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Staying focused in the digital world

21 August 2017

Professor Kathryn Pavlovich of Waikato Management School

Distractions are all too common in today's world of emails, social media and internet surfing. One US study found a typical office worker gets just 11 minutes of work completed between interruptions.

This is why many management experts, including the author of a recent book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, argue that serious professionals should stop trying to 'multi-task' and quit social media.

In an interview with the Bay of Plenty Times, Waikato Management School's Professor Kathryn Pavlovich says passion plays a big role in allowing successful individuals to 'go deep' and remain focused on achieving their personal goals.

But self-discipline isn't enough, she says. "If we're not passionate in our jobs, maybe we need to be looking at where our core purpose and meaning really resides. We all have times when we engage in those distractions, but we're looking at the continuum here, and where it's ongoing, it's clearly an issue."

While universities encourage the use of technology, Pavlovich sees students in lectures with laptops who may be using them to take notes, or to scroll social media.

"If you're on Facebook, I know you're not fully engaged in listening to me or your fellow classmates. It comes down to personal responsibility and respect, too."

Studies have shown multi-tasking is a drain on not only attention, but also on happiness.

Pavlovich cites a Harvard study that found about half our thoughts are unrelated to what we're doing in the moment. "We're worrying, ruminating, stressing. We're just distracted."

She says one proven way to train the mind to focus is through regular meditation, or mindfulness practice.

"I do my best each morning to do 10 minutes of meditation or yoga and set my intention for the day of what do I want to achieve and that definitely does help. The most exciting and encouraging thing is lot of these young people are really aware of being mindful, whereas me and my generation, it took us a really long time."

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