Staying focused is something that I consistently have to work on. There are a million business books that seemingly solve productivity problems, and I think I already read about half-million of them. And still, there is a big piece missing. None of them actually explain how the brain works, or what it takes to stay on task.
I’m a huge fan of systems. But no matter how many organizational systems I create (Evernote is my recent experiment), the brain just does what it does.
Last week, I sat down for a cup of tea to virtually talk with Anne Bishop, the founder of Body Brain Connect and a notable expert on the topic, in the hopes of clearing a few things up about attention and focus. Although she knows the complex details about how our brain is wired, she broke it down in simple terms.
Watch the video to listen to our brain chat.
As I expected, our focus is a complicated matter. But we can improve it by understanding how we get “un-focused”, or distracted.
Anne explains that three different operations, or networks bring our attention to or away from something.
Alerting Network – the alerting network alerts us when there is something in our environment that must be tended to. The brain will automatically focus on whatever it is. Examples: fire alarm, car alarm, cell phone. The alerting network is your friend if there is a fire, but not particularly helpful if you are trying to get some serious work done and your phone keeps buzzing. If you want to stay focused you would want to silence the alerting network.
This brings us to the first useful tip.
#1: turn off your cell phone, put loud e-mail alerts on pause, and invest in some noise blocking headphones. Sounds obvious, but it actually took me a long time to stop responding to e-mails as they come in and dedicate certain parts of the day for e-mail checking.
Orienting Network – this is the arousal state of the brain – opposite of the sleepy brain. When this network is turned on, you are in an alert but relaxed state. The tricky part is teetering between being alert enough to stay focused, but not too much where you attention shifts to a loud noise, since that would activate the alerting network. I call this, staying buzzed. Examples: background noise, a walk around the park, a cup of coffee.
Tip #2: If you are a background noise kind of person, the white noise can actually help alert you so you don’t doze off. Monitor your energy level and when you start to feel less than buzzed, get up, walk around, go for a jog, or a push-up set.
Quick note on caffeine: Caffeine doesn’t actually stimulate the brain but blocks the response of a receptor called adenosine. Adenosine is responsible for the drowsy-like effect on the brain. Because coffee blocks the tired/drowsy receptors in the brain, it keeps you in an alert but relaxed state, unless you overdo it.
Execution Network – triggered when self-correction takes place, hence the “oh snap”. Examples include doing something like proof-reading, learning how to ski, correcting your alignment when running. This network gets activated when you are really involved in whatever you are doing, especially when you are learning something new.
You may have heard me mention this before, but I am not a fan of multitasking. There is no such thing, actually. When you think you are doing it, you are just quickly switching from one task to another. When the brain tries to do two things at once, it divides and conquers, dedicating only one-half of our gray matter to each task.
Tip #3: Don’t multitask
Research shows your error rate goes up 50 percent and it takes you twice as long to do things. Even though we may not be aware of it, it can take up to 15 minutes for the brain to completely re-focus on a task after a distraction.
Additional brainy research and articles you may find interesting, only after you finish reading the whole post, of course – no multitasking, please 😉
Anne Bishop, Ed.M, PMA-CPTEd.M. Mind, Brain and Education Harvard University – is the founder of Body Brain Connect, an organization dedicated to bridging the fields of brain research with movement practice. Her teaching is rooted in enhancing students’ body awareness. She aligns her instruction not only to anatomical and biomechanical principles but also how the brain learns and perceives movement. She began her Pilates career in 2001 under the tutelage of Conna-Lee Weinberg, creator of Mindful Spine ®, and received certifications from STOTT Pilates, Pilates Academy International, The Center for Women’s Fitness and others. Besides opening her studio in 2002 she teaches workshops nationally and internationally.
Body Brain Connect Workshop
November 8th-10th, 2013
Learn how to make your teaching improve brain health and how to enhance your teaching techniques based on current brain research
Workshop info link: http://bodybrainconnect.com/workshops/
Workshop video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-foWe4w94I