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Finding Focus in a Distracted World

Ping, Ping, Tweet, Swipe, Riiiiingg……

We live in a world full of constant notifications from our multiple devices and apps.

Emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook notifications, Whatsapp, Instagram, LinkedIn Snapchat… I could go on and on. And the barrage of notifications is like my beloved Waffle House - 24 hours/7 days a week.

With so much noise and distractions, it is easy to lose our concentration and focus. How much time do we waste scrolling through our news feeds? How many times are we on a conference call while also checking emails, sending texts, and liking a friend's photo on Facebook? Umm, my hand is raised. Guilty as charged.

A recent study from Bank My Cell has some staggering statistics:

  • The average smartphone user checks their phone 63 times a day. This is up 16 times from last year.

  • The average time spent on smartphones is 2 hours and 51 minutes a day.

  • The average time spent on smartphones and tablets is 4 hours and 33 minutes a day.

  • The average user spends 1 hour and 16 minutes a day on the Top 5 social media apps

  • The average user will tap, swipe, and click their phone 2,617 times a day.

We like to think we are multi-tasking and being efficient. In reality, we are being jack of all trades, master of none. We aren't truly giving any one thing all of our attention; we are rapidly switching our focus from one thing to another. And this is stressing us out!

Linda Stone, a former Microsoft and Apple consultant even coined the phrase Continuous Partial Attention to name this behavior. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. Adrenaline and cortisol are great for short bursts of activity and exercise, but in the long term cortisol can override serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which help us feel calm and happy. This can in turn affect our sleep and heart rate and make us feel jittery. So not only is the constant multi-tasking bad for our concentration and focus, it is ultimately bad for our health and well-being too.

We find it difficult to fully concentrate on any one activity. At the end of the day, our to-do list isn't completed, yet we are mentally exhausted. I have found myself recently unable to read at night because my brain is completely fatigued from the day. Working from home all day, every day has also exacerbated this. This "always on/always available" mindset is also impacting our ability to make progress towards our goals and what we really want to accomplish.

Okay, so we agree this is a problem most of us are dealing with. Now what can we do about it? How do we minimize distractions, give our brains a break, and STILL make progress towards our goals?

First, spend a couple of days observing your habits and write them down.

  • How do you start your day? Do you grab your phone and start scrolling?

  • Recognize when you start "multi-tasking" and write it down

  • How long are you sitting in front of a screen without taking a break?

  • How do you feel?

After you have observed your behaviors and habits are aware of them, make a plan on how to address them. Instead of jumping on social media when you wake up, commit to spending time meditating, journaling, or taking a walk (with no devices!). Spend 20-30 minutes giving your brain and body time to wake up and get in a good mindset for the day. You MUST be intentional and deliberate about this. It isn't just going to happen now that you are aware of it. It takes around 3 weeks to develop a habit so you will need to work at it.

Now, how to minimize distractions during the day? I have found the most effective way for me to do this is to work in blocks of time. Rather than say I am not going to look at my phone all day or delete social media apps (I am not there yet, but kudos if you can do it), I limit the times I can check it. For example, if I need to complete a task that will take 30 minutes, then I turn my phone on silent, close my internet browser and tackle the task. I may even set an alarm for 30 minutes and not allow myself to stop until then.

Just like we schedule conference calls and Zoom meetings, we should also schedule breaks throughout the day. Schedule time to close your eyes and focus on your breathing, take a walk, stretch, even do a few push-ups or my personal favorite - burpees! (It's a love/hate relationship). This gives your brain a much-needed break from the screen and critical thinking.

Find a hobby that allows your brain to operate differently than what you are used to during your work day. Maybe it's something creative - painting, drawing, even one of my favorites - coloring books! Maybe it's active - a new physical activity or sport. Some other ideas: Read a book on a new topic you are not familiar with, gardening, crafting. Find something that allows you to stay away from your phone and other devices and doesn't tempt you to multi-task.

Becoming self-aware of your behaviors if the first step, then you must create a plan to do something about it.

Drop me a line and let me know how you are finding focus now (or plan to) in our distracted world.


Holly B.


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