Why we need deep focus to success acording to science
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
This is the formula to finish a quality job (or with the highest quality that you can deliver at that time).
The formula for productivity appears in the book Deep work, by Cal Newport, to demonstrate that some workers are able to contribute more to their field by spending the same amount of time as their colleagues. Or even spending less time on it.
“By maximizing his intensity of him when he [Grant] works, he maximizes the results he produces per unit of time spent working.” Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
According to Newport, we need to focus. Technological world has turned us into scattered beings. In addition, we need to be better in the areas where machines cannot replace us. For him, if we want to adapt, staying focused is more necessary than ever.
Surely you have thought something like that sometime: “The day has 24 hours for everyone. How is it possible that he is able to reach everything?” If we exclude 0.00001% geniuses, the rest of mortals we need a method to become excellent in our field. At least be satisfied having worked at our highest level. And if the method produces results for most followers and is is backed by science, we will reduce our margin of error.
“Without method, order, will, effort and sacrifice, neither genius nor triumph are possible”, Toni Nadal, Rafa Nadal’s uncle and coach, in Everything can be trained.
Changing tasks is a waste
Imagine that you have to prepare your food every day. In addition to cooking, getting your plate to the table on time requires an enormous amount of time: thinking and choosing what to eat, going to buy the ingredients and coming back (we hope that everyone has a lift when they buy jugs of water), washing them, cut them, cook them. And after eating, clean your kitchen.
Except if you are privileged with a chef at home, surely this scene is familiar to you. In an increasingly multitasking and busy world, many have decided to cook in batches. They decide what to eat during the week, extract the amounts of ingredients, buy them (perhaps online) and prepare all the meals on Sunday afternoon.
The example of the kitchen also applies to work or studies.
But why is it better to work in batches? According to science, you not only save time, but also improve the quality of your performance.
In Why Is It So Hard to Do My Work?, a paper by University of Minnesota business professor Sophie Leroy, we find some clues to understanding it.
«The problem this research identifies with this work strategy is that when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow — a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while.
Leroy was interested in what she calls “attention residue,” rather than the multitasking effect. To study this effect, she took her thesis to her laboratory for confirmation: “People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task.”
Oligodendrocites, that’s why we need deep focus
What is the physiological basis for deep concentration? The scientific community believes that part of the answer lies in myelin.
Myelin is a layer of adipose tissue that surrounds the axons of neurons. Axons conduct electrical impulses between neurons. Myelin looks like the plastic layer that protects power lines. The efficiency of transmitting nerve impulses between neuronal axons is largely dependent on myelin.
Demyelination causes diseases such as multiple sclerosis, leukodystrophies, and encephalomyelitis, among others. The causes of these diseases are still under investigation. However, it is known that Central Nervous System (CNS) myelin is made up of oligodendrocytes, while Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) myelin is made up of Schwann cells. In both cases, myelin covers the cells in multiple layers.
What does myelin have to do with continuous improvement and concentration? Continuous and spaced practice (a recommended technique for study called “active recall”) strengthens neural connections.
If you try to recall your knowledge repeatedly over time, the connection between the neurons involved is strengthened (I recommend the book Make it stick). According to Daniel Coyle’s research in The talent code (2009), neuroscience believes that the more the myelin of the relevant neurons develops, the better skill or knowledge you will have with less effort.
Deep concentration strengthens neuronal connections and increases the layers of myelin. With continued practice, anyone can improve their field significantly.
“The reason, therefore, why it’s important to focus intensely on the task at hand while avoiding distraction is because this is the only way to isolate the relevant neural circuit enough to trigger useful myelination. By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill (say, SQL database management) in a state of low concentration (perhaps you also have your Facebook feed open), you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen.”
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