Are You Paying Attention

Researchers have identified that over the past 10 years everyone’s attention span appears to be getting shorter. It is natural for our attention to wax and wane, especially if we get a bad sleep, however the demands of modern life and constant bombardment of phones, social media, emails and the internet are having a big impact on our ability to stay focused and present.

One of the reasons this is happening is because our brains want novelty, excitement and social connection, and devices often accommodate those desires. Checking a notification flashing across your screen can provide a small hit of dopamine, creating a sense of reward that keeps you coming back for more. So each time you give into temptation by checking your phone, your brain has to stop what it was doing previously and move to the new task of checking your phone. This constant checking affects the overall speed and quality of your attention “the more you engage in task switching, the more your brain wants to wander and look for that new thing”. Your brain gets used to constant diversions and it becomes a bit of a nasty habit.

The average human attention span is now down to 8.25 seconds; the average office worker checks their email box 11 times an hour and the phone takes up on average 3 hours and 16 minutes a day. So what can you do about it:

1. Get Active. If you cannot concentrate, try some exercise before you get to work, like jogging in place, or doing jumping jacks. Doing 15 minutes of activity before a challenging task can help you stay more focused.

2. Take Breaks. Practice attentive behavior at non-crucial times, then take attention breaks. Using a timer or a phone app, have an alarm go off during the work period. Write down whether you were paying attention. This can help train your brain to understand what attention looks like, and how often you are tempted to let your attention wander.

3. Adjust Time Frames. If you find that, no matter what you do, you cannot stay on task, you might need to break content into smaller time intervals. Break up tasks so you work without becoming overwhelmed.

4. Remove Distractions. When you are having a hard time paying attention, clutter on your desk or workspace can make it impossible to focus. Remove unnecessary clutter from your space. Put your phone in another room and turn off the notifications on your laptop so you don’t get distracted.

5. Rate and Change Tasks. If you tend to avoid things or become very distracted, rate the level of challenge found in the activity on a scale of 1 (easiest) to 10 (hardest). If the activity is an 8 or higher, think about what you can do to make the task a 2 or 3.

6. Break Up Tasks. If these strategies fail to help you, look at the task itself. Can you break it into smaller chunks? Do part of the task, take a break, and come back to the project to finish it. You might finish faster than if you try to complete it all in one sitting.

The biggest strategy here is to remove the device that may be distracting you, and that means out of eyesight and earshot. There is plenty of evidence to show that you can increase your attention and learn to get focused, it is just doing to take a little bit of discipline and work.