As a young child I thought adults were well-educated and knew all the answers.
With the life experience of growing up and dealing with many people on a regular basis (ie: work, grocery store, school, outside) it seems easy to think we should have learned how to become sensitive to other people; how to listen, read a complete email from someone, text them back, etc. But the nitty gritty truth is we as a whole have gotten worse at time management.
We have all of these apps and virtual calendars to help manage our time, but that doesn’t make us pay attention any better, it just reminds us that we should be paying attention.
So how can we improve?
Time and time again I see assumptions in emails and terrible grammar on reputable news sites. Simple mistakes and problems that could be avoided if we spent a little more time and attention on them. I even had an Human Resources person, a person in charge of making first contact or the first impression for a company with a potential candidate for hire, ask me to make an appointment outside of the time I requested because she only partially processed my email. My email was two sentences long.
Many of us are taking on too much. We are expected to wear the hat of 5 different jobs because we have access to know how to do it (as we have the internet as resource to help tell us how to do almost anything), but we aren’t necessarily getting paid more. It’s just expected. So how are we supposed to be good at anything if we don’t take the time to be great at something?
Search results showing up in 0.07 seconds and physical buttons you can stick around your house that reorder any products you need with a touch aren't making things like our skills in patience and attention any better.
What can we do to better our attention span?
There are a few physical things and there are a few mental things, all of them natural things, that anyone can try.
Live in the moment. Don’t stress about what you’re not doing, focus on what you’re doing now and make it the most important thing and treat it like it is going to be a highlight of your best work ever, one that will define who you are (even if it’s just an email to a regular client or a text to your friend). Don’t skimp. This seems like it could be more stressful (since you’re ignoring everything else) but it actually makes things less stressful and easier to handle. Don’t multi-task as much.
Feel accomplished or happy with the small steps you have taken to get through with one big task. Every task is made up smaller steps we have to do to complete it, so don’t get frustrated with all the steps it may take to finish. Every step is a small victory and one dash closer to success.
Refocus on people and tasks. Most of the time when we gain focus we can only hold steam for about 40 minutes at a time before our brain needs a break, so to sustain attention you must choose to be aware that you are no longer focused and need to try again. The more you practice this, the more your brain will train itself to refocus again after being distracted.
Make a mental or physical list of what is important to you and what you would like to be remembered for. What will be important at the end of the day, or in ten years? What you did to make a friend smile, the work you put in to start a small business, or the time you spent being present with your kids? I guarantee it won’t be constantly scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed.
Get rid of distractions. We are mostly referring to whatever device is connecting you to other places your mind doesn’t need to be. It is hard to disconnect now, as our lives are saturated with always being connected. We are walking, breathing technology fiends. We simply can’t get enough. Every notification is good, down to the last like. But always being connected is ruining our focus and it is the number one reason we are inattentive. On average people check their phones 110 times a day and up to every 6 seconds in the evening. That obsessive compulsive behavior could be better focused on so many other things. Leave the phone or computer in another room.
Eat healthier and drink more fluids. Eating healthy is not just another way to lose weight or stay trim (although it has that effect too). There is a reason you look better when you eat better: your body is happier. Your body needs certain interactions between enzymes, bacteria, and vitamins to perform better, so don’t think of eating healthy as a just a way to lose weight, think of it as a way to create a sustainable lifestyle. This simple change can help clear up mental fogginess and help you stay focused longer. We need to keep the bacteria in our bodies working correctly and that means fresh foods that can be broken down to feed every little thing living in our bodies. It makes every part of us perform better, and gives your body the love and energy it deserves. That bag of cheesy poofs isn’t just staining your fingers, it is also ruining your concentration.
Get some exercise. Similar to a healthy diet, exercise can help keep all the strange things in our body functioning at maximum speed, but exercise has an even bigger impact. Why? Exercise means parts of our bodies, for example the muscles, have to move around, tear, and even swell. So how does this help our mental abilities? Our bodies release certain chemicals to help aid healing along with various other things upon growth (ie. tearing and swelling). The chemicals released upon workout also affect learning, memory, and even levels of happiness. Focus on your body and take care of it and your body will help you focus and take care of you in return. Your body is your home so try not to neglect it.
While trying to improve your attention span remember everything takes a series of steps. We shouldn’t rush things, staying in the moment is the true key to strengthening not only your attention span but all of the relationships around you. Practice little steps to improve gradually. You can’t be expected to suddenly have 100% attention span 24/7, but you and those around you will start to notice the little things over time. Just remember not to stretch yourself too thin. It’s okay if you don’t know everything or can't get absolutely every little thing done. You are only one person. One person who can have better focus and direction without so many little things dragging you down and getting in the way.
Do you have tips or tricks you use to pay attention longer?