Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity


Clint Murphy Gloria Mark


Gloria Mark, Clint Murphy

Clint Murphy  00:00

Good morning, Gloria, where I’d love to dive into our conversation today is a quote from your book Attention Span. And what you wrote was, we need to change the conversation, from adjusting our lives, to being maximally productive, to adjusting our lives to feeling balanced. Our goal, when we use our devices should be to maintain a positive store of mental resources. So we can ultimately experience a higher level of well being. As a result, we’ll be more productive, that quote, will give our listeners and viewers a very good idea of what we’re going to be talking about today. Do you want to color that in for them? And let them know where we’ll be going in our conversation today? 

Gloria Mark  00:52

Sure. Yeah. So the common narrative is that, you know, technology should enhance our productivity. And in fact, and, you know, that was the original intent for developing computer technology, it enabled people to produce information faster. For example, people could write directly themselves on their computers, and edit and print. The problem is that we’ve developed this culture where we feel pushed to produce as much as possible because we have the technology to do so. But as a result, we’re getting ourselves exhausted. And we know this from empirical studies, we have evidence that shows that people are getting stressed and exhausted on their personal devices. Now, what’s behind this is that people have a limited amount of cognitive resources. So you can think of it as attentional capacity. But in any case, we have a limited amount, we don’t have an infinite supply of attention. And so we have to be very careful about how we allocate this attention. Because when we’re drained of these attentional resources, we get ourselves exhausted, right? We’re stressed, we’re drained. So that’s why it’s so important to achieve a balanced when we use our devices to be very much aware that we, our ultimate goal is actually happiness and well being. Right. And there’s also research that shows if you’re happy, you will be more productive, you’ll be more creative, you can generate more ideas, you have more energy. So that’s the idea behind this.

Clint Murphy  02:43

And one of the terms you mentioned there. I thought maybe we could dive a little bit deeper into  the idea of attentional capacity. I’m almost picturing like a fuel tank for our attention. And there’s only so much attention or cognitive ability, if you will, that we have during the day. Is that analogy reasonably accurate? Or what else might you use? And are there any other terms that we should lay out for the listeners in advance that are going to help them as we weave our way through this conversation? Gloria Mark  03:19

No, I think using a tank as a metaphor is very good fun. Because you know, you can think of it as if you get a really good night’s sleep. If you take really good breaks, you can keep your tank full. But there’s things we do during the day that deplete the tech such as long intensive periods of focusing, because that creates a strain, shifting our attention, multitasking, trying to shift between different tasks, there’s a lot of things, there are things that emotionally drain us that also affect our attention. So I think the tank is a really good way to look at this to consider what fills the tank and what depletes the tank. 

Clint Murphy  04:05

And something that jumps out at me, we’ll take a step back and come out of the book for a minute. But if you remember back to 2020, depending on where you live, work from home orders go in place, we all come home. And that goes on and off for about three years. And during that time, Gloria as someone with ADHD, when I’m in, in the workplace setting, you have meetings in person, you’re going from meeting to meeting, you’re talking to your colleagues face to face, no devices present. You’re able to zone in, be present, get things done, go to your next meeting, periodic sessions at the keyboard for your work, but then all of a sudden, for a period of two to three years. You’re sitting in an office by yourself at your house or in your kitchen and you’re looking at monitors all day long. And someone tells you will just pay attention to the person in the monitor right there, ignore those other two monitors you have on your desk, that have emails and work going in. To me, I felt like maybe it was my ADHD. But in reading the book, it doesn’t seem maybe it was just that it was the human population as a whole, I never felt more stressed, less productive, and maybe not less productive, because there was output. But I never felt my attention span dwindling, as much as it did during that three year period. And I know you wrote the book during COVID. Has there been research showing the implications of COVID work from home policies without actual face to face contact, and what that did to our attention spans? 

Gloria Mark  05:56

Yeah, we have some research. So during the pandemic, along with colleagues from Microsoft research, we did study this, and people reported having a much harder time focusing. But there’s so many other issues that were going on at the same time. For example, people experience more loneliness. And of course, there’s a lot of other ideas and emotions that we experience that can affect our attention. So feeling lonely, of course, can be distracting for you, it can interfere with your ability to concentrate, and of course, people who are distracted by things in their home, as well. And you know, the pile of dirty laundry, or the dishes that need to be washed, or if you were a caretaker or kids or for aging parents. So there, there were a lot of other things going on. The other thing that made it really challenging was that Zoom meetings. And of course, we all had to move to zoom, they tended to be scheduled back to back. So you had a meeting at 10am 11am 12am. And we had no time for transition between these meetings. So be in a meeting expected to give your full attention. And then it would end. And you had about 20 seconds to get on to your next meeting. And contrast that with what we did in physical work environments, where you know, at least you could walk to another meeting room, or you might walk back to your office. And at least that gave you a time of transition, you know, you can kind of clear your head. The other thing that happens in physical face to face settings, is that we can do chit chat, we can have informal social interaction, before meeting after a meeting. And this helps people relax, it helps us get to know our colleagues. And zoom meetings tend to be very formal. And of course that has an impact on our attention. Because we don’t have the time to just kind of chill and get to know people and relax. And I know that some managers intentionally scheduled social time before meetings and after meetings and we did a study on that. And we found that it was pretty effective. 

Clint Murphy  08:29

The idea of taking a 10 minute break between meetings is such a beautiful idea. In hindsight, I hate you giving me a bit of nightmares, remembering back to some of those days where it felt like you. I have a little separate office in my backyard. And I’d walk in here and go on a zoom call it felt like at seven in the morning and be done at six at night. It was just I don’t ever want to be in that situation in life again, Gloria.

Gloria Mark  09:00

No one does. 

Clint Murphy  09:02

So when it comes to our control over our attention, one of the quotes that stood out for me was you had a quote by William James, who you noted was the father of psychology I left that said millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses, which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agreed to attend to. Can you expand on that one for us? GLORIA Yeah. Okay. Can modern technology interface with that idea? 

