Taking on a big task is like playing an arcade game: it requires all of your focus. As soon as you pause the game and walk away, your chances of earning a high score all but disappear.
Photo by daveynin.
On his blog, Cal Newport describes focusing on a task as being similar to playing an arcade game. You're mind is centered on what you're playing, and trying to think ahead so you don't lose. But if you pause the game for a moment and step away, you're more likely to fail when you return. Why? Your mind is now carrying "attention residue" from whatever pulled you away from your game and your cognitive performance is now suffering.
The same thing happens when you're focused on a productive task and you let your attention drift elsewhere — be it email, coworkers, or your phone. Even the briefest interruptions pull you out of the zone and require your mind to slowly ease back into the focus you had before the interruption. As Newport explains, if you are constantly letting your attention switch focus every 10 to 15 minutes, you're putting yourself in a persistent state of self-imposed cognitive handicap. So, just like a tough arcade game, settle in to the task you need to get done and don't walk away from the machine. Otherwise you'll keep losing and run out of quarters real fast.
A Productivity Lesson from a Classic Arcade Game [Cal Newport]