Many of us use Continuous Partial Attention as our default mental state. From Linda Stone:
‘It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention.’
While ‘high alert’ may seem like a state that improves productivity, constant crisis decreases our ability to get things done. Always-on behavior will only add stress and anxiety. That is in direct conflict to David Allen’s ‘mind like water’, the default mental state of relaxed productivity.
Castration of creativity
Perhaps even more costly, Continuous Partial Attention strikes a deadly blow to creativity. ‘Inspiration’, that flash of brilliance that occurs in a moment of time, is usually the product of extended reflective thought. How will we arrive at that destination if we can’t stay on the bus long enough to get there? Our world is increasingly rewarding inventiveness and empathy – “right-brain” qualities that depend on conceptual thought constructed during deliberate reflection. We simply can’t be creative when we’re afraid of missing something.
Retrain your brain
In Your Smartphone – Friend and Enemy of Productivity, I discuss how reducing the frequency we access our mobile devices is a starting point in configuring or re-configuring our mental state. Tim Ferriss’ one week media fast may also give us a head start. But curing Continuous Partial Attention goes beyond subtracting the noise, we must also add the right things. For example, scheduling a set period of time, perhaps 15 minutes to start, where we attempt to devote focused thought to a project or a person. We may be pleasantly surprised with the results: Inventiveness. Empathy.
Have you been afflicted by Continuous Partial Attention? Share your story with us!