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April 22, 2021
Today, it can be hard to focus. How can you stay focused with all the distractions, anxiety, and uncertainty brought by the pandemic? Interestingly, the way to maintain your focus might be to unfocus your mind now and then.
One school of thought urges us to overfocus. If we learn to intensely focus on one task, we can theoretically apply that focused intensity to multiple tasks and become more productive. Multitasking, though, is arguably a myth: our brains can only focus on one task at a time. As University of California-Irvine informatics professor Gloria Mark told NPR, "Every activity we do uses a different set of cognitive resources," and if we try to do two or three activities seemingly at once, we end up depleting our cognitive energy instead of focusing it. We can also do this through overfocusing, which is a conscious effort to rigidly absorb and perform every detail of a task. Paradoxically, cognitive researchers have concluded that a little idleness is good for our focus, and that our brains need the occasional break. Prof. Mark and Dr. Srini Pillay, a TED-talking neuroscientist and psychiatrist, offer six steps for optimal focus: schedule breaks in your workday; daydream positively during the workday; block out distractions before diving in deep to something; schedule your most intense work for the time of day your brain and body seem to work best for you; allow your brain time to read, play, and engage in new hobbies; and take the occasional "digital sabbath" from being online.3