Don’t give your power away

Our decreased attention span

Posted:  Saturday, March 9, 2019 - 9:00pm
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Many clients and friends have mentioned to me that they are more forgetful and easily distracted than they used to be. They wonder if they have the beginnings of Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to Time Magazine, May 14, 2015 article, You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish, in 2000 our attention span was 12 seconds. It is now less than 9 seconds. Are we all heading toward some form of dementia or is this phenomenon a result of how we work with technology and social media?

This article cited a study from Microsoft Corp. stating, “People now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the effects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.” Our brains are changing as a result of the prolonged use of the modern technology.

Let’s look at two activities that maybe the cause of our decreased attention span: distractions and multitasking.

Distractions

Children and adults are struggling to focus in situations where sustained attention is needed. Because of decreased focus and concentration, many are not able to complete projects at work or school. Some just abandon the task. 

Many blame this problem on time management. But we all have the same amount of time, twenty-four hours every day. It is how we use that time that matters and makes the difference between being productive vs spinning wheels and going nowhere. 

Time management is really mind management. 

People may feel they are not accomplishing anything unless they are looking busy. We look at our cell phone every few minutes, read and immediately respond to incoming emails, check Twitter, Facebook and other notifications all while we are working on a project. How efficient do you expect to be?

There is a new phenomenon in our digital culture called FOMO, fear of missing out. We want to know and see every new item or update as soon as it emerges or we feel like we are missing out and left behind.

Many of us have become used to constant distractions. And when we aren’t distracted, we begin to look for it. We start to wonder Is my phone on or Is the computer working. Essentially, we distract ourselves because we were not being distracted. 

Increased distractions can result in decreased cognitive focus, attention and creativity. It also impacts our learning, reasoning, comprehension and storage of memories

To help address these problems, work on your mindset. Prepare to complete one project without distractions for 30 minutes. When you become distracted, ask yourself, how is this going to help me complete the task I am working on?

When you feel that your focus is shifting, step back and watch where and what your attention is drawn to. Learn your distractions. 

Multitasking

We all refer to the word, multitasking and in researching this, I learned that many of us are really switch-tasking. In his 2013 book, The Myth of Multitasking, author Dave Crershner wrote, “Multitasking is doing multiple tasks at once but they’re related to the same outcome,” for example, driving a car. Adjusting the mirrors, seat, heat and working the brake and gas pedals are tasks that all have the same goal of helping you to arrive at your destination.

Switch-tasking is changing from one task to another task that is not related to the prior one, therefore, not working toward the same outcome.  This ongoing interruption in your thought process may cause brain fatigue.

Studies have showed that it takes up to 20 minutes to settle back into the original task once we leave it to check on an email, text or take a call. Switch-tasking does not increase our productivity. The projects will eventually be completed but the quality of the work may be less than desirable.

Our brain is being overloaded as we are trying to be productive. Our mind is not functioning in a linear line. It is being pulled here and there with starts and stops that delay the completion of a task. Take the time to manage where your attention goes.

We all want to leverage technology to improve our critical thinking and problem-solving abilities to be effective in living our lives at home and at work. Become aware of how technology is changing the format of your mind management. Take a few moments to analyze your behavior using your cell phone, computer and electronic gadgets. How many times are you looking at your smart phone in an hour?  What are your distractions? Then ponder, who is in control? 

Changes in behavior require awareness, attention and practice. 

Below are some suggestions towards mind management.

  • Control your environment. Close your door, be in a quiet area when working on a project. Put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on your door. (Parents have recommended this.)
  • Quiet cell phones, and click on Do Not Disturb on computers
  • Work on one thing at a time. Set a timer. It could be for only 5 minutes to begin and increase from there. You will experience the “feel good” dopamine rush after completing a project.  
  • Check texts, calls and emails in-between tasks not during tasks.

These ideas will take time to implement and I believe they will help you achieve goals more effectively and in a timely format. This will provide for you peace of mine and less chaos. 

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Roe Chiacchio

Roe Chiacchio is a cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation RN, personal trainer and certified dementia practitioner. She integrates her background into a specialized style of training for each of her clients and shares her perspective and knowledge in her articles published at PenBay Pilot. Her business, ONWARD, Cardiovascular Heath, Wellness and Dementia Management is located in Camden, Maine. Her education is based in behavior science, psychology, neuroscience and gerontology.  Her interest is working to enhance physical performance and mental health of individuals through her training sessions and articles. Her hobbies are photography and international travel.

For more information, contact Roe at 207 249-8166, or roechiacchio@ gmail.com.