Gloria Mark  09:39

Yeah, so, William James was talking about selective attention. We pay attention to what we choose to pay attention to. Now, you know, you may not even want to pay attention to something but we’re sometimes forced to because of work, you know, or because if you’re a student you have to pay attention to doing some reading for a class. But in any case, it is ultimately a choice of where people selectively attend to. And what we attend to, is what enters into our consciousness. So you know, I have so many things going on around in my environment, I have an air conditioner on, and I’m not paying attention to it, until I actually look at it and realize that the air conditioners on my selective attention is going toward that air conditioner. But otherwise, my attention is on you on the podcast, because that’s what I’m selectively choosing to enter into my consciousness. 

Clint Murphy  10:47

And in that choice, Gloria, how do we get power or strengthen our willpower, if you will, to make those right choices? When that information is just always coming at us whether it’s the algo AI. 

Gloria Mark  11:05

Yeah, there are things that we can do. So one of the things that that I found, works very well for me, is to probe myself, so that I can better understand and reflect on where I’m paying attention. And, you know, this idea actually came from something I experienced during the pandemic. So my university offered a course in mindfulness. And, you know, I always wanted to take a course in mindfulness, I’m sure many of your listeners are familiar with this, or do it themselves. But mindfulness teaches you to focus on the present. And the idea is, you know, the past is about regret, the future is about anxiety. But in the present, right, this is what we have this is what’s real. And I realized that when I’m on my devices, I could improve the way that I focus by thinking in terms of the present. And there’s so many things that happen when we’re on our devices, we might get a memory to that we forgot to do something, we have an urge. This is a big one. It’s an urge to check email, or social media or the news, right, and we have this urge, and we want to respond to it. But if we can learn to recognize those urges, we can reflect on it, try and understand why do we have this urge to do something, and we can come up with a plan, there are so many actions we do when we use our computers and phones that are just non conscious when I see my phone, for example, here, and I immediately grab it. And that’s an unconscious reaction. Right? It’s a habit. And I’m not fully conscious of actually grabbing my phone, swiping it open, but I can reflect on it. And I can say, wait a minute, why do I have that urge to grab that phone? Or why do I have that urge to go on social media, it’s usually when I’ve probed myself, it’s usually because I don’t want to do the thing that I’m supposed to do right now. It’s, I’m just not interested. It’s work that I have to do. And I’m that interested? So I would so much rather read the news. Because it’s easy, right? It’s fun, maybe not always fun. And so once you become aware of why you’re becoming so distracted, you can form a plan. And then you can become more intentional in your actions. And the idea is to make these unconscious actions, more conscious for you to raise them to your conscious awareness. And just like when I talked earlier about air conditioner, it’s going on, it’s making a noise. I’m not paying attention to it until I actually think about, and then I am right. So we do have a choice. We do have a choice of where to pay attention. And making that choice is about being intentional. And being aware that, you know, we are distracted by lots of unconscious things that are going on in our mind. And we have to become aware of those things and create a plan. For example, if I have an urge to go on social media, how about if I create a plan, I’m going to work 20 more minutes, and then I’ll reward myself by going to social media.

Clint Murphy  14:52

And give yourself that space. And the interesting one was you quoted did an experiment that showed over a peer rate of time, when we exert cognitive control, we become more impulsive and gradually relinquish our ability to filter out the distractions. Can you take our listeners through that experiment, and yeah, what the implications for that are in what you refer to as cognitive fatigue, which seems to lower our ability to control our attentional capacity.

Gloria Mark  15:29

That’s right. CSo there’s a part of the mind that’s called executive function and executive function, it’s a pretty important part of the mind, you can think of it as the CEO of your mind, the governor of your mind, and it controls our decision making it, it’s what we use to decide what to focus on. But also importantly, it helps us filter out distractions, so it helps us stay on track. And it helps us, you know, keeps our mind away from all the peripheral stuff that might interfere with our task at hand. Now, if you’re spending a long period of time, using that executive function, which could be in trying to focus on something, you know, doing some kind of hard task for a long period of time, you can wear it down, right, you can get it exhausted. And then executive function no longer has the capability to do its job. And it can’t be effective in filtering out distractions. So, you know, you might see on the internet, there’s lots of advertisements for achieve nonstop focus. Or, here’s how to focus for 10 hours at a time. Well, that’s not realistic. Because our executive function just doesn’t allow us to do that for 10 hours at a time or extended nonstop, we need to take breaks, and we need to replenish, right? Again, we have these limited cognitive resources. And we need to make sure we’re running on a full tank.

Clint Murphy  17:12

Now, is there a way like our biceps or the bench press in the gym? Is there a way to strengthen and build our executive function, like a muscle?

Gloria Mark  17:28

Well, I would say there is by making sure we take really good breaks, to make sure we get a really good night’s sleep. Because then executive function is really fresh, it can work at its full capacity. So the important thing is to just not wear it down. And of course, you know what I talked about before the idea of understanding reasons for why you’re distracted. And making these unconscious actions more conscious. This is another thing we can do is to retrain ourselves, so that we don’t respond to every urge, we have to be distracted. So there are things that we can do. 

Clint Murphy  18:12

So let’s talk about the importance of lunch hour and an hour. I’ll love for you to share your experience in Germany. And I’ve always felt similarly to that. Even when I was at a big four accounting firm, working crazy hours to me, lunch hour has always been somewhat sacred, at least 45 minutes, grab lunch, ideally, away from my desk. Ideally, nowadays, I like to go for a 30 minute 35 minute walk, stop at a cafe, have a couple small salad, walk back to the office, ideally, with a colleague having conversation on the walk, talking during the sit down for the meal, short meal, you’re back in the office in an hour, hour and 15. And I’ve always felt way more productive in that second half of the day. Then were I to do what seems to be so common in in North America where I just grabbed a takeout sandwich and sit in front of my front of my computer munching the carbs while typing away at my work. Is there research that supports that I know you anecdotally have felt the same way in your own life. But do we have support for doing this in the workplace? 

