Time to Defocus!

In business world, we hear frequently the word “focus.” To achieve business goals, for example, deliver software, it’s absolutely necessary to focus on the projects and priorities. Teams that focus on execution typically perform better than others that don’t.

It’s, however, not a good idea to focus all the time. In fact, human beings have limited period of attention. Passing that period hurts one’s effectiveness – one explanation, perhaps, for why long working hours don’t deliver proportional results – not to mention the detrimental effects on one’s health.

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Moreover, focusing really narrows down your vision. Take driving as an example, the faster you drive, the narrower your can see. To broaden your vision, you want to slow down or pause for a break.

While I was reading the book Things That Makes Us Smart by Donald Norman (great author, highly recommended), I found another disadvantage of focusing: tunnel vision, functional fixedness, or cognitive narrowing. Whatever the term, they all describe the same phenomenon: “People tend to focus upon the active hypothesis and, once focused, find it very difficult to change, even in the face of contradictory evidence.” I can validate this with my personal experience on debugging software. After 30 minutes or so of debugging with no clue, I normally take a break for walking, or discussing with others who may not even know much about my software.

With these in mind, everyone needs to defocus once in a while. This is not a luxury but a necessity. The reason I write this blog is to remind myself because the summer is coming and I should have a period of time to de-focus – think about things in broader context, or just relax and let thoughts coming to me.

If you haven’t taken a break for a while, you should consider it as well. Have trouble to get time off? Just print out this article and show it to your boss. :-)

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