Multitasking is out and Unitasking is in. But can you zero in without your focus pills?
Technology’s promise was to give us more time to concentrate on the important things in life.
Of course, it didn’t quite turn out that way (at least not yet).
With so many of us constantly distracted by our computers, portable devices, and media bombardments, finding focus is a difficult prospect in today’s world.
While you talk to your friend over lunch, you can write an SMS message, check your facebook, and all while reading late breaking news from the video billboard across the street. Your friend might feel like you’re not giving them your full attention, if only they weren’t doing the same thing.
Technology has brought masses of information, and with it, mass distraction. Former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt notes that “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” And most of this information is now accessible from that little mobile device in your pocket.
So how do we deal with so much information constantly begging for our attention? Multitasking!
Of course, it sounded great to begin with. “I can do five things at once. I’m multitasking.” The problem is, we can’t. At least not well.
Good for computers. Bad for humans.
So what’s wrong with this rapid switching back and forth if it makes us more productive?
Well, contrary to the belief of many, ‘multitasking’ does not actually make you more productive.
Unlike computers, humans can’t simultaneously process multiple activities that demand high levels of attention or cognitive ability. We’re not multitasking, we’re simply switching our attention from one thing to another. And that switch takes time; your brain takes a while to switch back into the same gear as it was in before and find the same track it was on before.
Business coach Dave Crenshaw has explored the phenomenon extensively writes, “You actually take much longer to accomplish things, make more mistakes and increase your stress.”
Mark Hardy, SSI’s Chief Strategy Officer says “Younger people consider it the norm to divide their attention among multiple media. They don’t even think of it as multi-tasking but just as their regular way of communicating.”
Flow: The arch-nemesis of Multitasking
So, if multitasking leaves you feeling frazzled and unfocused, what is the opposite?
Flow is a state of consciousness in which a person is fully immersed in an activity and operating at peak performance. They may feel a feeling of energized focus, pleasure, clarity, serenity and even timelessness.
In his TED talk about creative flow, Dr. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes the state as “completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated”. He goes on to describe a composer in the act of writing music:
“When you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new – as this man does – he doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels or his problems at home. He can’t feel even that he’s hungry or tired, his body disappears”
This is what artists, athletes and musicians sometimes refer to as being ‘in the moment’.
But with an increasing number of distractions, how do you achieve flow?
Better focus through chemistry
Sure, multitasking is a habit you could possibly break out of with the proper resolve and cognitive training, but who has the time? Plus, like regular exercise or quitting smoking, not everyone always has the motivation or resolve. Some will think it much easier to just take a pill.
One enterprising pharmaceutical company thinks the same, and has developed Showlight: focus pills — designed to give you enhanced concentration and focus.
It’s important to note that this isn’t traditional medicine for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD or ADHD), although some of it’s basic compounds are the same. This is designed for the general population - anyone who wants to get more out of their day.
Tests show that the pills give you focus and increased ability to unitask with little known side effects other than a slight feeling of exhaustion afterward. This exhaustion is attributed not to the pills themselves, but to the amount of mental activity undertaken whilst the pills are in effect.
Some companies have even begun providing Showlight pills for their employees in an effort to maximize their work potential and daily output.
Users of the pills have reported enjoying their work more once they are ‘in the zone’ and a feeling of satisfaction in completing their tasks better and faster than before.
The question is, is this one of our first steps to becoming superhuman? Are we overriding our natural tendencies for procrastination? Is a state of ‘always-on’ intense focus a good or bad idea?
We want to hear your thoughts. Would you take pills to enhance your focus?
Join the discussion below.