Gloria Mark  19:41

Yeah, it’s really important to take a substantial break. And lunch hour is just a great break because we’re not only pulling ourselves away from our devices, hopefully you’re not doing your email or, you know, checking social media during your day. lunch break, but really pulling away and doing something else eating, you know, refueling our bodies going out, taking a walk. Fact, there is a lot of research that shows that being out in nature can really significantly destress us. And even research that I’ve done shows that a 20 minute walk in nature can make people significantly more creative. It’s called divergent thinking, which is like brainstorming, thinking of lots of different ideas. We had some people who spent 20 minutes we had them, you know, at their desk, but doing something else, and other people 20 minutes actually being outside in nature. And for those people who were in nature, they came up with more ideas and better ideas, as measured by validated tests that that could be taken. So there is research that supports what you’re saying, people can perform better. And again, it goes back to that idea of that tank of cognitive resources or attentional capacity. By the time lunch time rolls around, you know, it’s starting to wane. And so we have to pull back, build that tank, their resources, and then tank up again, and eating, taking a nice walk, it’s a great way to do it. 

Clint Murphy  21:31

And something that gets in the way of our managing that tank is a term that you coined, that I liked, called attention. Traps. So what our attention traps Gloria, and what are, we don’t have to work through all of them. But what are one or two that jumped out at you that trap us throughout the day and take our attention away? You know, you think you’re just going to quickly look at your internet and 45 minutes later, you’re done. You’re doomed scrolling on your Instagram. I mean, the fact that we have a term called Doom scrolling, and you just see the kids just flicking their tic tock videos up and up for 45 minutes straight. It’s mind boggling to me. So what do you see as some of these attention traps and what is an intention trap.

Gloria Mark  22:19

So attention trap, it’s a behavioral pattern that is really hard to break out of. And it’s a pattern that involves your attention. And we’ve all experienced attention traps. One example of a trap is what I call the rote attention trap. We all like to do things that are engaging and easy for us. And I want to point out, it’s really not bad to do those for a short period of time, it can help us replenish. The problem is that when you get stuck in a trap, for example, you know, playing a mindless game, it’s not bad to do it for five minutes or 10 minutes, right? It’s not bad at all. The problem is when we get trapped, and we end up doing it for hours, you go down a rabbit hole, and you know you’re trying to kill the zombies or get more points, you just can’t pull away and we’ve got a lot of better things we need to do. That’s one example of our attention getting trapped. Another example of an attention trap. Well, there’s social media, of course, people can get trapped in social media, you talked about Doom scrolling, tick tock is a really great example of this. People can get trapped, because you know, there’s going to be some video that comes along. That’s just going to be hilarious. And so we’re just waiting for that next hilarious video. And then it comes along. And then we keep thinking, oh, there’s gonna be another one soon. And you just get trapped into waiting for that next video to come. And before you know it, you know, two hours have gone by. So that’s definitely a trap.

Clint Murphy  24:06

And let’s stay on that one for a second. Because the social media is becoming it feels like a more and more powerful attention trap. And what does it mean to you when we say our distraction is being paid for? And how does it tie to those little boots just following you around throughout the days and weeks. Now, for our listeners in how does it tie into that Tik Tok algorithm in it. And now it feels like Twitter’s trying to replicate the TIC tock algorithm pretty poorly, but it’s attempting to. 

Gloria Mark  24:48

Yeah, so you hit the nail on the head. It’s about algorithms. And tech companies have designed algorithms to entrap our attention, you know, we leave digital traces when we’re on the internet. And you know, there’s lot of things we do we look at different websites, if you’re going shopping, I use the example of looking at a pair of boots on the internet, or you go on social media, you like, certain things, all that information, all those digital traces are captured about it. And it’s used by tech companies to create a psychological profile about each individual. And based on that, tech companies can gear ads and notifications, according to what they feel interests you based on your personality based on your past activity. So you know, in the book I talked about, and it’s based on a real experience, where I looked at a pair of boots, and then they followed me around in the internet, you know, wherever I went, I went to the New York Times, and there was this ad for the pair of boots, went on Facebook, and there were the pair of boots. That was the algorithm following me around because it knows at some point, I’m just going to succumb and click and buy those boots and, you know, make that ad go away by purchasing it. So yeah, Tik Tok is a really interesting example. Tik Tok learns a lot about its users, it learns, you know what they like what they don’t like, it gets contextual information, like time of day that people are looking at, at tick tock videos, it creates profiles of people, it can look at what you’re doing in relation to other people who share characteristics with you. So it gets so much information, that it can tune its algorithm to be, you know, pretty precise, to present you with videos that Tiktok believes you’re going to be interested in. And when you keep getting fed videos that are interesting for you, it’s really hard to pull away, so we get glued to the site, right, because anyone would get glued to a site where you keep getting things that are interesting for you. So algorithms are getting more and more sophisticated, and you know, more and more powerful and precise in targeting our interests.

Clint Murphy  27:34

And it’s not just the algorithms, like if we take a step back, it’s even the content. And you talk about this, with the idea that the length of shots has just gotten shorter and shorter over time. I was listening to a conversation yesterday on the drive into work and the radio hosts were talking about, they call it the millennial pause now, where if you take someone above a certain age, and they go to record, for example, when we record the podcast when we pressed play, we had the five second countdown, and then we I took a second and I asked the first question. And what they said is this next generation, when you start their YouTube videos, you don’t even start the video and then start talking. The video starts in their mid word, because they know that if they have that, even one second pause before they start talking, someone’s going to just scroll to the next video. I mean, that scares me if an attention span has gotten that short, but what were you seeing with how fast and how many cuts? They’ll do in a 32 second video. 

Gloria Mark  28:49

Yeah, so we’re talking about shots, with film and TV. And those have been documented, shorten over the years. So you know, film and TV shot lengths used to be, like 1215 seconds, they’re now down to an average of about four seconds. And if you turn on your TV and turn the audio completely down, you’ll really notice that we tend not to notice it so much when the audio is playing. But if you’re just looking visually, you’ll see how these shots changed. Now it’s very pronounced if you watch MTV Music videos. If you watch blockbuster films like Michael Bay’s transformers, you’ll really notice how those shot links are whipping your mind back and forth. In fact, they’re those kinds of blockbuster films, they shift shots so fast that it’s almost especially designed for people to use their phones during the film. Because you can pull away you can check your social media accounts come right back to the film and you haven’t missed anything, you’ve missed part of the chaos. But you haven’t really missed part of the plot. Because it’s, it’s moving so fast. So yeah, I can’t say it’s a cause for our short attention spans. But I will say that it reinforces us to have short attention spans. Because we can’t make a causal point, we can’t say Short Shots caused us to have short attention spans, because it could be that the film and TV directors and editors, maybe they’re influenced by their own short attention spans, you know, maybe they’re keeping shot length sword, because that’s what they believe people will pay attention to. So they might be basically conforming to short attention spans that already exist. 

