Posts Tagged ‘distraction’
Sometimes I am asked how I manage to read so many tweets, RSS feeds, and reflect daily while working. Sometimes that question is phrased more directly as: How do you deal with so many distractions?
I do not view what others might consider “not work” as a distraction. I make it part of my work. If I read, tweet, or blog, the activity is about some aspect of educational technology.
When people ask me about how I maintain my work-life balance, I tell them that I work and play all the time, at the same time. I manage “distraction” by having a different mindset.
But mindset shifts might not be easy or tangible. So here is some practical advice: Manage your own schedule and do it as well as you can.
As an appointment holder, I might be tempted to let a secretary or personal assistant manage my schedule. No matter how busy my day gets, I do not let that happen.
If anyone needs to make an appointment with me, they need only refer to my shared online calendar. I manage my own appointments on the move a lot so that I can give people immediate answers. By doing this, I am not only aware of what I have committed to, but I also remain committed to it.
I am also a stickler for punctuality and keeping to time. Nothing is a greater distraction than events that start late or run long. People get really distracted then and no real work gets done.
Running a meeting long is like a lecture. Only the lecturer thinks the audience is learning when the reality is they are not.
I write this on a Sunday when conventional wisdom says that I should be resting or spending time with my family. But my family members are still asleep as I write. This blog entry is on a release schedule and by the time you read this, I am at play.
So much for distraction.
The Straits Times never fails to disappoint me when it comes to issues that revolve around technology.
students were able to focus and stay on task for only an average of three minutes at a time and nearly all of their distractions came from technology… the major culprit: their smartphones and laptops were providing constant interruptions
This was a result of these distractions:
Not surprisingly those who stayed on task longer and had study strategies were better students. The worst students were those who consumed more media each day and had a preference for working on several tasks at the same time and switching back and forth between them.
How were “better” or “worse” students defined? If the measure was a traditional type of test and one that focused on recall, then the better students were those who could sit still, focus, and answer the questions well.
But what if the nature of test changed? What if it reflected how work might be like now and in the future? What if certain forms of “distraction” are actually good?
The premise of the study was that technology could distract you from important tasks in your job or school. I have no arguments with that. I have a problem with people interpreting the results of the study as indicating that all distractions are bad.
I do not deny the benefits of focused work, but this helps mainly when you have clearly defined tasks.
My work is ill-defined or constantly changing. I find that I work more effectively and get more work done by moving from one task to another in what might seem like a distracted way. If I took the sorts of enforced technology breaks recommended in the article, I would get no work done.
Part of my work is to learn all the time. As I consume information, I process it by reflecting and writing.
I no longer have the luxury of reading for pleasure or at a stretch. Some might say that I have lost the discipline of reading.
I disagree. I have picked up a new discipline of reading what I can when I can with my iPhone or iPad. I find that I read a lot more this way. I also find that I get what I need just-in-time rather than just-in-case. I get this from being more “distracted”.
Writing this simple blog entry should take some degree of focus. But if you saw how I wrote it days ago by flitting between Web searches, briefing my staff, answering email, preparing reports, checking Twitter, supervising my student teachers, and looking for a CC photo to represent this entry, you might wonder how I even wrote it at all.
Might I have written this more quickly had I just sat down and forced myself to do it? Not really. I only managed to write this because the distractions gave me time and space to think.
Distractions can be good because in life there is no single test to take that measures how “good” you are. The test in the study assesses recall. Everyday I am tested as a father, husband, boss, subordinate, manager, counsellor, consultant, and more. One aspect of my life tests another with distractions.
Not all distractions are bad. The technology-based distractions certainly are not as they help me maintain a better work-life balance.
Maybe I’ll write about this later. Right now I am being distracted by something else…
I have read reviews of writing apps that have minimal interfaces so that you focus on just typing text. Here’s one example:
I have never fully understood the rationale for using such apps.
I don’t discount them. These apps might remove distractions like formatting so that you can just write. This might help you focus. Some might consider this part of contemplative computing.
I think those apps are built on the assumption that you are inspired to write. But if you have that much momentum to write, you might ignore the other features in other word processors anyway.
When I am blogging, I prefer to have a richer interface. The “distractions” actually help me write.
A tweet prompted this blog entry. The Vimeo-hosted video illustrated the app. For other blog entries, I often use ImageCodr to get CC-licensed images. Sometimes the images that I find change my story. Google and Wikipedia help me verify loose information.
While writing like this might seem logical for a blog, I think that the practice can extend to academic journals and legal documents.
Imagine embedding video-based evidence in a journal article or an audio example of what copyright infringement sounds like in a legal document. If we look at how e-books might evolve, this makes sense. If this is the way kids will be reading, that is the way we should be writing.
More thoughts on writing tomorrow…
What’s wrong with distraction? Why not take advantage of it?
Those are my reactions whenever I read articles about how slate devices might be a distraction in class. The latest is a glowing review of the iPad for higher education. The issue of distraction was described as such:
In a surprising twist, the iPad’s notoriously cumbersome application switching was too slow for recreational web surfing during class, but still quick enough for Internet research, leaving students more attentive than with a laptop. However, as devices become more sophisticated, this vacation from the distracted classroom will likely be short lived.
So the better performing the device, the more likely the distraction?
I think that students are going to get distracted no matter what. They daydream, look out the window, pass notes or sneak an SMS. They are human after all.
I am of the opinion that if you cannot hold and maintain their attention, they deserve to be distracted. I tell my classes that they can go on Facebook or email or Twitter or IM if what we are doing in class is not meaningful. That is a challenge to me to be on my A game!
I also think that the distraction might be an informal opportunity for learning since the student is pursuing something of his or her interest. In fact, I think that my learners are NOT distracted enough.
My learners are typically older ones: Student teachers, inservice teachers and graduate students. The only similarity they have with school students is the silence you get after asking a question. But ask them to respond online and the joyful “noise” typically goes up! Injecting variety and varying the pace are just some ways to design for “distraction”.
Most of my learners need to know how their learners operate. So I often tell mine to search online whenever we reach in impasse. Never heard of connectivism? Search. Not sure what crowdsourcing means? Search. Don’t know what gamification is? Search.
Then we share, critique and write about the concepts over time. It’s a distraction that lasts the whole semester and it is a joy to watch when different people get their a-ha moments at different times.
Two articles worth poring over