By Georgina El Morshdy
I remember reading that human attention spans have shrunk in recent years - a trend that seems to coincide with smartphones’ arrival. Back in the year 2000, on average, humans could manage around 12 seconds before getting distracted. Fast-forward to today, and we’re tracking around 8 seconds.
For context, a goldfish manages nine seconds [yep, the human attention span is now less than a goldfish!]
When you look at how life has changed, you can see why this trend may have happened.
In today’s digital world, we’re bombarded with information. The world has gotten very noisy, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With so many stimulants and so much choice, there’s always an exciting avenue to dive down.
The risk is life becomes superficial and surface level. If you’re always getting ready to jump to the next thing that captures your attention, there’s no space for depth and deeper work. And let’s not forget the detrimental impact that a short attention span can have on your productivity and performance. If you’re forever distracted, it’s going to take you a lot longer than necessary to get things done - and that’s a waste of your minutes [and ultimately your life].
So what’s the solution?
The short answer is to increase your concentration intentionally. Be above average when it comes to the amount of time you can spend before you get distracted.
Here are three powerful techniques that can help you do that.
“Concentration is the secret of strength.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson.
1. Eliminate distractions
This first tip is obvious but super important. It’s all about removing the temptations. Let’s say you decided to stop eating chocolate. Would you put a big bar of your favorite treat on your desk? Probably not because that would be torture! Chocolate will be the only thing on your mind.
It’s the same principle with all the things that create a distraction. If you remove them, you’re not going to get interrupted when you’re mid flow.
This means switching off your phone when it’s not appropriate to take calls or browse the internet or social feeds.
Switch off notifications too. You don’t need to see the most recent email or Slack message the instant it pops in. Instead, schedule some catching up time on your planner when you’ll do that.
And if it’s people entering your space that creates a distraction, consider locking the door and putting a KEEP OUT sign on it! I appreciate this can be challenging with kids, but consider the payoff. If you’re able to get tasks done faster, you’ll have more quality time to spend with them once you’re done.
2. Don’t multitask
On the surface, multitasking sounds like such a smart thing to do. If you can get two things done at the same time, then why not? For example, writing an email while on a group call or sending invoices while catching up on some online training
Here’s the problem…
Multitasking is a myth. You can’t do two things at once. When you’re multitasking, what’s happening is your brain is switching rapidly from one task to another.
This isn’t efficient because you waste time switching trains of thought. And because you’re jumping around, you can’t get into a deeply creative space.
Instead, focus on one task at a time. [The exception might be listening to a podcast while doing something that doesn’t require much bandwidth such as folding the washing or emptying the dishwasher!]
This tip will make you more productive, and you’ll feel more accomplished, too, because you’ll be able to get under the skin of the things you’re working on. You’ll create space for a level of depth that will create dividends in your life.
3. Do more things that you love
Have you noticed that you can stay focused for hours when you’re following your passions and doing something you love? When you’re absorbed and deep into your flow, you’re a lot harder to distract because you’re so focused and consumed.
When you’ve lit this kind of fire, even if someone does want to distract you, you may be too absorbed to notice!
The lesson here is to look at how you spend your day and ask yourself whether you’re satisfied or bored?
If you’re bored, you will be distractible. If you’re doing a task that you hate, you’ll look for any reason to put it down and move to something else.
The solution is to work on your willpower - or review your schedule. The more you can stay in your zone of genius, the more you’ll switch on your fire, and the easier it becomes to concentrate fully on the task at hand.
Lee Iacocca said, “The ability to concentrate and to use time well is everything.”
It might take some discipline and more intentional management of your time and schedule to create an environment where deep concentration comes more naturally, but the payoff is enormous.
If you’re a human who can concentrate, you’ll get more done quicker, build capacity for deep work, and have more control and influence over your time.
Surely these rewards are worth the effort and the commitment it takes to move your concentration span beyond that of a goldfish!