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May I have your attention


Authors: Ashley Karr
Posted: Sun, June 01, 2014 - 5:40:51

Take away: Removing ourselves from stimulation, electronic or otherwise, is crucial for our brains to function at their peak, and focusing on one task at a time with as little outside distraction as possible is the best way to increase task performance.

I will begin this article by saying that I love meta. The fact that we build new technologies to study how technology affects us makes me laugh. Anyway, what this article is really about is attention, so that is where I will focus ours.

The modern field of attention research began in the 1980s when brain-imaging machines became widely available. Researchers found that to shift attention from one task or point of focus to another greatly decreased performance. No exceptions. No excuses. No special cases. Human beings do not perform as well as possible in any task when they multitask. 

Studies also show that simple anticipation of another stimulus or task can take up precious resources in our working memory, which means we can’t store and integrate information as well as we should. Additionally, downtime is very important for the brain. During downtime, the brain processes information and turns it into long-term memories. Constant stimulation prevents information processing and solidifying, and our brains become fatigued. 

It appears that removing ourselves from stimulation, electronic or otherwise, is crucial for our brains to function at their peak, and focusing on one task at a time with as little outside distraction as possible is the best way to increase task performance. Some studies have found that people learn better after walking in rural areas as opposed to a walking in urban environments. Researchers are also investigating how electronic micro-breaks, like playing a two-minute game on a cell phone, affect the brain. Initial findings do not support electronic micro-breaks as true “brain breaks” that allow for information processing and prevent mental fatigue.  

Based on this research, I brainstormed a few ways we can de-stimulate. Here are some of my ideas:

  • Only answer and respond to emails for a window of one to two hours a day.
  • Take a five-minute break by going outside and sitting on a bench or the grass. Just sit there. Don’t even bring your phone.
  • Unplug your TV and wireless router at least one day a week.
  • Go camping.
  • Turn off your cell phone for an hour, a day, or an entire weekend.
  • Only make phone calls at a designated spot and time in a quiet place away from distractions.
  • Stop reading this article, turn off your computer, put down your phone, and go outside.


Posted in: on Sun, June 01, 2014 - 5:40:51

Ashley Karr

Ashley is a UX instructor with GA and runs a UX consulting firm, ashleykarr.com.
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