Attention spans aren’t what they used to be. At least, I know mine isn’t.
I find myself struggling to pay attention, even when I want to. At plays, watching movies, hanging out with a friend. At school.
I was diagnosed with, treated for, and subsequently “undiagnosed” with ADD when I was young, but a short attention span followed me through high school and college, and really started to catch up with me in graduate school.
I’m sure that modern technology hasn’t helped. Scrolling through social media, jumping from one app to another, having text messages pop in every few seconds… none of these things are conducive to focus. I’m not proud of it, but I know that I’m seriously addicted to my Facebook feed, Netflix, and the smartphone that I carry from room to room in the house.
I don’t like the way this lack of focus on my part has kept me from performing my best at school and at home, and from making more progress in my goals for myself. So, I’m trying to work on it, and these days I’m choosing some specific habits to help reclaim my attention span:
1) I’m going on an “information diet.”
Sometimes it’s so easy to get distracted because there is just so much to consume. So, I’m trying to be more intentional about limiting that “stuff.”
I’m choosing to unfollow many pages and friends on Facebook. My goal is to only follow my family and a handful of friends I really like to keep in touch with. As much as I’d love to follow everyone, it just leads to a feed that goes on forever, and contributes to this feeling that I’m missing out on something if I’m not constantly checking it. I’ve created secondary Instagram accounts for following certain types of feeds, so they can stay out of sight, where I’m free to check them during actual downtime. I’ve deleted games on my phone because I get sucked into them way too easily. I’m also unsubscribing from many of my email lists (mostly the food and product promotions), and creating filters for the ones I want to keep but don’t need to see every day.
All this “dieting” is leading to a much calmer online experience for me, and less motivation to mindlessly consume.
2) I’m using timers.
I’ll probably talk about this in more detail in the future, but timers have been a game-changer for me. My workflow often involves cycles where I work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break (this is known as the Pomodoro Technique, although you don’t really need a book or special timer to implement it).
It’s amazing how defining the amount of time I’m going to work enables me to concentrate much more intently than if I leave it open-ended. For example, when I first started doing some serious writing in grad school, I found that if I got stuck on a sentence or paragraph, I’d often give up after 5-10 minutes and go looking for distractions. When I set a timer, however, I know I have to work for that time, so I stare at the screen and try various things until I usually work my way past the problem. What’s especially great is that I can tell this technique is training my brain to concentrate for longer periods of time, even when I’m not actually using a timer.
3) I’m choosing to give my brain time to chill.
Like #1, this is about limiting the constant stream of information to my brain. In this case, I’m trying to give myself space to walk away from technology for a while. I’ve started charging my phone in the kitchen at night, so I’m not tempted to stay up late or start my day with mindless scrolling (a simple alarm clock now gets me up in the morning). On the weekends especially, I’m trying to find time to set the phone down and forget it exists. In an ideal world, I think I’d find a way to limit my social media consumption to a few designated times of the day/week, but we’ll see how that goes.
So far, I’m enjoying the progress I’m making. Being focused and present in a world that is always switching gears to the next thing isn’t easy, but I feel like it’s an ideal worth working toward.