I don’t know whether it is the pandemic or the increasing pace of change. But from my perspective, some teams are finding it harder and harder to stay focused. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on a remote trend of people “working two jobs at the same time without both companies knowing.” Add to that problem that some have small children at home or are using company time to conduct personal business.
What can we learn about team focus from science? I’m not a scientist but dug into this a little to see what I could learn. Here are my six observations on what we can learn from science about team focus.6 observations we can learn from science on team focus at work #focus #teams #teamwork #projectmanagement #smartprojex #leadership Click To Tweet
1. Too much technology causes brain fatigue.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t need scientific studies to confirm the truth of that statement. How many times have you spent the day in front of screens and were simply exhausted by the end of the day? Or, even by lunchtime?
Daniel J. Levitin is one of the foremost authorities on this subject, a neuroscientist who writes about technology, music, aging, and the mind. No one seems to dispute the notion of information and technology overload. Some folks handle it better than others. What can leaders do to improve team focus? I will write about that in an upcoming blog. For now, here are five more observations.
2. Exposure to nature improves attention and focus.
Exposure to natural environments did produce improvements in three measures in one study. Published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, the study reported that Digit Span Forward, Digit Span Backward, and Trail Making Test B (whatever those are) improved. This systematic review of other studies was done to determine if there was any evidence that supports the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) – which postulates that being in nature improves attention. According to the reviewers, “there is increasing practice and policy interest in the potential for natural environments to provide positive human health and well-being benefits.”
A more recent study was reported in Occupational Health Science that indicated that nature does offer benefits in attention and workplace strain to office workers. And in a study of children, reported in the American Journal of Public Health, “green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics.” This study noted that “the symptoms of ADHD and “attention fatigue” so closely mirror each other that the Attention Deficit Disorders Evaluation Scale has been used as a measure of attention fatigue.”
While these multiple studies show some support for ART, the studies have been quite small, and more research is needed. And yet there seems to be enough there for me to believe that getting outside has benefits.
3. Exercise improves focus and attention spans.
In a study published in Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior, researchers found that “exercise improved sustained attention following a mentally fatiguing attentional task independent of fitness status.”
And a study out of Grenada, “linked participating in physical activity with longer attention spans.”
While research on this is limited, it does suggest that we can improve team focus by encouraging our people to hit the courts, the pool, the streets, or the gym.
4. Humor improves persistence and engagement.
In a study on the energizing effects of humor, researchers determined that “exposure to humor increases individuals’ persistence in two different tasks and that this effect is mediated by the discrete emotion of amusement (Study 1). Moreover, the positive effect of humor on persistence is stronger for individuals with higher levels of self-enhancing humor style (Study 2).”
Laughter goes a long way towards getting teams to relax and intellectually engage. In an article in the spring 2010 Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter, the author discusses the nuanced distinction in the way the body processes humor and laughter. Scott Edwards, author, notes that “Humor is an evoked response to storytelling and shifting expectations. Laughter is a social signal among humans. It’s like a punctuation mark.”Laughter goes a long way towards getting teams to relax and intellectually engage. What do your teams do to relax and engage? #laughter #teamwork #teams #leadership #projectmanagement #smartprojex Click To Tweet
5. Too much technology reduces empathy.
I have been writing about this idea, and the work that Sherry Turkle, at MIT, has been doing, for years. Check out my blog on empathy and the one thing that we can do to improve project collaboration.
6. Daydreaming improves focus and creativity.
Some researchers, along with Darwin, Einstein, Freud, and Nietzsche, advocate daydreaming as an important part of focus, productivity, and creativity. What does the science say? Best I can tell the science is mixed. But some level of daydreaming appears to improve creativity and focus.
If we know from brain science that continual technology use reduces cognitive functioning, diminishes our ability to focus, and reduces empathy, I’m wondering about the wisdom of building systems that require us to increase our use of technology. Are we trying to build a more humane well-connected society or are we working towards a virtually connected collection of emojis?Are we trying to build a more humane well-connected society or are we working towards a virtually connected collection of emojis? #metaverse #focus #teams #teamwork #projectmanagement #smartprojex #leadership Click To Tweet
Stay tuned for my follow up blog on how we can apply these learnings to improve team focus. And if your team could use coaching, I’m happy to help.