IP 8: Attentional Record and Analysis
This was quite an interesting and illuminating assignment. Although I am very interested in learning about productivity techniques, I have never actually tracked my attention for an entire day. The pie chart below provides a quick overview of a day in late March 2023. To contextualise this specific day, it is important noting that I work from home and live alone. It came as no surprise to me when I reviewed the data that I spend the bulk of my day reading, whether at a desk, in my reading chair, or in a coffee shop. As a Ph.D. student my reading list is enormous, additionally, I am a voracious reader in my personal life as well. I was meticulously tracking my attention for each hour on that particular day, writing down notes on my computer, or my phone when I was on the move.
Bathroom breaks and such aside, there is still a significant amount of time (18.9%) unaccounted for which I found intriguing. I don’t propose that we need to be productive at all times, quite the contrary. Time to think and reflect are vital parts of teaching and learning, and a ‘state of permanent alertness stifles reflection’ (Citton, 2017, p. 180), so perhaps what I really found intriguing about the 18.9% of unaccounted time is the fact that I didn’t think it necessary to write down the times when I did seemingly, nothing.
There are two hours that stand out to me (see Detailed Log). Two full hours of concentrated reading, one at 5 AM the other at 9 AM. This kind of focus has been called flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and provides an optimal experience of complete engagement and attention to a task at hand. In his conclusion, Citton (2017) calls this kind of attention to mean 'alienating yourself' (p. 178), making the point that being absorbed fully in a task, ultimately brings about an exit from another.
(What is noticeable is the fact that I was reading away from my computer, I had previously printed out the articles and used a pencil to scribble notes in the margins. The tactility of this method suits me. While I agree with de Castell & Jenson (2004) that students growing up with video games require more engaging learning materials, it is perhaps worth asking the question if more analog tools could provide students with an opportunity for focused attention.
In my current design course at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, I inform the students at the outset that there are three classes with no phones or computers. I have designed activities that involve moving around the school, interview potential users, and work with pen and paper. Although the students are initially skeptical, the feedback is consistently positive. With many students appreciating the concentration and not being distracted by other students' digital device usage in class.
To provide a bit more detail on my distracted mind, let’s drill down into one particular hour, 6 - 7 AM. For context, I got up around 4 AM, so by 6 AM I already had my first coffee, ate breakfast, read two academic papers, and did two loads of laundry. I noticed that my mind was becoming more distracted as the morning went on. With my phone next to me, notifications started pouring in, pulling my attention in multiple directions. My tasks oscillated between work (reading, note taking) and mundane household tasks (emptying the dishwasher, pouring a cup of coffee), the latter being a constant struggle when working from home. With the division between work and leisure eliminated, it's more challenging to stay focused and on task.
As a teacher gaining my students attention is of the utmost importance. As I read about instructors expecting their students to concentrate on a single topic for a lengthy amount of time overlooking students’ preference to move swiftly between different tasks (Citton, 2017, p.10), I was again reminded that I am of a different generation than my students. My teaching style has been influenced by how I was educated. The text-bound educational world I come from, is not what my students are familiar with (de Castell & Jenson, 2004). As a result, it is vital that I understand the hyper-attention that my students are used to, as well as the multi-tasking they prefer.
I like to end with Cathy Davidson's notion on how partial attention of an individual might not be a negative thing like so many researchers believe. In her book "Now you see it" (2011) she writes about "attention blindness as the fundamental structuring principle of the brain" (p. 2) and that this might present us with opportunities for collaboration. Because we are not all paying attention to the same thing, working with others is crucial to thrive in a complex world.
What I paid attention to
Questions that arose
Device or tool
Questions about the content of the article and how I can translate this into an assignment I have to do
I’m focused; the only interruption is the sound of birds outside my window. But only as a nice white noise
Paper & pencil
On my reading chair
Note taking, checking and answering email
What is attention? How do we measure it? What is the connection between attention and focus? Is my laundry ready?
The city is waking up, and so are the people in my building. My mind wanders…I’m distracted and check email sporadically. Then look up a new article that Google suggested for me.
At my dining table
Tired, and a bit hungry, the chair is too uncomfortable
How can I automate some of these tasks? Can GPT-4 help?
I’m distracted. So many things call for my attention. My mom calls on WhatsApp. A text from a friend
My laptop, my iPhone
Sitting at my desk
I am stiff, get up and stretch. My lower back hurts
I make a mental list in my head of all the things I have to do in the coming days
The podcast I listen to brings up interesting topics that have nothing to do with the tasks before me
The stove, my iPhone, AirPods
In the kitchen, moving back and forth
Hungry, too much energy and stuff in my head
Working with software
What tool to use to create the chart?
It’s nice and quiet
My laptop, Google Docs
Sitting in my reading chair, with a pillow on my lap and computer on top
A bit tired, hungry
Reading and writing notes in the margins and copying important passages into my notebook
Just one washroom break. And reminding myself to sit upright and not hunched over
Paper, pen, notebook
Sitting at my old table on a rustic IKEA stool
Slightly stiff and hunched over
Making scrambled eggs with vegetables
Thinking about a recent paper I read about how socially shared regulation and scaffolding can improve teamwork
My neighbour’s two little boys are running and laughing outside my front door
In my kitchen
Enjoying the scent rising from my pan
Answering an email from a student asking for clarification on a lesson (20 minutes), eating a snack (15 minutes)
Perhaps I need to be more clear in the lecture if the student is confused
Cars outside my building, honking
My laptop, Outlook app
At my dining table
Reading a paper on attention ecology
Should I order a muffin? Thoughts drift to another project that I have to complete
The murmur of people and baristas in the background. White noise
Pen and paper, my phone
In a coffee shop, a high chair and wooden table
It’s a bit chilly
Writing thoughts about a project in my blue notebook
How am I going to complete this project with the majority of team members unresponsive and disengaged?
Coffee shop white noise provides a nice background
Notebook and mechanical pencil
In a coffee shop, a high chair and a wooden table
A bit stressed, hungry
On a walk. Focussing on my steps, the surroundings, and people walking by, and a podcast playing in my Airpods
The mind was engaged, but no particular questions arose
Got interrupted when I saw a nice photo opportunity of a woman walking underneath a cherry blossom tree. I snap the photo and keep walking
Airpods, and my phone to take pics
Walking through my neighbourhood
Reading a dense academic article
What should I make for dinner?
Interrupted by my own thoughts
Paper and pen
On my sofa, feet up on the coffee table
Hungry. My back hurts from sitting too much
Citton, Y. (2017). Introduction and conclusion: From attention economy to attention ecology. In Y. Citton, The ecology of attention. John Wiley & Sons.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience (1st ed.). Harper & Row.
Davidson, C. N. (2011). Now you see it: How the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work, and learn. Viking.
de Castell, S., & Jenson, J. (2004). Paying attention to attention: New economies for learning. Educational Theory, 54(4), 381-397.