Is it possible to actually focus on multiple things at once?
It’s an interesting question because it feels like we college students in particular tend to boast about our ability to focus on everything at once. I have often heard friends talk about how well they can do their homework while watching television and surfing Facebook on their phone. But it may be a better decision to put all of your devices away before sitting down to focus on anything.
According to a study published at newscientist.com, the influx of notifications from emails, texts and phone calls temporarily lowered the average IQ of a group of test volunteers as much as 10 points.
Eighty office workers were asked to perform small problem-solving tasks while being inundated with messages, emails and phone calls. Even though they were instructed not to answer any of them, the constant distractions reduced the workers’ attention as much or more than if they had been smoking marijuana or had lost a full night’s sleep.
The reason that the notification pings are so detrimental is because they take your focus away from the task at hand.
David Rock, who holds a doctorate in Nneuroscience of leadership, says that a person has a limited amount of focus for each day. In an excerpt from his new book “Your Brain at Work,” Rock said focusing your attention takes a measurable amount of glucose. After each task you do that focuses your attention, you are more tired and less effective at performing the next one. Interruptions, like notification from your phone or computer, force you to redirect your focus over and over again, which can be exhausting for your brain and reduce your productivity.
That means every time you stop reading to check your phone or switch over to scroll through Facebook for a minute between pages, you just make it harder for yourself. It takes energy to get focused on something and breaking that focus makes it harder the next time.
The way you can avoid this problem? Disconnect completely from your mobile device and/or computer while trying to study or focus.
That can be a whole lot harder than it seems because, according to the same study from newscientist.com, people are becoming addicted to modern modes of communication. The jolt of excitement you get when you have a text or the impulse to check you email one more time in case someone tried to contact you are signs of a growing addiction. In turn, whenever you aren’t looking at your phone you find yourself wondering if it went off and you didn’t hear it.
The attention and focus that your phone or computer take up is costly and it is a limited source. If you want to actually focus and get things done, your best bet is to shut off your phone, close all the tabs except the one you’re using and try to keep your attention on the task at hand for as long as possible. It may be hard, but you will find yourself less tired after completing your task and more capable of doing multiple tasks in a day.
An added bonus is that when you do turn your phone back on, you can take time to answer your texts and emails or return phone calls without feeling rushed. So maybe next time you sit down to study, shut down your phone or set a timer on it for 30 minutes to an hour and then put it in the other room. Then when you have finished or when the timer goes off you can take a break, check your messages, and then repeat the process. This will help you streamline your focus and get more things done in less time.
Rebecca Fedorko is a junior journalism major from Buda. She is a Reporter for the Lariat.