Continuous Partial Attention  


Want an immediate increase in your productivity (as well as better relationships)? Try these four tips from Dan Miller.

We are now told that the average smartphone user checks his or her phone 150 times a day.  As I’m sure you’ve experienced, that incoming text or tweet can crowd out the time and energy we have for real human connection.  How many times have you been talking to someone when he/she diverted attention to the phone?  How many times have you been eating a meal with someone who could not stop glancing at his/her phone? 

Linda Stone, who worked on emerging technologies at both Apple and Microsoft coined the term “continuous partial attention” to describe the state of being partially tuned in to lots of things while never being completely tuned in to anything.  A 2012 McKinsey Global Institute study found that the average employee spends 28 percent of his or her time dealing with email.  That’s more than 11 hours a week.  And as you’ve seen me write in the past (Multi-task or “take a hit”), it takes a full 18 minutes to reengage with a task following an email, phone or walk-in interruption.

There is now evidence that this low level engagement can actually rewire our brains to make us less adept at real human connection.  More and more companies are requiring breaks from smartphone input, recognizing that “email vacations” reduce stress and allows people to have clearer and deeper focus.  Parties are starting to have phone checks – where you leave your phone just like you would your coat.  Families are experiencing the increased connections provided by “technology fasts” as they discover the real relationships that emerge from singular focus.

Want an immediate increase in your productivity?

  • Work in focused, uninterrupted blocks of time – (30 min – 3 hrs)
  • Give yourself a 10-minute break to check email, Twitter and Facebook
  • When you drive, don’t try to cram in phone calls, text responses and email – enjoy the scenery
  • Experiment with “technology fasts” where you unplug from all devices and connect with family and friends in meaningful ways.

Don’t destroy your relationships with “continuous partial attention.”

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