The underlying reason why your productivity has dropped.
What brought you to this article today?
Did it capture your attention? Are you taking in every word, or is your mind elsewhere? Are you struggling to focus?
According to a study undergone by Microsoft Canada, back in 2008, the average human attention span was 12 seconds. Fast forward five years, and our attention span has dropped to just 8 seconds.
Chances are, you’ve lost focus and have given up on reading this article. Why? And what happened in the last 5 years that caused our attention span to drop so radically?
Here are the main reasons you can’t focus.
A Technology Overload
According to Psychologist Caroline Beaton, modern advancements in technology are the leading cause of our decreased attention.
Thanks to smartphones, tablets, and computers becoming a part of our daily lives, each of us is experiencing more data, webpages and TV shows than ever before. And, according to Beaton, this surplus of content has caused us to become more hyperactive on new content and less focused on the boring stuff — like our 9–5 jobs.
In addition, having this technology at our fingertips has led each of us to become more accustomed to counterproductive behavioral traits:
- We’ve gotten used to a life of instant gratification — playing games, ordering food, and watching TV, whenever we choose.
- We’ve become more egocentric, fixating on the things going on in our lives and on our phones, rather than appreciating the world around us.
These traits have led us to focus more on the things that bring us comfort: those we enjoy or bring us pleasure, over things that require cognitive effort.
In addition, our egocentric tendencies have led us to develop unnecessary and unusual habits. We regularly take selfies, check how many likes our Facebook posts have, and check in on what our friends are doing online. Even when, on reflection, it’s evident that these actions achieve nothing, and are a complete waste of time.
You’re Misspending Your Time
It’s clear that we have enough time in the day to complete the tasks we want to, and we have the mental capabilities to remain focused (we can focus on our social media profiles for hours on end, after all). But, as shown, we’re instead choosing to focus on the things that don’t matter. And that’s a problem for our productivity.
In the words of Beaton —
“Our attention problem is due to both a lack of focus and a focus on the wrong things.”
By this, she’s highlighting our mind’s natural tendency to fixate on things that we find new, exciting, and relevant to our own lives — rather than focusing on the tasks we have at hand (which tend to be more repetitive, and less interesting).
And this natural tendency is the main reason your mind wanders from your daily work, why you constantly check your phone, and why you can’t focus.
Because of this, to fix your attention span and regain focus, you need to prevent your mind from wandering. Here are two ways you can achieve this.
1. Make Changes to Adjust Your Behavior
Given your wandering mind is a leading cause of your lowered attention, the easiest and quickest way to regain focus is to adjust your behavior, and prevent yourself from getting distracted.
That’s easier said than done, of course. If you’re weak-willed, you might find it incredibly difficult to resist the urge to watch TV or check your Facebook feed.
If you find yourself with the desire to improve your focus, but lack a strong enough will to achieve it; there are multiple things you can do.
a. Distraction Blockades
Probably the simplest thing you could do is block out any and all distracting stimulus — so that the only available task is the one at hand.
That means blocking out your ability to check Facebook, scroll through Instagram, or watch Youtube. At that stage, like a horse wearing blinkers, you’ll have no choice but to concentrate on what’s in front of you.
There are a number of ways you can achieve this, to name a few:
· You could use App blocking software, such as our application: FocusMe. In short, this allows you to block or limit your ability to use certain apps during certain times of the day — to prevent you from procrastinating.
· You could ask a friend or family member to lock up your phone and laptop, until after you’ve completed the task in hand.
· If you’re strong-willed, you could simply turn your phone off, and ignore distractions.
Regardless of how you achieve it, the best way to regain focus is to block out and ignore all distractions. That way, even if your mind does wander, it has nothing to focus on, and nothing to stimulate it beyond the task at hand.
b. Limit Your Focus
According to research, one of the leading reasons you can’t focus is that you’re spreading yourself too thin. That is, you’re either trying to focus on too many tasks, or you’re trying to focus on one task for too long without a break.
Both are counterproductive modes of work, because, in reality, the average person has an attention span of 14 minutes. It’s no surprise that your mind is wandering and you’re getting distracted if you haven’t taken a break after 3 hours.
The solution to preventing procrastination is simple — hone your focus.
Rather than juggling multiple tasks, pick one and see it through. Take regular breaks, and give your mind time to rejuvenate after concentrating for long periods.
2. Through Practice – Cultivate the Necessary Habits
According to Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, habits can’t be taught through word of mouth.
Instead, on this account, the only way we can develop virtuous habits and
cultivate practical wisdom is through practice.
In his own words —
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an
act, but a habit.”
Therefore, in adjusting your behavior — you are practicing
focus without distraction. And, overtime, such practice will lead you to
develop the necessary habits that enable you to focus without effort.
It is at this stage that you will be able to focus and avoid distractions, without even thinking.
In short, by forcing yourself to focus by implementing
distraction blockades and limiting your focus, you’re cultivating the necessary
habits to be able to concentrate without them. And when this happens,
your attention span will increase, and the time you spend working will
naturally become more productive.
Here in 2020, an overload in technology has caused our attention span to be less than that of a goldfish. And, when we do concentrate, we regularly focus on the wrong things — our minds naturally wander to our phones and newsfeeds.
In order to regain focus, you should:
· Make changes to your behavior. Similar to a horse wearing blinkers, use distraction blockades – doing so ensures your mind doesn’t wander, and forces it to focus on the task at hand.
· Rather than juggling multiple tasks for hours on end, limit your focus and take regular breaks. Doing so ensures the time you spend working is more productive, with less procrastination.
· And in forcing yourself to focus, over time, you’ll find that you cultivate the required habits that enable you to concentrate with ease.