Attention Economy: The MYTH of multitasking and TWO rules to become more efficient.
In the previous article (Mindless in the workplace: have you P.A.I.D. the price?) we focussed on the notion that we (humans, people…workers) develop automaticity towards indulging, often without conscious awareness of it, in increasing levels of distracting thoughts, conversations, images, memories and many more expressions of the mind’s ‘doing-for-its-own-sake’ clutter.
We also established that, generally speaking, the trend in the workplace has been one of increasingly spending time trying to catch-up on infinitely growing TO-DO lists, feeling less productive over time, leading to needing to spend more time working (or working faster then usual – right?) and therefore to ever-so tightening deadlines – in turn leading to reduced productivity and greater stress about it.
We concluded by offering that becoming a ‘human doing’ (…as opposed to ‘human being’) typically means we would have been working up towards and ‘P.A.I.D.’ a high price: Pressure becoming the norm, being Always on, experiencing Information overload and eventually becoming increasingly Distracted and unable to focus (thus achieving virtually the opposite of what we set out to do).
However, not all is lost as in this article, following on from Houggard and colleagues’ work (2016pp. 12- 15) we begin by setting the scene on building up the Foundation for being more mindful in the workplace.
But that is a BIG task and, therefore, the first step is to understand the Rules of Mental Effectiveness. It makes logical sense to suggest that, Pressure would reduce by not being always on, thus reducing the amount of Information we deal with, we would be able to better sieve through Distractions and, therefore, choose the focus of our attention – as opposed to that attention being like an excited (or upset!) puppy that is uncontrollably energetic.
Mindfulness offers techniques that can allow us to become, through practice, better equipped to maintain sharp focus, which may be described as sustaining attention with little or no distraction to one object, task or job with good depth of focus yet without requiring excessive effort), as well as open awareness, which is the flexibility to also be aware of what is going on in broader surroundings, at a distance or away from what we are focussing on.
This can be achieved through a mixture of
- Foundational Training Practices (some people like to call these eye-closed practices or meditations), and
- Everyday techniques, which are practical behaviours or skills (some people like to call these habit ‘releasers’ or habit ‘breakers’).
Foundational Training Practies and Everyday Technique are usually taught, demonstrated and rehearsed during 8 weekly preparatory courses (approximately 16 hours training in total) and we will be making reference to these in the next articles as well.
However, there is nothing stopping you to try some of these as you read through the articles.
So, before I summarise a helpful model of mental effectiveness (in the next article), it might be useful if you can spend just one minute right now on a small taster of a foundational practice, next. Don’t worry about remembering it all. I will give you a list of instructions and then three key points to remember how to do it.
Here it goes:
- Gather your awareness (please do this as you read this paragraph) and anchor it around the sensation of your breadth anywhere in your body, perhaps tuning into the change of temperature (you may notice the air is cooler as you breathe in and warmer as you breathe out….you may feel this at the tip of the nose of the lips, depending on where you are breathing from)…and/or you may notice your breath makes a changing sound (louder as you breathe in….quieter as you breathe out…and so on as you carry on)….and you may even that transition from one sensation to the sound… …and perhaps noticing how the breath leads your body to changing in shape…growing and shrinking, you may notice the change of sensation of the clothes against the body (tighter…looser…tighter…and so on….).
- Once you get a feel for one or more sensations as for above, STAY WITH THEM: feel them move and change.
- You may notice your mind wonders onto other things or thoughts come in but that is more usual when you have your eyes closed and you cannot be distracted from your internal world. Therefore, in this approach to a foundational training practice, we would usually ask you to close your eyes (after you have also read the following bullet points feel free to do so and try it out!)
- As you close your eyes you will notice your mind will wonder into thoughts, images, conversations, remembering etc. These are all (often unnecessary) ‘output’ from your mind (it is estimated we may have as many as 60000 thoughts per day so why engage in all of them?!) and it is an insight in how busy, overloaded and ‘on-the-go’ you are right now. Each time you notice drifting into any of the above, bring your attention back to any of the sensations above.
- Now, see if you can allow yourself a minute or so (you an do more if you wish) and as for above:
- Close your eyes
- Feel and stay with the breath
- Come back to the breath each time you notice a thought
- Repeat several billion times!
Scientific evidence on certain types of stress, suggests that 10 minutes of practice, a couple of times a day, or a mixture of the practices and techniques aforementioned, really makes a difference.