Concentration Key to Creative Problem Solving
Posted by Plish on May 5, 2009
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”
-Alexander Graham Bell
Read an article that said that the Internet was reaching its limits. Bandwidth is not infinite after all.
It makes sense – there are only so many connections, only so much information can flow through those channels.
Yet, when it comes to our magnificent brains we think we’re immune to bandwidth constraints.
We’re not. (By the way, thinking about bandwidth constraints uses up bandwidth!)
You’re working on a problem. Two minutes into it the phone rings. You glance at the Caller-ID, don’t recognize it and go back to your problem…Email comes in…quick check…good news…okay back to the problem….
10 minutes pass but during that time you thought also about dinner tonight, the other project, and the hang nail on your left pinky….
SHOOT! You forgot to call the supplier…back on the horn…
And so it goes… on…
Technology enabled free-flow of information, demands of friends and family, physical ailments, things I want to do for fun- all compete for bandwidth in our brains. To make matters worse, when we don’t get the solutions we want, stress is the end result – which has the effect of minimizing your already finite and overused mental bandwidth.
What is the solution?
There’s much you can do, but the most important is to stop multi-tasking. Multi-tasking isn’t efficient. If you don’t believe me call your friend to discuss Relativity while driving in a snow storm on icy roads and your windshield wipers out. Better yet, call from the ditch – it’s safer there.
According to this great article on concentration, research has shown it takes up to 20 minutes for the brain to “reboot” after an interruption. In other words, in the scenario mentioned earlier, with the exception of the first couple of minutes, you never recovered after the first phone call and you spent no, really fruitful, thinking time on your problem.
I once read about a Nobel Prize winner who, when asked his secret to solving mind-bending problems said something like, “I can concentrate on a problem for 10 minutes.” (By the way, if you know who said this, I’d love to re-find the reference)
That’s all it took – 10 minutes(!) at a pop to solve problems that most of us wouldn’t even try to solve. The difference is that he truly, deeply, committed ALL his mental and physical bandwidth to his problem for 10 uninterrupted minutes.
His mind became the intense lens of focus and concentration that Alexander Graham Bell spoke of.
What else can we do to become disciplined in concentration and focus?
- Take the phone off the hook
- Make a rule to only answer emails at designated times
- Plan breaks at specific intervals (90 minute chunks of time are good)
- Eat healthy
- Stay hydrated
What else would you suggest?