The Distraction Epidemic and Tools To Increase Your Focus
The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but according to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now...
“The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but according to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.” – Time Magazine, May 2015
This quote is frightening, and I’m sure that you’ve felt the effects. Time seems to be speeding up, and every day can feel rushed and frenetic. The pressure is greater, and the productivity is less.
So, how do you begin to reclaim your time and focus? Start here ⬇
First and foremost, you must end your slavery to your electronics. If you don’t think you are addicted to your electronics – try one (or all) of these things and notice the response in your body:
‣ Leave your phone plugged in outside of your bedroom when you go to bed at night
‣ Make a commitment to not looking at your phone until after your morning routine (breakfast/ exercise/ meditation/ journaling- whatever you do to stay healthy and sane)
‣ Leave your phone at home while you run errands, go out with friends, or go for a hike
‣ Don’t look at your phone while you are standing in lines or waiting for an appointment
‣ Make a commitment to not look at work emails before your start time and after your clock-out time
‣ Spend one entire day electronic-free. Put your phone, laptops, and tablets away and spend an entire day connecting with your loved ones and the environment around you.
How do you feel when you do these things? Do you feel compulsion raising up in your body – like you just have to look at your phone or laptop? Do you feel panic in your body – like something might be wrong and you have to check to make sure everything is still okay in the world? Do you feel ‘bad’, like you are required to check text/emails/messages 24/7 to be a “good employee”, and “good business owner”, and “good friend”? If any of these, or other feelings of resistance, obligation, or temptation, came up for you – it might be time to examine your relationship with electronics.
With electronics, like in all areas of life, the goal is that YOU, the innate, wise, conscious you, is the leader. Compulsion is defined as: “an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one’s conscious wishes.” Take a moment to identify the size of the gap between who you say you want to be and who you are. This gap can frequently be identified in the following areas of life: exercise, food choices, electronics, self-care, emotional response, and communication. Every single person has a gap – this is okay. The realization that moves us forward is that we can make this gap smaller and therefore design a life that is more in alignment with our values and desires. This, in turn, results in you liking yourself more.
After you gain conscious control over your relationship with electronics, you can begin to use them, instead of them using you. This means that when you have focused work that needs to be completed, you can turn off your email, social media, phone, etc. without discomfort.
While you can simply turn off your electronics during focused work times and off-work times, there are also a ton of tools to help you limit your distractions during work time. Here are just a few:
• Freedom – for blocking distractions on all your devices at once
• Cold Turkey Blocker – for scheduled system-wide blocking
• LeechBlock NG – for free browser-based website blocking
• RescueTime – for time tracking with built-in website blocking
• Forest – for motivating you to put your phone down
• SelfControl – for a nuclear option
• Focus – for a combination Pomodoro timer and distraction blocker
• PawBlock – for distraction blocking with cute animal pictures
(links to these can be found at mindyaisling(dot com)
For me, here is what works:
⦾ Phone ⦾
The focus feature on my iPhone is set up to allow just a handful of people (my husband, son, sister, and dad) through on the personal setting. In the work setting, no calls or messages are allowed through. I use the personal setting for most of the work day and the work setting for deep focus sessions and meetings. For instructions on how to set up the focus feature on your phone, click here. I then schedule time to return calls in my schedule.
⦾ Email ⦾
I close my email during meetings and deep work sessions. Then, I schedule times to check and respond to email. If you’re not disciplined enough to keep your email closed, there are apps that can assist you. Personally, I love Boomerang for all of its features – including Inbox Pause.
⦾ Social Media ⦾
I have to use social to promote my business, so while I’m not a huge fan the impact that social media is having on our culture, I do engage with it – consciously. First, I use Later to schedule 90% of my content. This means that I don’t have to log into all of my social platforms to post daily. I do need to log-in for social media engagement, and that is on my schedule.
⦾ Schedule ⦾
For me, this is key to my productivity. Creating a solid schedule for myself is my lifeline to being productive, balanced and happy in my life. For most days, my schedule looks something like this:
↣ 4am – wakeup, breakfast, morning chores, time with husband and pets
↣ 5am – workout, stretch, shower, journal, meditate, walk in the garden (not all of these happen every day, but from 5-7am is active self care most days.). No electronics until this is completed.
↣ 7am – sit down in office, respond to emails, texts, phone messages, engage with social media
↣ 8am – lock time for deep work, client sessions, meetings
↣ 10am – check email and phone, respond to anything urgent
↣ 10:15 – break. Get outside, drink tea, eat snack, pet cats, stretch
↣ 10:30 – reengage with work, lock time for deep work, client sessions or meetings
↣ 12:30 – break for lunch (not in front of my computer!), eat, get outside, read a few pages of a novel, put laundry in
↣ 1pm – check email and phone, respond to anything urgent
↣ 1:15 – reengage with work, lock time for deep work, client sessions or meetings
↣ 2:30 – check email and phone, respond to anything urgent. Tidy up files, tabs, desk. Take notes on day.
↣ 3:30 – clock out, off work to have fun, relax and enjoy my life.
This schedule is flexible, but I stick to it as much as possible – because it serves me to do so. This schedule leaves me with 5 hours of solid work every day and 2.5 hours of responding to the world (email, phone, etc). It makes sure that I take care of myself by assuring that I get breaks and lunch, and allowing me to sustain healthy work/life boundaries.
Your schedule can be unique to you, it is simply the act of consciously controlling your time that is important. If you’re not sure where to start with creating a schedule for yourself, begin by recording what you do every day. You can even use an up like Rescue Time which will provide you with a report about how you spend your time on your computer. Then, take a look at how your time is spent and make conscious decisions about what to change so that you align with who you really want to be and the life you really want to live.
⦾ Exceptions ⦾
I do want to note exceptions to my schedule. I have both (high functioning) ADHD and Autism, which means that my brain works a little bit differently. When I honor the way that my brain works, my life flourishes. My brain loves to hyper-focus on something and work on that thing for 12 hours straight. When I do this, I call it A-holing for ADHD/Autism hole. I just made this term up and thought it was funny. I swear I can get 40 hours of work done in 12 hours when I’m A-holing, and it is SO much fun. I allow myself A-holes as much as I can when they present themselves to me & I feel like most of my genius, creativity, and highest-quality work comes from these times. After an A-hole, I always take as much of the next day off as possible and double up on self-care to revive myself and get back on track. If you have natural inclinations due to the unique way that your brain/body works – lean into them. This will be far more effective than fighting them.
⦾ Timer ⦾
I also find that I have days when I am more distractable. Perhaps I didn’t sleep well, something stressful is going on in my life, or there is a particular project I’m having a difficult time getting started. During these days it can be helpful to use a timer. I set a timer for 15 minutes, and when that timer goes off I check to make sure I’m on my schedule. This way if I ‘rabbit hole’, I’m only wasting 15 minutes (at most), not 4 hours. This is a great tool to reactive my consciousness, and my ability to be in conscious choice about how I spend my time.
⦾ Connect with Others ⦾
If you are a remote worker, there are a few really fun new platforms to connect with others, focus your time, hold yourself accountable, and create healthy work habits. My favorite is Flown (flown-dot-com). Flown provides virtual co-working sessions led by motivating facilitators – plus, meditations, breath work &. more. Yes, it is great even for introverts! Check it out, and I’ll see you in a Deep Dive session.
The next chapter is about reclaiming your time and productivity. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, it will require discipline. Yes, you can do it (and you’ll be so grateful that you did).