Can you focus for half an hour on one thing? If research by Gloria Mark is correct, there’s a good chance the answer is “no.” Office workers get interrupted every 11 minutes, while teenagers send over a 100 chat messages per day (and this was in 2010!).
Focus is the fuel for getting things done in life. Anything that’s somewhat challenging requires our undivided attention: writing this article, but also reading a book, watching a movie, and even having a meaningful conversation with a friend (yes, put that phone away!).
Now here’s the catch: true focus can not be hacked up into small pieces. You can not focus here for two minutes, then there for five, and back here again for another three. We think we can do that. We call it multitasking, but it doesn’t work.
Focus is like a game where you have to start all the way at level 0 as soon as you get interrupted. It takes 10 – 15 minutes to get into a state of real concentration, and you can not “pause” it. Even the tiniest interruption like glancing at your phone can put you right back to zero.
This is not to say you should focus on something forever: taking breaks is also good. Our brains can only focus for 60 – 90 minutes at a time, then they need to recharge. But since most of us get interrupted every few minutes, we never even get to this high concentration state.
Think about it: when is the last time you did any of the following for just half an hour, without checking your phone, quickly diving into your mailbox, glancing at your Facebook feed, or any other kind of interruption?
- Reading a book;
- Talking with a friend;
- Watching TV;
- Completing an assignment at work;
- Sitting down with a newspaper;
- Listening to music.
If it’s hard to imagine doing any of these things for 30 uninterrupted minutes, you’re not alone! Focus is like a muscle you train and most of us have not been working out much lately. But scattering our attention everywhere is taxing. Not only are we less effective at what we’re trying to do, the constant switching takes up energy and undermines our ability to think clearly. In some ways, it literally makes us unhappy!
For all these reasons, we have a clear goal here at Saent: help people carve out half an hour of completely uninterrupted time in their days. We think it’s time for all of us to retrain those concentration muscles and fight what futurist Gerd Leonhard calls digital obesity.
So how do we go about this? How do you create half an hour in which you disconnect completely from digital distraction and spend all your attention on just one activity? We call it the “30 Minutes of Focus Challenge.” Ready to take it on?