is mental focus. I am still working on that.

The big problem is that as human beings, people are becoming more convinced that they can pay attention to more and more. How many people do you know who will quite readily take out their phone and read a message while speaking with you? How often do you see someone doing one thing, and as soon as their phone bleeps, they stop and respond to the message on the phone. And, most concerning to me, how many teenagers do you know who simply cannot focus all of their attention on anything (a movie, a family meal, a conversation) without constantly interacting with their phone. They say they’re paying attention, but then ask questions that tell you they weren’t.

If we are to develop and grow we need to create the space to think. If we are to create the space to think we have to be able to focus without distractions. We need to get into the habit of ‘switching off’ (mentally and technologically), blocking off other things. We don’t need to be accessible to everyone, all the time, through every channel. It’s ok to bring back the engaged tone.

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