The Distracted Mind

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How we prioritize online distractions without knowing

“You have a new email messages from A”, “B wants to be your friend on Facebook”, “C sent you a direct message on Twitter”, “You have D unread items in Google Reader”, “Your friend E is available for chat on Skype”, “There’s a new SMS from F on your mobile phone”… and the list continues.   Whether you are at the computer or using a smartphone, there are plenty of things happening around you simultaneously that can easily distract you from the task at hand.

However, making that switch from one distraction to another is not always in random order because some distractions are naturally more important than others. For instance, you will probably answer a phone call or read that SMS message first before approving that pending friends’ request on Facebook. David McCandless, author of The Visual Miscellaneum, has created an interesting chart that illustrates how we prioritize these various digital distractions (or interruptions), often unknowingly, in our minds.

If you get a new SMS whilst opening a new online dating message, you’ll be hard pressed not to read that SMS. It’ll take a great force of will and SMS will win your attention.

You may attempt to do both simultaneously. But if you really observe yourself closely, one will take priority – even if it’s only by milliseconds. The level of distraction increases as you move up the chart and vice-versa.   This chart is something, most of us can completely relate to.

Everyone knows we’re not supposed to multitask while driving, but do you know why? Refraining from texting, changing the radio, or talking to other people in the car isn’t just cautionary advice from your parents and teachers. It turns out your brain literally can’t focus on too much at once.

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Our brain is not wired to pay attention to more than one complex task at a time, what we’re actually doing when we think we’re multitasking is quickly shifting our focus from one activity to another so while our mind is engaged in applying makeup, arguing with back seat driver, fumbling for a water bottle or a conversation, we are not focusing on anything in a proper way.

Avoid Multitasking and stay focused.

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