Clint Murphy  30:55

And what about the situation with our kids where you see, not only do they like the videos that are moving that quickly, but you talked about watching the feature length film, in, you’re watching the feature length film, as a family, you’ve got the Netflix on watching the top movie, and your kids want to have their devices in their hands, scrolling their socials, while they’re watching this video, is that good or bad for their attention span? And in? Why are we seeing so much desire for not only multitasking during the workspace, but like multitasking? Your social watching TV game.

Gloria Mark  31:45

It’s not good. It’s habitual behavior. Kids have learned that, you know, just through habit that they need to keep checking social media, there’s a lot of reasons behind it. So you know, we’re social creatures, and we see social rewards. And this is especially strong with teenagers and young kids, you know, they’re so tied to social relationships, right? They want to be part of a group, they want to be accepted. And so this also is a driver for them to keep checking their devices. And so it’s a combination of getting the social rewards wanting to, you know, be socially accepted young people, we’ve studied young people, and they report that they just can’t give up social media, because it’s like, you know, a social death for them, you know, they’re their groups wouldn’t include them anymore. So they have to keep being part of this. Now, should they do it while they’re watching Netflix? No, of course not. They shouldn’t. And this is something I think parents should help their kids with, right to teach their kids that it’s just, it’s not a good practice to do that. And that kids have to learn that, at the least little thing, when in a film might start to get boring, may not keep their interest up. They shouldn’t just suddenly turn to their phones. But you know, keep adding, keep watching. 

Clint Murphy  33:18

And, in this whole situation, everything we’ve been talking about, it’s one of the things that stuck out to me about it is 47 seconds. So what is 47 seconds? And why is that so relevant to this conversation we’re having today?

Gloria Mark  33:34

Yeah, it’s the whole crux of the matter. 47 seconds is the average length of attention that we found that people have on their devices, their computers, tablets, phones, before they switch to do something else. So you know, we first started studying this about 20 years ago. And the first time we published this, this was 2004. We did this study, in 2003. We found that the average attention on his screen was about two and a half minutes. And then we did this again in 2012. We found it to be 75 seconds, on average, in the last five or six years, there have been about six different studies that have all found basically the same thing. So it’s my studies, but also others have replicated this. And they’ve found length of attention on any screen before switching to be 50 seconds. 44 seconds, 47 seconds. It averages 47 seconds. That’s pretty short when you think about it. And let me also point out that the median length of time that we found on any screen is 40 seconds. Median means the midpoint of all our observations and what that means is that half of all the observations, half of everything that we observed when people are using their devices, is that their attention is shown to be less than 40 seconds on any screen. 

Clint Murphy  35:15

It’s incredible Gloria, because, you know, thinking about that, as a creator, when I’m not podcasting, I write on social platforms, record videos, all to help grow the podcast and get the message out. And you look at it and think you have to be writing or recording in a way where you’re holding attention really hard, because every 40 seconds, that person wants to change what they’re doing. So unless you’re compelling with your message, or what you’re writing, or what you’re saying, 40 seconds later, you’ve lost that listener or that viewer, that reader, which is why I guess they talk about the importance of this retention score is such an important measure for YouTubers as an example. 

Gloria Mark  36:05

Yeah, well, this is something advertisers have always known. Right. And advertisers have always tried to attract people’s attention and advertising. It’s a really old field. Right? What’s new is the idea that people can now computerize things that can attract her attention. So that’s algorithms is now you know, the idea of an algorithm is something we do in everyday life cooking a recipe involves an algorithm, but to be able to program information using algorithms in order to capture our attention. This is what’s new. At the same time, we’re sitting in front of devices, where it’s so easy for us to switch to something else, I mean, really, within milliseconds, we can switch to social media, or news or something else. So it’s the combination of notifications based on algorithms that can lure us into something, all you have to do is click on it, right? It’s so fast. So it’s different from having to actually spend some time getting to find that information, right. We now have everything at an instant. And we’re sitting in front of the world’s largest candy store. 

Clint Murphy  37:30

And it’s even worse than what people realize you talked about advertisers there. And when we take a step back, when you look at some of the top creators across any of the social media platforms, whether it’s tick tock, whether it’s YouTube, whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, whichever one it is, many of the top creators study advertising. And so as an example, I bought 10 books on copywriting two weeks ago. And my goal is to improve my writing on Twitter and with my newsletter, through copywriting, because advertisers know how to create that slippery slope, as they call it, that just keeps the reader wanting to move on. So what we’re trying to do is we’re not trying to have them switching. So we’re trying to increase their return retention in our material by using advertising techniques, opening loops, not closing them. So drawing them into the material. But when we’re doing that, with our content, so is every other adventure creator, and now this person is being it’s almost impossible for them not to click on this or click on that, because they think well, that’s my friend Ted, who wrote that. And it’s Well, no, Ted’s just advertising his piece of content to you.

Gloria Mark  38:55

Yeah, the digital age has made us all advertisers. Yeah. And everybody has now all become very clever in trying to attract attention. You know, we, our minds have very limited real estate, and everybody is competing, to get a piece of that real estate. And as for users of the technology, you know, we’re faced with trying to pay attention to what’s really important for us, which is usually getting work done, or, you know, having an important communication with a family member, or friend, but it becomes harder and harder to do that because of all these other competing forces trying to pull our attention away.

Clint Murphy  39:43

And where do you see that going with algorithms in AI getting stronger and stronger and the power of the AI with the machine learning now getting looped in to the algorithm, where’s this going to take us in the next five to 10 years?

