What are you paying attention to right now? Email? Twitter? Slack? The list of tasks that won’t stop growing? While modern technology has given us some incredible innovations, the one negative side effect has been our ability to concentrate.
According to recent stats, the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds. Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.
How your brain chooses what to focus on (and how to control it)
Your brain is always taking in information, which means that it has to choose what to pay attention to and what to filter out. According to neuroscience, this is called ‘selective attention’. Here are the two different types of selective attention:
1) Top-down (voluntary focus)
This is focus you choose. It’s goal-orientated and is responsible for using your past experiences to figure stuff out. You’re using this focus when you’re studying for an exam.
2) Bottom up (stimulus driven focus)
This is when something grabs your attention, like a loud noise or a notification. You can’t help but pay attention to what’s happening.
We can’t actually control what kind of focus our brain using. Even if you’re using Top-Down focus, Bottom Up focus is able to override the brain’s filters. This is because loud noises and sudden movements are associated with danger and danger takes priority over the book you’re reading.
But don’t worry, science has some suggestions to get our focus back as quickly as possible.
7 methods to help you get your focus back
1) Work within your brain’s natural schedule
We all have different times in the day when we’re able to focus better. For most people, peak distraction time occurs between 12-4 pm. According to research, our brain focus is best at about 10 am. Therefore, you can use your focus for tough, intensive tasks at around 10 am and take a break in the afternoon.
2) Reward your mind
Your brain learns by your actions. This means that when you check Twitter or Facebook 20,000 times a day, you’re training it to be distracted. Instead of doing this, train your brain to stay focused by catching yourself before you fall into a bad habit.
3) Take breaks
If you try to work non-stop, you’ll inevitably get distracted. The Atlantic declares that you can reach “perfect productivity” by working for 52 minutes, and then taking a break for 17.
4) Forget multi-tasking
Our minds are actually unable to focus on more than one thing at a time. In fact, multi-tasking is impossible, it just means switching from one task to another very quickly. The more we switch, the more energy we use.
Try to a make a list of tasks you need to each day and give yourself enough time to finish them properly so you can avoid multi-tasking. Best of all, you’ll probably produce better quality work, too.
5) Find work that keeps you engaged
If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, then you’ll likely get distracted. But when you’re genuinely engaged in what you’re doing, focus is easy. Make sure whatever you’re doing stimulates your brain.
6) Practice mindfulness meditation
Stress is a huge focus killer. Meditation helps us not get carried away by our stresses. Try taking 5 minutes for yourself and choose one of your senses and just focus on it. What is your body and mind feeling? What are you feeling, hearing, tasting?
7) Chew gum
This is a little left field but research shows that chewing gum increases the oxygen flow to your brain for attention. If you don’t like gum, you can grab a bite to eat which will give your brain energy.
Finding your focus is really as simple as just making things easier for your brain. Find the right environment and schedule that works for you, and your focus will improve.