Hey you, goldfish

Five ways to deal with our incredibly shrinking attention spans

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Last year Time magazine published an article called, “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish.” It reported on how an increasingly digital lifestyle has reduced the average person’s attention span from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds in 2015.

The average attention span of a goldfish? Nine seconds. The bad news is you likely have a lower ability to concentrate than a creature with a brain the size of a pinhead. The good news is it might not be completely your fault. The study theorized the changes are a result of your brain adapting to an environment with an increasing amount of screens and available stimuli. So the next time you’re working your way through a project and somehow find yourself 20 minutes deep in funny cat videos on YouTube, don’t be so hard on yourself.

Help is on the way. Here are five strategies you can use to help out-focus your goldfish counterpart and get more things checked off your daily “to-do” list.

  1. De-Clutter your work space. It’s easy to let things pile up on your desk as new tasks and projects emerge. However, having a cluttered workspace is not only distracting, it’s also stressful. Multitasking has been proven to be incredibly ineffective, so don’t try to fool yourself into thinking you can do more than one thing at a time. Make it a habit to clear your desk or workspace at the end of every day so you can start fresh in the morning.
  2. Try the Pomodoro Technique. On my “Growth Bomb” podcast, several highly successful entrepreneurs and executives have mentioned that they use this technique to be more productive throughout the day. It is literally named after a “pomodoro,” or tomato-shaped timer. Instead of working “against time” to meet a deadline, this method helps you work “with” time and also helps you eliminate burnout on bigger tasks. It’s as easy as choosing a task, setting the timer for 25 minutes, and then working only on that task with no interruptions before taking a short (3- to 5-minute) break. After completing four pomodoro cycles, take a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes. You can learn more at pomodorotechnique.com.
  3. Surround yourself with the right sounds. If you are in a cubicle or busy area it can be easy to get distracted by conversations and other noise. Sometimes complete silence or your favorite music station can even take away from your focus. I have been using a site called Focus@Will that was created by neuroscientists and allows you to choose background music and sounds that are scientifically proven to help your focus and concentration. Check out their selection and test it for yourself at focusatwill.com.
  4. Remember to FOCUS. As an entrepreneur and a millennial, I’m getting dangerously close to falling prey to “shiny object syndrome.” That’s where you are trying to complete one task, but all of a sudden an email pops up, you hear a notification from your phone, or you see an article about what’s trending in social media. When your thoughts start to wander, try a powerful acronym for FOCUS (follow one course until success). Train your brain to not leave one task until it’s completely finished.
  5. Take a break. If all else fails, get up and take a walk, stretch, or get a drink of water. Be careful not to let a break turn into procrastination by setting a time limit. Do whatever it takes to clear your head and then get back to the task at hand.

If you made it this far, congratulations on keeping your focus for longer than 12 seconds! If you have strategies that have been helpful for your focus and productivity, I would love to hear from you. Shoot me a message at Jenna@JennaAtkinsonConsulting.com

Jenna Atkinson is the president of CONNECT Madison, a young professionals group offering development, community engagement, and relationship-building opportunities to local business leaders.

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