Thursday, May 21, 2009


Micro Focus Part 1
By Stephen Knight

It was a normal weekend and I was taking a relaxing stroll through the neighborhood with my wife. We came upon a group of children playing a game of kick ball. Right away I was swept back to childhood playing kickball in my backyard. All of the neighborhood kids loved to play kickball at our house because we had a huge flat backyard – with a 6 foot high fence. Kick the ball over the opposite fence and it was the same as scoring a home run.

We stood and watched the children for a minute, not much seemed to change – except… what was she doing? The girl that was supposed to be up next to kick ran over to her cell phone and began texting furiously. I could tell by the telltale ‘thumbs-a-flying” technique which I as an adult had never mastered.

Over the course of the next 5 minutes this little girl ran back to her phone a half dozen times. She couldn’t even focus on the game – this 10 year old girl was already beginning to play her part in a “Micro-Focused” society. In this article I’m going to explain how Micro Focus is taking over our ability to focus and be productive. Our mind is playing a peripheral game of ping-pong – we are losing the ability to maintain long term focus and produce quality results in our endeavors.

Psychologists say this is a real problem – as humans we have an incredible filtering system that allows us to be bombarded with sounds, thoughts, and internal and external stimulus. Our mind is so advanced that we are instantly able to filter out what is necessary – and we are able to instantly stamp a level of value to that stimulus – and we do this all unconsciously.

That’s one of the reasons why we can be in a car daydreaming and suddenly we find ourselves tuned into a radio commercial. We’ve unconsciously ignored all of the other advertisements, but suddenly something triggered in our mind and we are now interested in what is being said. We’ve applied a value to this commercial and now our conscious mind is prompting us to pay attention. Here is where the trouble starts.

It is the Value Level that we have used for years that is actually causing us problems now. The same values that make our conscious mind pay attention to certain stimuli also come with different levels of emotional attachment.

The greater the emotional level, the more we pay attention – the more “value” we place on this stimulus, the greater chance that we will physically take action. Our conscious mind will step in and demand some type of action. Our reactions will vary depending on the stimuli; we may react in anger, reciprocity or the need for self fulfillment. But the difference is, we take action.

Why now? Why are we losing our ability to focus on one task and be productive? A few of reasons, validation, social proof and fear are strong triggers that demand attention. The new world of social media / networking has put tools in our hands that can be immensely valuable – yet many of us are not psychologically ready to handle the responsibility that comes with this new environment. Individuals actually split into multiple personalities to conform to their online persona.

Let’s take Twitter as an example. Twitter is an online social networking site that allows individuals to communicate in short 160 word bursts. Twitter was created so you could tell your friends in just a few words what you are doing. “I’m going to go see Star Trek”. “I’m at the deli ordering a club sandwich”. On the onset this seems to be pretty benign.

The more you Twitter the more friends will be following you. In no time you can have literally hundreds of people following you – and all of them posting about their day. Suddenly something extremely simple has become so much more. Expectations are suddenly attached – and with those expectations – emotions.

The fact is we become reactionary – we begin to feel the NEED to Twitter, and the need to comment, we suddenly have the feeling of responsibility. Over the past few weeks of observing Twitter there are individuals that post all day long incessantly. They feel the need to be connected; everyone else after all is doing it (Social Proof) so I need to do it to. I also need to feel important (Validation) so I need to Twitter about all of the amazing things that I am doing in my life.

Is Twitter bad? No, not at all it can be a very valuable tool for business and a way to communicate with friends. The danger comes when you feel that in the middle of working on a project that you have a “responsibility to post”. We have to establish guidelines and instead of reacting to emotions that we place on online communities – we have to step back and look at the reality of the situation.

Ask yourself intelligent questions that lead to more productivity and to a positive outcome. Do I visit the Twitter website more than 3 times a day? What are the triggers – why do I feel the need to continually visit and post to Twitter? Could I be more productive if I changed my Twitter habits to twice a day? How could I use Twitter to benefit me and my goals? How can I incorporate Twitter into a process that helps build productivity and is part of a focused plan?

I’m not just picking on Twitter, as an experiment as I typed this article; I left all of the bells and whistles on my computer and set my cell phone beside me on my desk. In the short hour that it has taken me to write this article, numerous text messages have come through, my Skype line has rang several times, I’ve received several messages from Google Talk and Skype, and the little flag that lets me know that I have emails have popped up several times. I’ve also been interrupted twice by employees coming to my office to ask questions.

But this is the world that we live in. This is the world we have created that takes away our ability to focus. It is all of these little micro elements of interruption that capture our attention. As my phone Skype went off I took a look at the number and I made sure that I captured the call into voicemail.

My eyes flickered down to look at the email flag to make sure it wasn’t emergency support. Google Talk and Skype Instant Messages – I checked those to make sure I wasn’t needed immediately – yet they still triggered a “value” inside of me that caused a reaction.

The typical person checks their email 5 times a day. There are many people that I work with that check their email constantly – every ten minutes they are checking their email. 82% of people have either Skype or some sort of instant message software running continually on their computer as they work.

We are losing the ability to focus – we are becoming a society that is living life in Micro Blasts of reaction to stimulus. Productivity actually when broken down equates to simplicity. It breaks down to having a plan of action and making decisions. It is understanding the emotional value that we place on things and acknowledging the difference between action and reacting.

Next Month I’ll cover -
So what can we do to begin to break our pattern of reacting? What can we do to make ourselves more productive? How can we begin to live life in the moment and not be ruled by emotions that we have attached to our social interactions be they online or in life? How can we establish new guidelines and procedures that allow us to feel that we are still fulfilling expectations while not being reactionary?

I would love to hear your thoughts! Please feel free to post your thoughts!

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