(2 minute read)

Have you ever observed a bird when it is walking around?

A few steps forwards, a quick turning of its head, followed by some foraging for insects, seeds or worms.

The birds’ behaviours and actions are a good example of how our brain works in two distinct modes, broad (diffuse) and narrow (focused). It is also a great reminder of the evolutionary biology at play here. The diffuse mode allows the bird to scan and survey the surroundings for threats or predators, while the focused mode permits it to detect and devour any tasty morsels available.

As humans, we crave the opportunity to do deep or focused work, where there are minimal interruptions and the opportunity to be highly productive. However, this requires considerable energy, and we need to ease our focus and concentration, step away from the task-at-hand to replenish our reserves and ‘scan our horizons’, just like the bird. Our minds are still at work during this diffuse mode, while they make connections and consider problems in their entirety.

It’s advantageous to be able to step back and look at a task or problem to gain the complete picture before getting stuck into the hands-on components. Imagine an artist at work on a large canvas or wall mural. While their brush strokes are measured and purposeful (focused) they’ll take regular breaks to step away from their artwork to view the whole picture (diffuse).

In the profession of Learning & Development, we encourage coaches, trainers, and facilitators to begin with context (big-picture, diffuse) before delivering content (information, focused).

Within our Evolving Leadership Program, we dedicate time to addressing the challenge of task management and effective planning. We’ve identified the positive impact of tapping into the focused mode of thinking, as well as the need to keep the intended outcomes in mind.


To give yourself a chance to re-focus and re-energise during deep work (especially if looking at a computer screen), try the 20-20-20 Rule.

Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.


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