Lately I’ve noticed my focus has been a little, well, um…wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah. I’ve noticed my focus has been somewhat…how to put it…GONE. Actually, I’ve become constantly unfocused. Anyone with me here?
At first I chalked it up to summer, a houseful of noisy kids, my aging brain…but then I read about a syndrome called “continuous partial attention.” And it turns out I — and probably you — have it.
On Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day? Liking and posting and sharing never-ending content? Checking your phone every few minutes for texts, emails, Instagram photos? Watching way too many videos online? You know you are not alone.
Call it social media overload or living in a virtual reality — researchers say that people today are finding it increasingly difficult to focus on tasks because of chronic and constant interruptions from screens.
According to a recent article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, we sprint through our days in a state of super-charged distraction and it’s taking a toll on our brains. In one study I read, workers stopped the task they were doing because of a screen disruption every three minutes.
Writers especially need quiet contemplation in order for ideas to form and gel. Time when nothing is beeping, beckoning, begging for our attention. Not quite conducive to today’s world, is it?
Desperate times, as it is said, call for desperate measures. My focus was floating somewhere out there and I needed to get it back. Who else to turn to but my fellow writers? I texted, posted, sent messages (and yes, I am fully aware of the irony here), pleading for help. What are your secrets, I asked, for avoiding the evil temptress of the Internet in order to get in some focused writing time?
Now I realize, some of these suggestions may seem radical, but I’ve compiled them here because I have been assured they really work. (Disclaimer: If you choose to try one of these, you are proceeding at your own risk.)
1. Accidentally “misplace” your phone. Some excellent places to “lose” it include: the bottom of a laundry basket full of smelly socks, under the sofa, somewhere in the backyard, under a seat in a friend’s minivan. Preferably one with fast food remnants and candy wrappers.
2. Journey to a remote mountainous location with no WiFi, cell towers, or sign of human life, and write. Siberia works, but a tree house will do in a pinch.
3. Give yourself a one-hour challenge. Set a timer and write for one hour without checking any electronic device. This will be similar in nature to detox so be prepared. Drink a lot of water.
4. Let a baby borrow your phone. (They need to text too.) Within minutes, it is guaranteed you will have no Internet connection.
5. Find WiFi free zones in which to write. Suggestions include the beach, a canoe, while skydiving, or on a roller coaster, preferably while upside down.
6. Walk and dictate into an ancient device found in antique shops and on archeological digs: a tape recorder. An added bonus here is that people will stay far away, believing you are a lunatic.
7. Write while walking on a treadmill, with all electronic devices stowed in another room. Do not get off until you’ve written one thousand words.
8. Pile up any and all devices, put them in your car, and park it around the block. Walk back to your writing space and go.
9. Give your Smartphone to a teenager so he/she can install all updates and add a variety of cool, new apps you’ve never heard of. You will not be able to figure anything out when it is returned to you.
10. Find Thoreau’s cabin in the woods. Knock.
Good luck, fellow writers. May the focus be with you.
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of two middle grade novels, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, and Calli Be Gold. She will check her Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz when she returns from Siberia. In the meantime, find her virtually at micheleweberhurwitz.com.