The Israeli Medical Association has recently given, for the first time, official recommendations regarding children’s daily ‘screen time’. One of these is to prevent children under the age of 11 from using the social media platform Tiktok. According to the association, this platform is extremely harmful to children’s brains, especially their ability to concentrate. That said, not only children are finding it harder to focus these days. The modern work environment makes it practically impossible to concentrate. What can be done about this?
I, Ofir Bar, am an investor with about 25 years of experience, and a special interest in young startups. Naturally, businesses from this sector handle an endless stream of digital communication. It’s necessary for this sector. However, in many startups, this snappy communication is also a double-edged sword: It gets increasingly harder for employees to complete tasks that require deep, uninterrupted concentration for a substantial period of time. How can this issue be met? I have a few ideas.
The current work environment, at least in startups and young businesses, is practically begging you to be distracted: emails, text messaging apps, desktop notifications, smartphones, social media, music in the background, hallway chatter… how can anyone focus on a single task and complete it on schedule and in a satisfactory way? Working from home, as we found out during COVID, is not a viable solution to this problem. Kids shouting in the background and begging for attention do not manifest the best work environment.
Believe it or not, the average person needs 23 minutes to regain the same level of concentration after it is broken. On your next work day, count how many times you are distracted, and double the result by 23. This is the number of minutes you wasted on recovering your lost focus in a single workday. Shocking, isn’t it? It may seem impossible to overcome distractions in this fast-paced sector, but it is possible to reduce them to a minimum.
The distraction feast
Allow me to calm you down: I’m not going to advise you to completely abstain from the little indulgences the internet era has brought us. That said, I believe we should learn to restrain our urges. Yeah, it’s possible even these days!
Newsflash: Nothing truly important happens on your social media accounts. So, you can allocate 10 minutes of your time, before you start working, to a feast of empty dopamine: Check your personal email, messages, and social media accounts. After you are done pulling the slot machine lever, you’ll have no excuse to re-check your Facebook account while you are working.
It may sound contradictory to what you have been told up to now, but in order to be efficient at work, you have to take breaks. I recommend allocating 5 minutes of each hour for a short break, no matter how much work you have. Get up, do some stretching, and walk to the kitchen to have a glass of water. Knowing your break is getting closer, and that it’ll come no matter what, can help you not only to stay concentrated but also be more motivated.
Respect your boundaries
With that said, what about work-related distractions? Well, there are ways to handle this, too. The key is scheduling. Set boundaries for yourself and the people around you. Open your email box (or work messaging app) only after you finish a ‘focus session’. Meaning, only in the periods of time between one task and the next. Disabling desktop notifications will do the trick. Don’t worry, if something urgent comes up, your co-workers or boss will find a way to reach you anyway. Let people know that your time is valuable and that only truly crucial concerns require your immediate attention.
As opposed to what some people think about themselves, true multitasking is not realistic. Those who try to perform several tasks at the same time, usually end up wasting a lot of time and performing badly. Don’t go this way. Do yourself a favor - handle your assignments one by one.
It’s most important to let others around know when you require some peace and quiet. Set the boundaries for what justifies disturbing you during ‘focus mode’, and more importantly - what does not. Some people may see you as a misanthrope at first, but they’ll get used to it. Afterward, they will probably learn to respect you even more than before.
A matter of awareness
Modern workplaces, especially in the high-tech sector, make tremendous efforts to help employees have the best work environment possible. However, the distraction problem, in many businesses, tends to stay unspoken. I believe this is because there’s not enough awareness of this problem. Hopefully, once awareness grows, more and more employees and businesses will learn how to manage in a more focused and efficient way.