Toggling between ultiple digital devices has changed the way we work and play. Has our relationship with such gadgets impacted our ability to focus?
A Microsoft study says our attention span is one second less than a goldfish. No joke. The research revealed that in the year 2000 we could focus for 12 seconds. By 2013, this had shrunk to 8 seconds.
A goldfish, on the other hand, can clock a solid 9 seconds. Awe-inspiring. For the goldfish, I mean.
Tethered to our smartphones
What is the impact of dropping attention spans? Some may argue that the ability to pay attention is becoming more valuable in an increasingly complicated world. Success in school, at work, and in relationships that last beyond 140 characters can all hang on our skill at focusing beyond a sound bite.
But our frantic world has made it difficult not to respond to every demanding chirp, beep, and tweet.
Especially when we’re trying to relax, or simply at home, we should do less multi-screening between our laptops, cellphones, and iPads.
Research worth paying attention to
A Stanford study put 100 media multi-taskers through a series of tests. Did they have control over what they think about and what they pay attention to, the researchers wanted to know? What’s the magic and what are they better at?
“We kept looking for what they’re better at, and we didn’t find it,” said Ophir, the study’s lead author and a researcher in Stanford’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab, reported Stanford News.
Research found that “people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention as well as those who perform one task at a time”.
“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said Wagner, an associate professor of psychology. “That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”
Digitization and our brains…
It’s not just our work, school and lifestyles that are affected by digitization, it’s also our thought processes. Oxford University neuroscientist, Baroness Susan Greenfield, warned that short, bite-sized clips of information from our online world could effectively ‘rewire’ the brain. This gradually affects both attention span and the way we communicate.
‘As a neuroscientist, I am very aware that the brain adapts to its environment’ Baroness Greenfield says. ‘If you’re placed in an environment that encourages a short attention span, which doesn’t encourage empathy or interpersonal communication, and which is partially addictive or compulsive … All these things inevitably shape who you are.’
Perhaps it’s time to do less to accomplish more
So how do we go about improving our attention beyond that of a fish, and help ourselves live in the present world?
1. Deal with the digital distractions
Unless it’s for business, limit the time you use your phone. Your career, and maybe even friends and family, will thank you for it. Turning off personal email notifications might help with this.
Schedule down-time to check social media services that aren’t work-related, including Snapchat, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, and the rest of the distracting cast.
2. Be tough but honest with yourself; how interested are you in a friend’s 20 vacation photos, what they’re eating right now, or the 10 pictures of their cat sleeping? I mean, besides the cat, just how entertaining can it be?
3. Get rid of the clutter around you.
4. Give your plan of action an order. Then break it down into numbered steps to make it manageable.
5. Get creative – there’s nothing like letting your own ideas inspire you and keep you focused.
6. Take mental breaks.
7. Energize with healthy food and drink. The studies all point towards this one.
8. Get your exercise. It not only helps focus, but it helps you sleep…
9. Get your Zzzzzzzs. Refreshing the mind is crucial.