Rabbits! We aren’t going to talk about being rabbits today, instead, we are going to work to keep ourselves from chasing the proverbial rabbits that steal our attention throughout the day. Our attention span has been decreasing for the last 20 years and currently sits around 8 seconds. Just like most skills, you can grow, strengthen and lengthen your attention span.
I hope I haven’t already lost you.
Start at the shallow end
Think of growing your attention span as a runner training for a marathon. You don’t immediately start running 13 miles a day. You’ll likely hurt yourself and cause yourself a significant setback or you may just quit altogether.
Your attention span is like your leg muscles. It may be good enough to get you through a short sprint to hunt down your rabbit, but it won’t carry you far. Your brain needs some good training to strengthen it enough to carry you the distance.
Utilize techniques like the Pomodoro Technique to keep your brain engaged for a certain amount of time and then give it a rest. Start with whatever time works best for you. 30 minutes for someone may seem like an easy starting point and for others, it may seem like Mt Everest.
Just as in a good training program, pick your unique and healthy starting point and then work up from there.
Make a distraction to-do list
We have the knowledge of the world at our fingertips and with that power comes the rabbit called “Curious Thought.” You know it as, “Let me check the weather for tomorrow real quick,” of “I wonder what the lightning deal on Amazon is right now,” or “Who was that actor in the movie I was just thinking about?”
We stop what we are doing and start chasing the curiosity rabbit. I saw this play out in my own life recently while on the phone with my brother. He was helping me with some behind the scenes image coding on the PTB website. By the end of the conversation about picture formatting, I had run across the web looking up info on SEOs (Search Engine Optimization), downloaded two unrelated plug-ins for the sites and moved to a new statistics platform. Everywhere I looked, there were more rabbits!
Instead of letting the rabbits run rampant on your time and attention, make a distraction to-do list. Jot down the things that pop into your mind to distract you and promise to address them once you finish what you are working on. I also keep a slightly bigger, mid priority project list, that I can jump into when I need a break from what I’m working on.
Cage the rabbit to your list and keep moving.
Maximize your most attentive times
More than likely, you have periods throughout the day where you are more attentive than others. For me, it is the start of the day until lunch and then later on in the evening. I stack those times with important tasks, things that require a lot of focus and items that need my creativity. I then work on the more mundane and procedural functions and tasks on my calendar during the less attentive times.
Going back to our training program analogy, I run, walk, run.
Do some self-reflection to determine your optimal focus times. It may be easy for you to discover or you may need help from others to get a good understanding of your sweet spots. Once you know those blocks of time, adjust your tasks accordingly.
Here are some other quick tips to help you grow and protect your attention span.
- Build up your willpower to combat the rabbits in your day.
- Remove temptations that easily distract you. Keep a clean and tidy work area.
- Exercise. Here is yet another benefit of exercise. Studies show that completing a workout stimulates your brain’s ability to stay focused.
- Meditation and prayer have proven benefits when it comes to strengthening attention.
- Listen to music. I am constantly listening to music as I write and create. Music engages the parts of your brain that hold your attention. My music habit is different from what I normally listen to and even more different from my exercise music. It’s engaging but not distracting.
Your attention doesn’t have to be stolen by those pesky rabbits that pop up throughout the day. Stay focused and engage your mind to increase your attention.
Make a better tomorrow.