By Dr. Corinne Masur
“Spending the majority of your day with fragmented attention can permanently affect your ability to sustain concentration.”
This is something that Cal Newport, Associate Professor at Georgetown University, said in a Ted Talk about why he has never had a social media account and why he turns off his notifications while he’s working on a project.
He talks and writes about the impact that social media and multiple sources of information have on our work habits, productivity and ability to concentrate. His premise is that jumping from email to Facebook to Slack feed, whether at work or at home, impairs our ability to actually do what we need to do in an efficient way as well as affecting our overall ability to sustain attention.
He calls shifting from doing a task at work to looking at an email a “context shift”. And in an interview in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday (1/29/23), he said that “even minor context shifts are poison” – by which he meant, that if you are writing a report at work and you stop to check a message, there will be a cost to your productivity. You will have to exert a large amount of mental energy to go from that message back to the report you were writing. And if you do this multiple times while writing the report, you will take longer and have to work harder to finish it.
Cal Newport advocates turning off your notifications and doing one thing at a time.
but also, according to him, more efficient and more productive.
So what does that have to do with parenting?
Well, I would be remiss if I advised you to try to get your children to turn off THEIR notifications or if I suggested that you could actually get them to stop looking at their phones all the time. They won’t listen, they will argue, they will get angry – and we all know this.
BUT – there are a couple of things you CAN do.
First, you can start to adopt some of these habits yourself. And then you can talk about having done so IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN. You can talk about whether or not this has helped you.
There are numerous benefits to you here – you may actually find that you ARE more productive, and you may find that you feel less stressed. Constantly trying to pay attention to several sources of communication and information all day long is stressful and anxiety provoking.
Second, while your children are young, you can insist that they put their cell phones (if they have them) in a basket while they do homework and at family meal time. You can probably get away with this through junior high – or, if you are really good, through high school. It will be hard, but if you persist, your children just might develop some good work habits that are more productive and less stressful for them.
Cal Newport’s Website: https://www.calnewport.com
Cal Newport’d Book: calnewport.com/books/deep-work/