Procrastination – or a “Tech Break”?

Once again I am putting off jobs that I find tedious and allowing myself to be sidetracked which brought me to a thread from “The Committed Sardine ” blog about “Tech Breaks” helping students maintain concentration.  In the article the author suggests that allowing our students to have a few minutes every half hour or so to check their texts or their emails or to have a 5 minute blast on their favourite game actually helps them to focus better on their work and have more quality study time. I guess it’s a bit like the argument for eating a small amount of something sweet every day when you are dieting so that you don’t crave it and eventually give in and binge when the desire become too great to resist. However, it does presuppose that the person involved has enough willpower to limit themselves to go back to their work after the allowed time on the forbidden fruit of technology. I know that I can easily get carried away surfing the web, clicking on one link after another on the blogs and tweets until I have easily whiled away an hour.

It is alarming, but not unsurprising that he suggests that the average medical student or computer programmer can only concentrate for up to 3 minutes at a time! I hope that when the med student becomes a surgeon his concentration skills have improved!  We live in a world of short bursts; information hits us quickly and then we are on to the next thing, we learn in snippets, news programmes no longer go in for long documentary style slots, but short blasts – sometimes the adverts are longer than the news articles! We are constantly on the move, multi-tasking, “we interrupt this programme to bring you…”, life is fast paced and unless we keep up we are lost on the way and may never find our way back through the forest of gadgets, apps, new releases that have sprouted as we stumble through.

But does that mean we learn any more or less effectively than previous generations?  Does taking a break to deal with the niggle that has been gnawing at your will power actually help you concentrate? Rosen suggests that it does and here is why;

“If your brain keeps thinking about a text message you need to return, it’s better to send that text to get the nagging impulse out of your head. Once you stop thinking about sending that text, then you’ve literally freed up space in your brain to focus on more important things, like solving the global energy crisis or creating world peace. Or, just getting that research paper done.”

Or does it just mean we are giving into impulses and ignoring the fact that it is hard to develop good concentration but that it is a worthwhile thing to do.  Shouldn’t we encourage our students (and ourselves) to develop the essential skill of concentration and focus?  Meditation has been an essential tool of many ancient philosophies, it is said to lead to serenity, inner reflection and ultimately self-control and inner strength. I am sure that philosophers throughout the ages have all had their distractions, what if they had given in to them?

I speak from some experience on these matters; I live with three males; my husband and my two sons.  All of them become totally absorbed in their own particular distractions.  For my husband it is all too often his work but I know that he has an addictive personality – he can spend hours on games once he gets hooked in. His latest addiction is internet radio – he broadcasts his playlists everynight but he works as he does it.  For my boys it is games and for them “just 5 minutes” very, very easily turns into 5 hours if we allowed it.  Those games are hooks, they suck you in and never spit you out and I know that there is no way that either of them have the self-control to play for just 5 minutes and then return to their studying.

However, I have tried the idea of saving up the 15 minute breaks and accumulating them; it works but only so far.  Anyway, I have been distracted for long enough.  That is my tech break over – now back to the tedious jobs!

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