Practice helps you deal with digital distractions
In this modern world, we are expected to be a multi-task person accomplishing different goals efficiently. Take myself as an example, being an PhD student in engineering, I’m expected to supervise three master plus one visiting PhD students, act as a research assistant for two to three research projects, write at least three manuscripts per year, and be a reviewer for several journals and conferences. That is only my academic part of PhD life, quite occupied yet full and enjoyable to me. However, being multi-task does not mean you should complete all things at once (e.g. one day), rather at an extended period of time (e.g. one semester). You only have one pair of hands, and focusing on too many tasks simultaneously will lead to an overload on your brain. In the end, you probably could fail in all of them. The wise choice should be finishing each task one at a time. For me, I tend to evaluate my current mood and energy, choose a suitable task to start with, and keep track of all the tasks separately. Once you find the balance, the overall efficiency can be quite satisfying for a long run.
However, things are always easy said than done, especially in a world full of technologies. Advancement of technologies do enhance our efficiency greatly via, as Clive puts it, “infinite memory” in this digital era. Still, we are constantly exposed to excessive data flow and may get lost in keeping track of various tasks and finishing them on time. For example, searching for a suitable topic for scholarly essay can end up as one hour chatting with friends on social media. Even for myself, I may check emails or twitter periodically when confronting a difficult task like writing a manuscript. Distraction is only one side of the evil, and I should say plagiarism has never been so easy with the Internet as well. Searching a similar topic or answer can be completed within a couple of clicks, and nobody is watching when you do “copy and paste”. Clive brings about this challenge on when should we not to use the “digital thinking tools” and just rely on traditional ways of thinking and technologies (e.g. books and paper). I do not have direct answer at this moment, but I believe we should start practicing at early stage to be able to focus on one particular task in later life.
Personally, I benefit a lot from my parents. When I was in elementary school, my parents always asked me to finish all homework before turning on the TV. I was also told to concentrate on eating the food instead of talking or watching TV to avoid biting my tongue or dropping the food on the table/ground. Gradually, I get better facing with different interference, especially when I’m dealing with tedious homework and try to be more efficient. Sometimes I even give myself small treats or rewards when accomplishing a task on time, for example reading one online book chapter. Living in this digital era, we definitely cannot abandon using advanced technologies, and thus we need to evolve our ways when taking best advantage of them. It takes time to master the skill to efficiently harness the power of technologies when dealing with a specific task, and we should be prepared by having more practice.