Distraction is Attention’s Vitamin

I came across an insightful read, “Writing in Cafes: A Personal History” by B.A. Wurgaft. It describes that the author, “an aspiring writer“, is a fond of cafes because they provide a balance between distraction and attention.

I was taken away by this:

“…the café can teach us that distraction isn’t the enemy of attention but rather its constant companion. To banish distraction would cost us the very productivity that many wish to maximize.“

It seems that distraction is necessary for attention to function optimally, and without attention, our productivity will be plummeted. In the article, the author discusses about “listening fatigue“, something that psychoanalysts commonly experience. This is similar to what I experience in my life. When I meet someone who blabbers on and on about their life tragedies, I sometimes slip into la la land before silently returning back into the present moment. What is interesting is that I have full attention to the beginnings and endings of the storytelling process, and so I am able to create an impression that I was an attentive listener throughout the meeting. But without that la la land slip-off as a distractor, my attention would wane away near the end of one-way conversation.

But how much distraction would be too much such that the productivity starts to function at below-optimal level? How can we measure this? Is the amount of distraction required to achieve maximum productivity dependent on both the type and duration of distraction? Is it also dependent on the type of task at hand, task difficulty, and personal expertise relating to the task?


Productivity (and attentiveness) as a function of distraction (`wandering mind“).


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