Gloria Mark  40:05

Yeah, so I mean, machine learning has been around and has been used in developing algorithms. For some years. Now, it’s the machine learning is getting better. So it’s getting more precise. There’s more information about people’s behavior that can be used as features to refine that those machine learning algorithms. So it is becoming harder and harder. Now, there’s a whole other conversation we can have about how AI might affect our attention. And for example, you know, AI, can potentially have benefits in doing tasks that are mundane tasks that are boring for us, such as creating reports, or summarizing information. So AI is pretty good at doing that. We’re talking about chat GPT. The problem is I see it though. Now, yes, that’s a benefit, and potentially frees up time for us to do other things that we might find to be more important, or that we can use our creative abilities at. The problem, though, is that we become disconnected from that information. And we end up producing more and more of that information. Why? Because we can, right? Producing faster, is not necessarily a good thing, right?. We’ll be producing more information. But ultimately, it means more information for us to consume. And you might argue, well, the AI can consume that information. And we can have an agent, software agents, conversing with each other about that information and leave humans out of the loop. But we still are disconnected from that information. And you know, I in some ways, maybe it’s okay, if the information is just not relevant or important for us. But we have to understand, you know, at what point we need to be involved in processing that information, we can’t be completely disconnected from it. And that’s, that’s a danger that I see where we’re heading. 

Clint Murphy  42:24

And two things that jumped out at me there one ties to us as individuals and our ability to learn or synthesize the material. So if we’re having if we’re having the AI do all that, well, oh, the AI can go read it all? Well, it’s great. But now it’s not in my brain. And if I if I go into a meeting, or I go into a coaching call, I can draw on that material that I had AI read and summarize for me. So that’s one thing I’d love to dive into with you in the second one is the fact that this is all becoming an arms race, if you will. I was at a mastermind. Last month, Gloria and a few business owners were talking about how they’re using AI for their SEO campaigns. And they’re having the machines, some people were putting out up to 1000 articles a day, across their various websites, through the AI. And I just thought, How is someone who writes their you know, I write a weekly newsletter? Like, eventually, how do you compete with any of these sites that are just spitting out so much content that you get buried? Is the answer that you simply have to continue to become the signal in the noise. And so all these people that are doing the arms race, that’s the noise. And as long as we’re creating signal, value added material will cut through that.

Gloria Mark  43:58

I think that’s a really good way to put it. So people who are just churning out 1000s of articles at a time. What they may not realize is they’re churning it out. But people may not read that, you know, from a probabilistic perspective, yeah, there’s a good chance if you’re, if you send out 1000 articles a week or a day, there’s a good chance someone might read some of them. Because you’ve got enough out there, you’ve cast a wide net, but it may not be the articles that you really want people to read that you really, you know, have an intent for people to read. So yes, people are creating a lot of noise. Now, I did an experiment with students in my class, where I had them use chat GPT to summarize articles. And for years when I’ve taught the course I’ve always had students summarize the articles and write their reflections on it. And then I would Talk about the article in the next lecture. And I did it because it gives students a chance to really process the material, you know, you’re forced to summarize it, you’re full to write reflections on it. This time, I had them use chat GPT. And then I asked them about their experiences with that. And guess what students did not like this. They said, Yeah, the chat GPT did a really good job of summarizing, but not a good job of providing insights. And so then I switched, and I had the students do their summaries, then have Chad GPT, do a summary. And then have students revise their original versions and do a comparison. And they said, no, they themselves, were able to provide much more insight and better reflections on these articles than the GPT. Could, because the GPT is very good at summarizing facts. But you know, it’s not so good at coming up with creative ideas or insights. 

Clint Murphy  46:06

And how in your teaching nowadays. Are you even able to know whether they’re using chat GPT to do their writing or whether they’re doing it on their own? I mean, we all not all, but I, we got a message from our oldest son school this week about, you know, back to school, that then there was a section about academic honesty. And it talks about, hey, with the rise of AI that we want to remind your kids like, let’s not have AI, right, all our homework. So how do we look for this? And then also, how should we be incorporating that to improve the student experience? 

Gloria Mark  46:47

Yeah. So the short answer is we can’t No, we can’t. When I started my course. I began by saying you’re not allowed to use GPT. And we’ll know if you do. And, of course, I was bluffing. Because there was absolutely no way that I could know if they were using GPT. Or not, maybe the only way I could know is if everybody produced the same to say, you know, if I see, if I saw 20 students producing exactly the same or very similar summaries tonight, I might know. But otherwise, there is just no way to really know, it’s a challenge that we’re facing. And I think that’s as students, we really need to incorporate into education, the idea that our students really want to learn, they’ve got to be able to process the information on their own. And, you know, you can use GPT for some things. But we need to communicate to students that they’re not going to learn. If you really want to be able to compete in this world, you have to learn how to process understand, synthesize and reflect on material by yourself. So I think the best way to counteract that is to communicate to students the value of what they can gain by doing this themselves, as opposed to using GPT.

Clint Murphy  48:12

I love that. And as we start to tackle, like, how do we deal with all of this? One thing that jumped out at me that you talked about was this idea of freewill versus determinism? And you talked about this idea of soft determinism? What does that look like? And how does that tie into this conversation on attention span? 

Gloria Mark  48:36

Yeah. So there’s, you know, a very popular narrative, that, you know, our attention is because it’s captured by algorithms. And tech companies have so much power over our attention. There’s not much people can do. And that’s an argument that saying, you know, we just don’t have free will anymore. Our everything we’re doing online is controlled by tech companies and algorithms. The argument of free will is that people have complete free choice about their behavior where they can pay attention. Soft determinism is an argument that’s somehow in between, it’s saying, given the context, you know, given the situation you’re in, you can have freewill, you can make a choice. For example, you know, a person who is born into poverty has a much more limited set of circumstances, in their choice about what they can do in their lives compared to someone who’s born into wealth. So someone who’s born into wealth, maybe they get to go to a private school, and the private school enables them to go into a top university. Maybe they have connections means with their family to get into a top law firm. And they can make partner and so on person born into poverty, you know, they have a lot more struggles, maybe they can go first to a community college, if they’re determined to go to university, they can maybe transfer into a public university, they may have the same dream of being a lawyer, but they may not have the connections that the wealthy person has. So they have this limited set of circumstances, but they can still have free will, to make choices within those circumstances. We’re all born into a unique set of circumstances. And so I do believe that people have free will, within the limitations. Similar. Similarly, if we think about our choices when we’re online, yes, we’re confronted with algorithms, we have social forces, because we’re social creatures. Sometimes it’s hard to work against our social natures, you know, we want to communicate with people we’re curious. We want to find out what people are saying on social media, we have personalities, that can kind of shape the way that we pay attention. For example, if you happen to be born with a trait of neuroticism, it’s much harder to pay attention than someone who’s not neurotic, someone who’s conscientious, we find checks email a lot more frequently than someone who’s not. Those are all examples of the kinds of constraints that we’re faced with. But despite these constraints, we can still make choices. So a person who’s neurotic can still extend their attention span, they have more challenges than someone who’s not neurotic.

