Last Updated on October 12, 2018
In our oversaturated media landscape, there’s a lot of dangers lurking out there, waiting to rob you of your attention. So how do you go about protecting this most precious resource?
In a world of spam emails, pointless Facebook notifications, and Donald Trump’s Tweets, how can you keep your focus on those things that are important to you? In the following article, we’ll share just a few great tips that will help you claw back some control and improve your focus.
Train Your Brain
Everyone knows the importance of a good night’s sleep, especially for creativity and staying physically fit, but what you might not know is how these two factors contribute to your ability to concentrate. Your mental health is at least in part a product of your physical health. Like your body, what your brain can do is a product of what you train it to do.
Of course, you’re not going to be able to magically reset your attention span with an app, just as you can’t magically run a marathon with the right pair of trainers. Think of training and protecting your attention as like training for a marathon. I know that sounds daunting, but it gives you some idea of what’s involved.
To start with, try interval training. Concentrate and apply your attention for as long as you can on one task and then give yourself a break between two and five minutes. Aim to gradually increase the amount of time you can spend on one task, whilst keeping the length of your breaks roughly the same.
This process won’t show results immediately, but over time you’ll find that your attention span increases and you can exercise more discipline as to where you place your focus. Additionally, meditation can work wonders with the brain’s neuroplasticity and, with regular practice, increase the brains grey matter; that all important stuff that makes it easier to concentrate and process information.
Know What to Look Out For
These days, there’s so much readily available information out there, that it can all get a bit overwhelming. Your brain can only process so much information and yet it’s so easy to get distracted and lose control over what it is you want to process. Even online marketers acknowledge that information overload can be a real problem. How can they be expected to sell anything if no one is paying attention to their messages? For that reason, online advertising, in particular, is turning towards increasingly short and emotive messages.
Gone are the days of the infomercial, where some seemingly well-meaning authority figure – a doctor, professor, or simply some gravelly-voiced white man in a suit and tie – would explain to you in detail the unique dirt busting benefits of the latest Toilet Duck or how Benson & Hedges cigarettes help steady the nerves during a hard day’s welding. Today, advertising seeks to seize the attention of the viewer or user through increasing emotionally charged clips and images.
Online users have become so nonplussed and numb to the myriad forms of online advertising out there that it’s even given rise of a phenomenon known as ‘banner blindness’. Users consciously or unconsciously ignore the information in banner adverts, even if it’s targeted at the user and based on their cookies. So just be aware of banners, video ads, and targeted messages; all of these things are designed to rob you of your attention and distract you.
If you really want to protect your attention, it pays to invest in a good adblocker or apps that limit the amount of time you spend on sites that you know will distract you. Exercising self-discipline is part and parcel of protecting, preserving, and prolonging your attention span.
Think about Your Environment
This might sound obvious, but working in the right environment is crucial to your ability to concentrate. Now I’m not saying that most people are trying to work in roller derbies or trying to write academic papers at rock concerts, but too often people don’t consider the digital environment in which their trying to work.
That is to say, if you have countless distractions ready and available on your desktop, guess what, you’re going to be distracted. Focusing on one task at a time means having one thing, whatever it might be: Word doc, email, book, in front of you at a given moment.
So next time you open up your browser, limit the number of tabs you have open at any given time. Equally, you shouldn’t let notifications and push messages seize your attention. Very few notifications contain directly actionable information – that is information that you need or can use in a given moment.
So if you really want to create the best conditions to keep your attention healthy, optimise your workspace and, more importantly, your digital environment for the finest results.