This article originally appeared in International Institute of Directors and Managers
Let’s be blunt. Our lack of attention is costing us big time in how effectively we get through our day, and how we feel as a result. Pay attention to this because it matters. Why?
- Our attention span is shrinking faster than the new cashmere sweater we forgot to hand wash
- Our lack of attention is affecting our general health and wellbeing
- Lack of focus is making us miserable
So how did this happen?
We didn’t deliberately choose to zone out, and we certainly know how to focus when it comes to laser-locking in on that one essential item. But the trouble is this – we live in a generation of digital disruption, perpetually surrounded by constant interruptions that disrupt our attention.
What’s so great about attention anyway?
- Safety first
Our brain isn’t silly. It has a highly complex system comprising of three neural networks, which allows us to be alert, aware, and also fragments our attention and focus. Survival of the fittest was important to cavemen and things haven’t changed.
Without attention we don’t learn. Why? Because we are not providing our brains with a reason to encode information and store it in our memory. How often have you forgotten items – appointments, phone calls or misplaced car keys? It’s not that we forgot. We simply never remembered in the first place, because we weren’t paying attention.
It may seem obvious, but if we fail to pay attention to what’s really important or urgent, we miss out or lose what really matters – and this includes relationships. We tend to treat everything in our day as important or urgent, rather than ‘colour coding’ the difference between the real priorities and other things – and so we end up making mistakes, and getting exhausted, frustrated and overwhelmed.
Despite our brain constantly grumbling about our attention span being small, cramped and with limited parking, it remains eminently trainable. Regaining attentional muscle can be readily achieved by training your brain to focus.
Reclaim your brain
It might seem strange, but one of the reasons why we don’t pay attention is overuse of focus. Being so busy, it’s tempting to get up, switch our brain on to full power and expect to drive on full focus all day – because that’s what we think is the best way to operate. But our brain is not a marathon runner, it’s a sprinter. Like interval training, our mind works really well by following our natural Ultradian rhythm, which has peaks and troughs of energy lasting 90 minutes. This allows us to get our work done to a higher level, in a shorter period of time, with time and energy left to spare.
So try organising your day into bite size 60-90 minutes of focus.
It’s not a Kit-Kat, but it might just work
It doesn’t have to be chocolate covered, but taking regular 10-minute brain breaks during the day gives our brain the time it needs to consolidate ideas, to think more creatively and to reboot for better top-tier focus. Choosing not to fill every nook and cranny of brain space with Facebook updates, tweets and news feeds provides our brain breathing space for greater efficiency and productivity.
Devise your distraction management plan
It is not a hard task to identify those attention-sucking interruptions that drive us crazy. What we underestimate is the power and influence of the biggest distraction there is: You. Me. Us. We happily distract ourselves over 47% of our waking time, yet are highly intolerant of others whom we consider time-wasters, like people taking too long at the supermarket checkout or filling their car at the petrol station.
There are now a wide variety of distraction management tools and apps available, including the well-known Pomodoro technique. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.
Just stop. Be quiet and still, with a mindful period in your day. Whether meditation, yoga, tai chi, or simply sitting under a tree and reflecting, this time will soon put a Zen in your step.
Attracting our attention is easy. Keeping it? Getting there.