Clint Murphy  52:03

And you just mentioned there and we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about it. You talked about email, and possibly one of the greatest sources of distraction for a lot of the human population can you tell our listeners about the experiment that you did? Where you shut it off for an entire week in a company? And what was the impact on the workplace where you did that?

Gloria Mark  52:26

Yeah. So first of all, it took me six years to find a company willing to cut off email. So that was not an easy task, I had to convince them that this will find results that might be beneficial for them, I finally did find a company and we cut off email for one work week for a period of five days. And we found that when email was cut off, that people could focus significantly longer on their screens. We also found that people were less stressed when they didn’t have email. And so you know, it’s interesting. And of course, once the email came back, people reverted back to their old habits. So you know, we probably didn’t do this experiment long enough, by was enough time to prove that email causes stress there, there is causality there causes stress, and also causes us to focus less often. In another study, we find that people check email on average, 77 times a day. So want to know why people are not focused, it’s because they’re always moving back and forth, from their task at hand to email. So you know, the other thing we found that was very interesting was that without email, people actually moved around more. Now they could have they had access to their phones, we didn’t cut off their phones, they could have called someone out to ask a question. But they actually preferred to go and visit someone in their office and have a face to face confrontation. Sometimes they went to another building, to find a person or to another floor. But and people reported having a much better social experience without emails, so it seems like a no brainer to you know, restrict email. The problem we face, of course, is that we don’t have a good alternative to email. Of course, there’s slack. But you know, I have my own opinions about Slack and distraction. I think it distracts us even more than email.

Clint Murphy  54:45

Yeah, that’s where I was gonna go immediately because I have a when I’m not podcasting or creating on social media. I’m a CFO of a company. I have a team of about 3334 colleagues, and we use teams now. slack. But my gosh, when I’m walking by some people’s desks, it appears they have six teams conversations going on at once. You know, it’s okay, well, we have our lunch conversation, what are we going to eat for lunch, and we spent an hour together talking about that, we have our conversation with these four people gospel give a, a, b, and c, we have these four work conversations going on at the same time. And meanwhile, we’re trying to do our job. And I just look at that and say, how can someone conceivably be productive or have mental sanity when they have six, Slack conversations or teams conversations going on at once? 

Gloria Mark  55:41

Yeah, that’s an example of unintended consequences of technology. Because it seemed like such a great idea. But you know, it also, it’s a lot of different threads for people to keep track of, of course, people report they like the fact that slack can separate different groups and different threads of conversation. But nevertheless, it has resulted in more information being produced more communication. And there is an expectation, because slack is a text kind of media, there was an expectation that you’ll respond fast, right? Whereas email is what’s called asynchronous. So someone can write an email, and you have a grace period, before you can respond. So you know, your, you can not to make a Ponton, but you can cut some slack for people to allow them to spend more time before they answer. But with Slack, there is this expectation shared among all people in in the Slack channel, that you’re gonna respond fast, and that you’re going to pay attention to that information. 

Clint Murphy  56:55

Yeah, and let’s spend a minute or two on that one, because that one’s getting me in trouble a bit. Because one of the things I’ve tried to do is I think through COVID, that expectation went up more and more, because we were working from home, we weren’t in person. So people were like, well, you’re always on your computer. So responses should be immediate. If I email you, if I slack, you, you should be replying back. If I let you know, Hey, you didn’t sign that invoice, you should pop in and sign it like you should be on top of things. And part of my realization, when we went back and to the start of the conversation, I said that was a killer for me, it destroyed my focus. And I felt miserable and unproductive. One of the things I’ve done is I have put my phone in Do Not Disturb mode 24/7. So it’s always do not disturb. It’s not quite airplane mode, but it’s pretty close those in my pocket, I don’t check it. I go to my meetings, I have conversations I’m working. Now I’m not so great at doing my email, batching batching. Even though we talked about that, that doesn’t actually limit stress, because when I go to it, now, it’s males, so the stress comes back. But what I’m trying to do is say, Hey, I’m gonna work on what I need to get done, versus always responding to these little tiny fires that are happening 100 times a day. But one of the challenges that’s presenting is the person on the other side. They’re looking at it and they’re like, this guy never reads my slacks. He never responded to my emails, he doesn’t pick up his phone, he doesn’t answer his texts, like what’s going on? Like, why isn’t he doing what I need them to do? Yeah. And so we’re almost being forced by our colleagues. And I love you all my colleagues. This isn’t personal. This is for everyone who’s listening. And you, but we’re being forced to have less attention in order to appease their desire for us to respond fast enough to keep them happy. Like it’s almost forcing each other into this downward spiral of attention span in order to keep everyone happy and smiling. 

Gloria Mark  59:05

Yeah, so what you’re pointing out is the idea that there are unequaled benefits to electronic communications. So the sender of the of the message is the person who gets the benefits. And the receiver is the one who has to sacrifice their time and their energy to respond. So there’s always this unequal balance between sender and receiver, whether it’s email or Slack. Slack has intensified this imbalance because of this expectation that you’ll respond fast. So people feel the receiver of the slack messages feels a bit under pressure. They may not realize it consciously, but they are under pressure that you’re expected to follow these Slack channels and respond to As, of course, you’re hoping someone else in the group is going to respond. But it doesn’t let you off the hook. Email is, you know, it’s also bad with email because someone might target you directly and say, Hey, I need this information from you. And of course, you know, you’re the receiver of the message, you’re the one tasked with doing the work. And the sender is the one who benefits from it. So there’s this economics of electronic communication. That’s, that’s really, it’s unfair, right? The work is not distributed fairly.

