In our ever-expanding, dynamic digital world it can often seem impossible to complete even the simplest of tasks, to achieve a state of focus amidst endless distractions and constant interruption.
A new email alert, a text from a loved one or the irresistible urge to refresh our Instagram or Twitter feeds, can become more than irritating distractions and get in the way of accomplishing anything.
In fact, research shows that our attention spans are noticeably shrinking as technology advances.
Psychologist and University of California's Chancellor Professor of Informatics and author of the forthcoming book Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity, Gloria Mark, found that we spend an average of just 47 seconds on any screen before shifting our attention elsewhere.
And once we're interrupted, it can take up to 25 minutes to bring our attention back to our original task.
But, Mark contends, there is hope for learning to stay focused in the face of constant distraction. Here are six tips you can implement in your workday to wrangle your attention.
1. Become more intentional in your actions
Bring your unconscious actions to a conscious awareness by probing yourself about your actions. When you get the urge to check your Twitter feed or scroll aimlessly through Instagram, ask yourself why.
Are you bored? Are you looking for a social connection? Perhaps you're avoiding a difficult task at hand? Becoming more aware of your attention and where you direct it can be the first step to regaining control of it.
2. Practice forethought
When you have an urge to switch to another site think about the impact this action will have on you downstream in the day.
Will you still be up at 10 p.m. working on that report or will you be relaxing and watching your favorite show? Consider whether the short-term distraction is worth it.
3. Clear your environment of potential distractions
This may seem simple, but leaving your phone in another room can give you the breathing room to focus on the task in front of you. If possible, try to find a quiet space to work in without ambient noise.
4. Use your social media strategically
Rather than scrolling aimlessly, consider a person who you value and then send them a message telling them you're thinking of them.
This will be a much more meaningful social interaction that can give you the gratification you may be looking for when the impulse is to scroll through your feed.
5. Take breaks proactively before your resources get exhausted
Develop a good sense of your level of available cognitive resources and when you feel them waning, take a break.
A walk outside is best, or even a quick stretch, but even simple, easy activities, like cleaning your desk to playing a quick game can help you replenish.
6. Keep a regular sleep schedule with good quality sleep
Research shows that as sleep debt accumulates, people's ability to self-regulate the next day declines correspondingly. We all know it, but getting a regular good night's sleep can make a world of difference.
Implementing some simple changes in our every day habits can lead to noticeable changes and help us stay focused throughout the day. Above all, Mark underscores the importance of being self-aware and knowing your tendencies when it comes to distractions.
Understanding your own rhythms of attention and knowing when you might need to take a break can be the key to maintaining control of your focus when being pulled in different directions.