All In Focus

Dana G. Smith writes about how to bring back your focus for the NYT (gift article). You have probably already been exposed to some of the tricks and insights discussed here, if you are at all engaged in learning about productivity. One thing that stuck out to me was the recognition of our brains adapting to whatever way we read the most often. For too many of us, that involves skimming through screens.

Unfortunately, simply printing out an article or opting for a paperback book instead of your Kindle won’t guarantee that you suddenly become a more engaged reader. Our brains adapt to read in the style of the medium we use most often, and chances are you spend a lot more time reading on a screen than you do on paper. As a result, Dr. Wolf said, you likely now read in print the way you read on a screen.

The takeaway here is that you can’t spend 80% of your time reading quickly in short bursts on a device and then switch to a book occasionally and hope your attention span returns. You will only bring over your style of reading to the book, which will make the format seem difficult to parse. I see this in my son’s case. He finds reading books to be challenging and uncomfortable, and that is probably due in part to the diminished attention span he has cultivated from spending too much time with computers.

Matt Reynolds writes for Wired about a new book that looks to the monks for inspiration on how to retain focus.

Early Christian devotees also loved searching for ways to get the most out of their days. Just as we obsess over the bizarre routines of tech bros today, the 4th-century theologian Augustine of Hippo wished that he knew more about the productivity tips of the apostles. In The Work of Monks, Augustine wondered how Paul had divided up his day. If only Paul had written his routine down, then monks would have some useful guidance to follow, Augustine griped. Other monks wrote their own guides: The 6th-century Rule of Saint Benedict set out a strict routine monks should follow, including advice on when and what to eat, how long to work, and how to keep a routine while traveling.

I find it interesting that we can look to early Christian monks as some of the first of the productivity obsessed.