Clint Murphy  1:00:41

The it makes me think I read the book, buy back your time recently, and had a conversation with Dan Martell about it. One of the concepts he had in it was if you have an executive assistant or virtual assistant, he does not read an email that has not already been read once. And so it’s training his executive assistant to answer any email that comes in. And if there are ones that come in that they may feel they can’t answer. Every morning, there’s a meeting, and it’s okay, well, let’s go through the ones you couldn’t answer. And I’ll train you how to answer them next time. And so now he doesn’t have to look at email. And in just having that conversation with him, I felt this little bit of trepidation.But way more, my gosh, that has to happen. Because if I can have someone answer every email I ever get, and never look at email, again, life can’t help but be so much better than it is with that wonderful and horrible invention, that email is.

Gloria Mark  1:01:53

Yeah, we’re probably going there, we’re probably going to, in a direction where every person can have a virtual assistant to handle their email. There’s good and bad. And that the good as you point out, is it saves us a lot of work, saves us a lot of energy, maybe might be less distracting. But it’s not completely roses in the sense that we again, we become disconnected from this information. And so there, there may be some messages that it’s really important for us to be part of, and for us to be able to answer. So we’re going to have to figure this out, when we do start using virtual assistants. Right? We don’t want that assistant to decide. You don’t need to respond to your mother’s email. Right? Because that’s not going to be a good idea. So we’re gonna have to sort this out. And, you know, but you know, ultimately, we want to create a more equal balance, more fairness, in between the sender and receiver of electronic communications. You know, it’s electronic communications is it’s not all bad, right? We get a benefit, right? But, but it’s really important to make sure that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Clint Murphy  1:03:26

Yeah, and who knows, even going to video chat I, I often find it funny when you will see three colleagues that are in a triangle that must be five feet by eight feet by 10 feet, and they’re having a zoom Convo. And I’m thinking to myself, you’re all right. Right, right. They’re like, why aren’t you just standing up like this is and you’re in the middle of it. You’re just hearing a zoom conversation from three people you’re thinking, why are you doing that to my ears? Like, why don’t you just walk over to that meeting room, six feet away. We’ll get away we’ll get away from electronic communication for a minute. So we talked about freewill before we went down our electronic communication rabbit hole. And one of the things that you talked about in the book is in this ties to how we start to address the attention span. You talked about this idea from benders research, where he concluded that human agency has four properties, intentionality, forethought, self regulation and self reflection. Can you take our listeners through those at a high level and maybe we dive into one or two of them? Sure as we as we start to wind up.

Gloria Mark  1:04:47

So the first property intentionality was what I had discussed earlier the idea of because we have so many things we do that are automatic that are unkind Just we need to raise them to our conscious attention. And if we do that we’d be more aware of what we’re doing. And we can form a plan, we can be intentional about what we’re doing. So before I have this urge to go on social media, I can become aware, oh, wait a minute, I see my fingers are going toward, you know, hitting on that tab for social media. Let me reflect on a Why do I need to go to social media right now do I need to know I don’t, it’s a habit. In fact, I, there was a participant in one of my studies, we actually tested a software that blocks distractions, and people could choose what distractions to block and nearly everybody chose social media. And this guy reported how we had muscle memory in his fingers. Even though he knew intellectually, that he couldn’t access Facebook and Twitter, his fingers would automatically go to start typing in Facebook, to get to the end of the Facebook URL, or clicking on the tab. So that’s the first idea is intentionality to understand, those things we’re doing that are automatic, and there’s a lot of things we do are devices that are automatic, and to form a plan about what we can do such as you know, here’s the reward, I’m going to give myself, if I can spend 30 more minutes working on this, or just the reward of finishing something, writing the end of a chapter, you feel so rewarded. So the next property is the idea of forethought. And forethought, is imagining how your current actions are going to affect yourself in the future. And I think it makes the most sense to think about where you want to be at the end of the day. And if you’re someone and you know, you can easily spend 30 minutes on social media, or you can spend an hour playing Candy Crush, pause, and visualize your end of the day. Now, where I want to be is I want to be sitting on my couch, maybe drinking a glass of wine, reading my favorite book or article, and probably the most important thing is how do I want to feel at the end of the day, I want to feel fulfilled and rewarded, I want to feel good. I don’t want to visualize myself still working on that overdue report. That was due at five o’clock. Right? I want to visualize myself being peaceful and happy. And that’s enough to help us stay on track. So the more concrete, have a visualization. And that’s something that you can practice, the more concrete of a visualization you can come up with, the better able you are, to be able to hold off those distracting forces and stay on track. The third property is self regulation. And it’s important to consider that not everybody was born lucky. With a good trait of self regulation, it is a personality trait. So some people do have a tendency to have very good self regulation. Unfortunately, not everybody and a lot of people don’t have this personality trait. I think quite a large number of people don’t. So they have to find ways to help them self regulate. So for example, I talked about the idea of creating hooks. So if you know that you’re someone who either like to play games, and of course I like to play games as well. But you know, you’re someone who can get trapped. Right? We talked about the wrote attention trap. So create a hook. In other words, you play the game 10 minutes before you have a meet and let’s say you’ve just been through, you know, you’ve finished some work and you feel pretty exhausted, and you want to just kind of calm yourself before you go into your next meeting. It’s okay, you can play a game for a few minutes. If we do know that this kind of rote attention, which is easy engaging, it actually makes people happy and calms them. So it’s not a terrible thing. The part that’s terrible is when you can’t pull out. It’s when you can’t stop. Right? If you do it more than a few minutes. That’s the part that’s not good. So create a hook, which is the next meeting. or, you know, if you’re, you’re in a doctor’s office, and you’re waiting, okay? It’s okay to do it until your name is called to go see the doctor, these are external hooks that can help pull you out. So if you know you’re someone who can get trapped, right, you can think about designing this kind of hook. So there are other things you can do to self regulate, keep your environment clear. So that you’re not there’s less chance of being distracted. If you’re someone who’s distracted by your phone, put your phone in a drawer, leave it in another room. Right? I had a colleague who was astonished that when I walk into another room, I don’t carry my phone with me. So how can you not have your phone with you at all times? Well, we can write, you can leave it in another room. And it’s, you’re much less likely to get up and walk into another room to grab your phone than if the phone were right next to you. There’s things that we can do, there’s plans you can make to help self regulate, especially if you’re a person who’s not born lucky with a trait of strong self regulation. And the last thing, reflection, and course correction is something it’s really important. And that’s to understand the reasons why you are distracted. For me, it’s generally because I’m bored. And because I just don’t want to do the work. And so understand, like, what’s behind why don’t I want to do that work? Well, maybe my goal isn’t strong enough, right? The goal of completing that’s where it’s not clear. And so make that goal clear. And think about the reward you get for finishing. So that’s a way to help reflect. And of course, correct and, you know, there are other ways that we can reflect as well, on our behavior.

