The problem of technology distraction
As I look at my phone right now, I see 17 different apps that people can use to get my attention. People can direct call me, text me, tweet me, email me, slack me, whatsapp me, etc. The list is expansive, and for most of us it’s growing. We are all under pressure to be constantly available through a plethora of communication methods.
What focus looks like
At Green Mango, our business is building software and building software requires tremendous focus. What does focus look like to us? Optimal focus in our opinion looks like minimum two hour windows without interruption. Some of us work better with shorter bursts of focus and others with longer bursts of focus. I think the general point is that we should be able to choose to focus when we need and want to.
A professor from the University of California, Irvine, Gloria Mark found that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. That means every time an email beeps or a chat message arrives on our phone, we have the chance to lose 25 minutes of focus. Charlie Matz, the Founder and CEO of the top video agency in the US VeracityColab said this about focus, “The great leaders of tomorrow will be masters of focus. The crowd is easily distracted.”
We all have a choice to make
For those who want to build great things in their lives, technology creates this battle we face, and I believe the worst thing we can do is not know or pay attention to the fact that we are fighting a battle at all. Inaction is still making a decision when it comes to focus. Our time is our greatest asset and so it’s worth being proactive about how we are spending it.
The current arsenal of tools we have to combat distractions:
With our goals at Green Mango of 2 hour focus windows I can tell you that the existing tools listed above are completely inadequate. This leads to what I believe is a huge hole in the UX/UI of modern communication tools:
Communication tools are partially to blame
Modern communication tools allow you the power of sending a message whenever you want. Alternatively, they do not allow the power of receiving a message whenever you want. You, as a user, are at the mercy and the whim of every person who wants to contact you.
The first common communication standard on the web was email, and email is designed to not be for realtime chat. Email is actually the least obtrusive form of communication. People don’t typically send emails expecting a response in less than 10 minutes. Beyond email, every single chat system on my phone from Slack to regular text messaging is geared towards instant communication .Because the software allows for that, there is often a human expectation that if I send you a message, you’ll read it and respond in a matter of seconds. That means not only are we fighting a battle against software for focus, we are also battling social norms that are being created by the capabilities of the software.
Brainstorming a better solution
From a UX perspective, given the social norms and technology hurdles, what would a solution to this problem look like?
I believe we have a long way to go in this area. These abstract concepts I suggest are a strong contrast to modern chat systems. In fact, modern chat systems are largely headed in the other direction. They are focusing on getting messages through as fast and as noisy as possible. We at Green Mango will continue to pursue solutions that will help us to focus. We would love to hear from you about any other ideas and techniques that help you remain focused as well.