Our inability to concentrate can cost a lot: it’s expensive for organizations but also for individuals who get lost in a sea of distractions and become unable to focus on what ruly matters. Attention management can be an effective, impactful way to get our control back and to break the cycle of constant distraction.
Here are three concrete ways to can help you achieve attention management.
1. Control your environment
When it comes to fighting distraction, what once may have seemed extreme is now necessary. If you work in an open office, take some time every day to get your own work done in a focused, undistracted way. It’s true you can’t hide out for eight hours every day, but how about 15 or 20 minutes every hour? How about 60 to 90 minutes in the morning, and again in the afternoon?
When and for how long is up to you, but the point is that you need to do it. During these times, make it absolutely clear to colleagues that you don’t want to be disturbed. Be polite, but firm.
Close the door if you have one, and if people walk through it anyway, ask them to come back later. Otherwise, the closed door won’t mean anything. If you don’t have a door, wear headphones, put a sign on your desk (or your back!), or even just post red/yellow/green construction paper on your cubicle wall. Whatever you choose, you have to honor the boundaries you create. If you don’t, others won’t either.
2. Control your technology
Occasionally shut off your phone, or learn to use Do Not Disturb on your iPhone. When you silence your phone, make it really silent, not on vibrate. Besides when you decide to work on email, close your email client, work in offline mode, or change the settings to download email only when you click—and shut off all notifications. Do everything you can to be in control of the technology instead of letting the technology control you.
3. Control your own behavior
Here’s where it gets hard. Cutting out distractions may make us feel antsy, anxious, or downright uncomfortable. Start by setting a timer for short stretches of time, even 10 minutes, because you can do just about anything for 10 minutes. During this time, eliminate all distractions by controlling your environment and your technology: pick one thing, one single task, and close out everything else. Try meditation (even just two minute guided meditations) which can help with feeling frantic and distracted (there are many apps and podcasts to help with this).
Take some time every day or every week to go without technology completely. You’ve likely conditioned yourself into a state of constant distraction, but all of these behaviors will help you to rebuild your attention span and regain control over your focus.
The collateral damage of distraction goes far beyond productivity. A constant state of distraction and task switching is known to causes stress. Your attention and how you choose to direct it has a dramatic impact on your wellbeing.
Constant distraction makes it hard to be present in those moments that matter most in life. So the bottom line is that if you don’t control your attention, you don’t control your life.