The new paradigm of managing tasks with attention
“Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.” - Nir Eyal
In the previous post we focused on paying attention to and prioritizing what is truly important. We also started looking at the different brain states and made a case for why it is crucial that we steer clear of the reactive and distracted state. In this post, we will look at the other brain states that help us stay away from the reactive and distracted states. Let’s start with the second state, the focused and mindful state.
When we commit ourselves to stay focused and mindful, we are in the second state. This is the state we would like to be in, in order to be productive. We are actively concentrating in this state as we are committed to the task at hand and we tend to steer clear of any distractions. When we can actively focus and not let the distractions bother us, that is when we enter the deep work mode, as Cal Newport puts it in his book "Deep Work"
The third state of mind-wandering is an in-between state where we are staying away from distractions and not being compelled to act either. We are not paying particular attention to anything per se, but we are letting the mind wander. This is where we stumble on a stroke of insight, a new idea, a new way of thinking, etc. On the flip side, it is key that we don’t end up spending a disproportionate amount of time in this state. This state serves us well as long we use it judiciously before getting back to our work and life with focus and mindfulness.
The flow state
The final state is the state of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes it as a state where we become one with the task at hand. This is the ultimate form of mindfulness, where there is no separation between our ego and the activity we are engaged in. This is a truly blissful state to be in. Unfortunately, we can't will ourselves to reach this state, it just happens. But all we can do is try to be in the focused and mindful state for a prolonged duration and if we are lucky we could switch into the flow state. This is also determined by how much we enjoy the activity we are involved in, and how much we are in love with the things we do.
How often have we been so absorbed in a movie we are watching that we become one with the scenes and get completely involved? I am sure you see how this works.
Backed by this understanding of the brain states, we must constantly strive to be in the focused and mindful state while we are working on a task and focus on that task alone. When we are not working, it is perfectly fine to let the mind wander a bit, without having anything particular to do. With all this, we are trying to create the appropriate mind space for the flow state, which just happens when everything falls into place naturally.
It is also key for us to catch ourselves when we are in the reactive and distracted state. To be able to do so requires a certain amount of separation between our awareness and our minds. Being objective about ourselves is a skill that can be learned. Practicing mindfulness and centering ourselves in the present moment enables us to be objective and mindful of the movements and distractions of our minds. With this ability, it becomes that much easier to snap back into a desired state of functioning.
With mindfulness, we can now master our moment-to-moment awareness and steer ourselves into desirable brain states that are conducive to our productivity and our general wellbeing.
4 tips for managing tasks with attention
Now that we have explored the importance of managing our attention both at the macro-level and at the micro-level vis-a-vis our moment-to-moment attention, we need strategies to implement them together.
Here are few tips we recommend to implement the learnings thus far:
Plan your day: Using insights from the previous post on planning, it is key to plan our day keeping in mind what is truly important. We recommend we plan our day the night before. It is interesting to note that a lot of times the planning mind is not necessarily the same as the executing mind. Interestingly there is a separation between the two minds. We have realized that when there is no clear separation between the two minds, the planning mind could conflict with the execution mind, leading to productivity leakage. The mind goes into analysis paralysis mode with the planning mind going into overdrive.
Be an execution machine: After the plan is set, let’s just focus on execution and execution alone. And while executing, let’s forget about multitasking. Let’s focus on that one task alone. Let’s devote our complete attention towards the execution of that one task and then move on to the next task. We can check out strategies on how to skim distractions while we try to focus on our task in this post. At Turia, we love getting into focused and mindful timeboxes to stay true to the task at hand.
Take deliberate breaks: The key to strengthening the focused and mindful state for prolonged durations is to deliberately find our centre at different touchpoints during the workday. We recommend we take breaks that are rejuvenating and help us get back into the focused and mindful state after. Even better if we can use these breaks to be mindful. Every opportunity we take to turn inwards and strengthen our focused and mindful brain state can be highly productive for us in the short term and has significant long-term implications as well.
Practice mindfulness regularly: Whether or not we take mindful breaks, let’s all acknowledge that mindfulness as a practise has proven to increase productivity by 120%. Let’s make time during our day to practice mindfulness. If we are pressed for time, we recommend practising micro mindfulness sessions between our timeboxes/work sessions. We can also practice at the start of the day, middle of the day, or after we wind up our work. But the key is to practice regularly to reap the benefits in the longer run. This is a ritual that we will not regret once it is habituated. Good luck to all of us for our collective practice.
We have made a case for prioritizing and managing what we choose to pay attention to. We have also understood that there is so much to gain from tapping into the present moment and managing our attention moment-to-moment. True magic happens when we focus on our tasks with complete attention. Try it out for yourself and let us know about your experience in the comments.
Also, do join our waitlist if you are interested in managing your tasks and attention together at Turia.ai.