Clint Murphy  1:12:04

Oh, that was beautiful. That was actually a pretty deep summary on each one, so we won’t have to go deeper. Gloria, what I’d love to do is fire rapid fire for questions that you is okay. Okay, I’ll do my best. What is a book that’s had a major impact on change in your life?

Gloria Mark  1:12:22

There have been several books, actually, you know, I would go back to William James, who wrote his book and in the 1890s, and he had some really profound ideas and profound things to say about attention. So I love that I also love thinking fast thinking slow, by Daniel Kahneman was also a great influence on me.

Clint Murphy  1:12:49

Yeah. And I still get blown away all I remember from the not all but the main one I remember is the study with the parole hearings, if you will, or case reviews. And if you had it just before lunch, right, you’re more likely to get parole denied. It’s because someone wanted to go have their sandwich. Just such a crazy thought, how much impact that’s had on people’s lives? Over the last, let’s say, 100 years just incredulous. Okay. And what are you reading right now? What’s on your shelf? Gloria?

Gloria Mark  1:13:24

Oh, I’m reading a book called a hacking of the American mind. And it’s by Robert Lustig, who’s a physician at University of California, San Francisco. And he talks about how drug companies have just, you know, captured our minds and behavior, especially through sugar, the sugar industry. And sugar is addicting. It causes metabolic diseases. And, you know, it’s very similar to how our attention is grabbed online. Once we get introduced to sugar, it can be very hard to stop and we have we’re surrounded by sugar and soft drinks, fast food, processed food. And this supports the sugar industry, and it’s really bad for our health.

Clint Murphy  1:14:23

I’m gonna have to check that one out. I love the sound of it. What is something in the last let’s say 12 to 18 months that Gloria has bought for under $1,000 where you’ve said,

Gloria Mark  1:14:35

I wish I bought that sooner? Oh, I have to think about that. So that the last were given a time.

Clint Murphy  1:14:41

Let’s say 18 months. Let’s give you a year and a half.

Gloria Mark  1:14:44

Can I have like three years? Yeah, sure. Sure. Okay. I would say my aura ring, the aura ring for yourself. Yeah, I like it. Yeah, it’s really helped me a lot. And I’ve learned a lot about my sleep patterns when my sleep is as bad, it’s helped me gain insight into what’s causing my bad sleep. And it gives you a lot of precise information about when you woke up. So I can think about what I ate before I went to bed what I thought about before I went to bed. And I find for example, if I read something that’s more meditative, I actually sleep better, right? If I did something before I go to sleep, so it certainly helped me.

Clint Murphy  1:15:30

And in your life, once one habit behavior or mindset shift, it’s really had a material impact on your life. 

Gloria Mark  1:15:38

Ah, well, this goes way back. And that’s exercising. And I run just about every day. And it’s, it’s really important. And I feel like my day isn’t complete until I actually get out and run right now. Temporarily. I’m living in New York City for a few months. And you might think, wow, New York City, it’s so urban. There’s, you know, traffic and noise. But I live near a park. And I go out in the park every day, beautiful park, beautiful nature and flowers. And I really soak all that in. And that’s just the best thing I can do.

Clint Murphy  1:16:24

I am with you. I had a period of time where I did a run streak for one and a half years. And it was fabulous. Starting last week, I have a six day pickleball streak going. And that is the best experience I’ve ever had of averaging about four hours a day. So I get obsessed, Gloria, I think pickleball streak ends today I’m going for a hike with some colleagues. Gonna have to put it away and I’m distraught. I’ve started dreaming about pickleball. It’s a little disturbing.

Gloria Mark  1:16:53

I have to try it. 

Clint Murphy  1:16:55

Yeah. Oh, it’s just fabulous. Just so you know, it’s one of those ones where you want like, fastest growing sport in history, like, is that even real? Then you go play and think, wow, I got a nice start this sooner everybody needs to play. But I’ll try to stop not being a pickleball evangelist. And so we went pretty wide in deep on attention span, is there anything we didn’t cover that you want to make sure you hit the listeners with?

Gloria Mark  1:17:22

Well, I just want to reinforce one of the main points of the book, which is, you know, let’s reframe our goal in using tech. And this goes for business leaders, as well as information workers, as well as students, as well as even people who don’t work, stay at home moms and dads. And that’s, let’s put well being first, let’s have our main goal in using tech in keeping us with positive well being. Because when we feel positive, we can do more. And we seem to be on this course instead of using tech to exhaustion, getting ourselves exhausted. Because technology has created the capability for us to do more, produce more, consume more. But let’s back off, and let’s think about our well being. And we’ll end up being more productive by doing.

Clint Murphy  1:18:26

And where can our listeners find you?

Gloria Mark  1:18:28

So you can find me on www dot GLORIA That’s my website I am shortly we’ll be starting substack newsletter, but you’ll be directed to that when you get to my website. You can find me on Twitter, and you can also find me on LinkedIn. I love to hear from people. And so you know, I would be very happy for people to contact me. Excellent.

Clint Murphy  1:19:00

Thanks for joining me on the show today. Really appreciate it.

Gloria Mark  1:19:04

My pleasure.

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