Sunday, 31 March 2013

Finding Fresh Focus

Photography is one of my favorite hobbies. My wife and I have had the good fortune to travel to some pretty amazing places. Capturing memories in pictures allows us to fondly recall our adventures quickly and clearly. Any photographer can tell you that finding focus is key to a great picture. In education focus can be just as important to ensuring effective progress.

The modern world bombards everyone with information and distractions. On top of the demands of daily life and the expectations of our jobs, educators also face  self inflicted distractions from our technology and gadgets. Smartphones, ipads, ipods, and other devices have gained a huge foothold in our lives. Even worse is the compulsive, almost addictive attitude we have developed towards the applications such devices carry. The internet, Facebook, blogs and Twitter, improperly used can become black holes of wasted time. I have heard Twitter described by some people as being an invaluable source of ideas and information, on par with the most outstanding professional development. Maybe so, but even the most casual follower of Twitter quickly becomes aware of people and organizations  that seem to live to post, follow, tweet and retweet with such fierce determination that one wonders when they find time to do anything else. With so many demands and competitive mechanisms seeking to gain our attention, the ability to focus on what really matters has never been more important.

Psych Central has a great webpage outlining tips to help people enhance their focus. It includes common sense advice like establishing gadget free zones, taking breaks to get outside, maintaining to do lists and limiting the number of applications open on your computer at any one time. Joseph Cardillo, in his book  "Can I Have Your Attention?: How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Concentration" advocates asking a series of questions to train your brain to better focus. Such questions include:
  • Where am I at the moment? 
  • What do I want to gain from this situation?
  • What should I gain from this situation?
  • What have I done in similar situations in the past?
  • Do I want to change that? 
  • If so, how?
  • What do others expect to gain from the situation?
  • What attention does my environment demand from the situation?
  • What information that is entering my attention should be activated? 
  • What information should be restrained?   
Eastern Michigan University Associate  professor Brian Bruya similarly talks of collecting and shedding information cues in order to determine and deal with important tasks with greater ease and responsiveness. Bruya suggests its most important to concentrate on what really matters. Excluding extraneous stimuli can allow a person to deal with the task at hand more effectively and with greater ease.

The human brain can process an amazing amount of information. Psych Central reports that psychologists estimate we can process up to 40 bits of information simultaneously. Finding focus, however, is not about how much information we can take in all at once, but more about what we zero in upon to the exclusion of the all the other noise. Being able to focus on a few key tasks, complete them and do them well is really a much more valuable 21st Century skill than being overly wired in, over-connected, and over stimulated.Using the tools available can be great but it is also important to maintain focus on what really matters!

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