As last week’s 200 word idea on “Addicted to Distraction” touched on a very specific problem of our age, I thought it might be useful to continue digging deeper into the problem and potential solutions in a “deep work” series inspired by Cal Newport’s latest book on the topic.
In a popular paper on multitasking, researcher Sophie Leroy studied the effect of multi-tasking on performance by forcing task switches in the laboratory (e.g. asking people who were solving word puzzles to switch to review resumes). The results from this and her similar experiments led her to coin the term “attention residue.” When you switch your attention from Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow – a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task.
And, people experiencing attention residue were likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task. The more intense the residue, the worse the performance.
In our work lives, there are 2 sources of attention residue – back-to-back meetings on different topics and smartphone distractions. The more the attention residue, the more we find ourselves in a state of “shallow work” – time when we don’t push our cognitive limits.
How do we fix this if multiple projects is a reality? A simple idea to get us started is to plan weeks in a way where we spend large chunks of time (e.g. an afternoon) on specific projects.
More such ideas and ways to think about the problem and its solutions in later editions..
“High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)” | Cal Newport