I'm too good at keyboard shortcuts.
In the blink of an eye, I can open a new tab in Safari, check my Instagram, alt-tab over to YouTube and finish with the news. You know, just in case something important happened in the last 4 minutes. Attention span generally increases with age but I think mine's going backwards.
It's too easy to check things in my subconscious pursuit of dopamine. I put time aside for 30 minutes of focused work which then becomes an hour thanks to unnecessary distractions. Distractions take time. They interrupt my flow and they ultimately reduce the quality of my work. I'm working more but doing less.
I started to think about how my work would benefit from an extra 10% of attention. It would increase focused work, quality output and create more meaningful (less-distracted) time with my loved ones. So, is this possible? Can we repair our attention span? Thankfully, the answer is a big, relieving yes.
I did some digging and found 4 simple steps to repair our attention span.
It's not sexy, but it works. Research indicates that mindfulness helps focus our "attention spotlight". By studying participants who regularly meditate, psychologists were able to determine that "plasticity in brain and mental function exists throughout life".
Meditation re-wires our brain. And there's no excuse not to start today. Naval Ravikant calls meditation, The Art of Doing Nothing and claims it's our natural state which shouldn't require a course, money or technique. All there is to do is stop and wait for your mind to calm down.
Put aside a chunk of time each day to aggressively concentrate on your most important work. And during that time (which is 1 or 2 hours for me) harness all of your discipline to resist distraction and sprint.
My sweet spot is at 6am before my day starts. I'll get up, stretch and open Notion to write. If I can get 45 minutes of writing in before checking distractions, it sets the tone for my day. It stretches my attention span.
As Mark Manson puts it, only allow yourself to check "nutritious" information. This will filter out unnecessary content so that you can focus on the important stuff.
- Social media. Ruthlessly unfollow accounts that don't inspire you.
- News. 90% of news doesn't serve you. For a quick update, check Wikipedia Current Events
- Do you really need the TV on every night? If there's a series I've been recommended, I'll make time to watch it. Otherwise I try not to turn the TV on for the sake of it.
- Spotify. Your mentor can be a podcast host. Try swapping music for a podcast that expands you and walks you towards your goals.
Now that we're aware of when our attention wanders, it's important to practice disengaging from the distraction.
Researcher Wendy Hasenkamp found that “Understanding the way the brain alternates between focused and distracted states has implications for a wide variety of everyday tasks."
This is the part where we strengthen our attention muscle.
Does this sound familiar? I'll be working away and before I have a moment to realise, I'm scrolling through Instagram and checking notifications. My subconscious mind goes digging for dopamine. Once that happens, we must quickly course correct and return our brain to a focused state. Practicing moments like this will strengthen our focus.
- Meditation will to re-wire the brain to increase attention.
- Set "sprints" throughout the day to aggressively focus on your most important work.
- Block out the noise on an information diet.
- Practice creates habits.
Now I think of this as yoga for my brain. I show up everyday and get on the matt to stretch and strengthen my attention span. My work has started to improve and I feel like I've got more of a handle on time and energy management. Our phones are a weapon of mass distraction and it's our responsibility to fight back.