Staying focused and paying attention are basic skills necessary to excel and stay productive in study and at work. But we all have those moments when our minds begin to wander and suddenly we find ourselves scrolling non-stop through any social network instead of doing that pending research work.
According to a Microsoft study, humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. A gold fish can hold your attention for 9 seconds. That of the human being begins to decrease after 8 seconds. This should not surprise us considering the information overload we currently have. In this regard, a recent survey by the University of California estimates that we are bombarded with 34 gb of information per day.
This is double that of 30 years ago. "The Internet has made us very fragmented in the way we work," says Harriet Griffey, journalist and author of The Art of Concentration. The author also states "The digital generation considers that constant interruptions are normal and these days we hope to carry out multiple tasks, which spreads concentration and can be counterproductive".
Continuous Partial Care
Continuous Partial Care, or CPA, is a phrase coined by former Apple and Microsoft consultant Linda Stone. By adopting an ever-active behavior, anywhere and anytime, we are in a constant state of alert in relation to the world but never lending 100% to something in particular. In the short term, we adapt well to these demands, but in the long term, the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, create a state of psychological alert that is always looking for stimuli, causing a temporarily mitigated feeling of addiction when registering.
It is different from multitasking. The two are differentiated by the impulse that motivates them. When we do multiple tasks, we are motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient. We often do things that are automatic, requiring very little cognitive processing. We give the same priority to much of what we do when we multitask to be more efficient and more productive.
Paying continuous partial attention is paying continuous partial attention. It is motivated by the desire to be an alert node in the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively search for opportunities and optimize the best opportunities, activities and contacts at any time. It is being busy, being connected, being recognized and having importance.
Attention and Multitasking
With our intensive use of digital media, it could be said that we have taken multitasking to new heights, but in reality we are not multitasking; rather, we are rapidly switching between different activities. Adrenaline and cortisol are designed to help us through these bursts of intense activity. But in the long term cortisol can eliminate hormones that make us feel good, like serotonin and dopamine in the brain, affecting our sleep and heart rate and making us feel nervous. It would seem then that this physiological adaptation, promoted by our behavior, is a predominant reason for the low concentration that so many people suffer.
But this is, paradoxically, good news, as it gives us back the potential to change our behavior and regain brain function and cognitive health that has been disrupted by our digitally enhanced lives. Simply put, better concentration makes life easier and less stressful. Making this change means reflecting on what we are doing to sabotage personal focus, and then implementing steps toward behavior change that will improve our chances of concentrating better. This means deliberately reducing distractions and being more self-disciplined about our use of social media, which is increasingly urgent for the sake of our cognitive and mental health.
How to practice attention and concentration
We cannot go from a state of distraction to one of concentration, in the same way that most of us cannot fall asleep the moment our head hits the pillow. It takes a little time and with practice it becomes easier to achieve.
The 5 More Rule
This is a simple way to focus better. It goes like this: Every time you feel like quitting smoking or any other distracting activity, you only need to do five more. This may be five more minutes of reading, five more exercises, which will extend your focus. The rule pushes you a little beyond the point of frustration and helps you develop mental focus. It is a form of training as well as being a way of achieving something.
Staying still would seem like an easy thing to do. But it is more difficult than it seems. It is similar to meditation. In this case, however, simply put yourself in a comfortable and supported position, sit still and do nothing for five minutes. Use it as a pause between activities. Of course, if you already practice meditation, combine this with conscious breathing.
Take the environment into consideration
Your personal work environment plays an important role in your ability to concentrate. The more comfortable and cozy your environment is, the easier it will be for you to stay there and focus. Here are some ideas to improve your physical environment:
Make sure you are comfortable: Start by making sure that your chair and desk are at the right height so you can work comfortably. If your chair is too high or your desk is too low, you will feel uncomfortable and tempted to use this as an excuse to get up and walk away.
Put pictures: Seeing a natural scene or observing wildlife can help improve concentration. If you can place images in your study area, choose landscapes or natural images that you enjoy. This can help you focus, especially if you can see the images from your desktop.
Avoid distractions as much as possible: listening to music can help, especially if it is instrumental music. Some people even use "white noise" apps, which produce a constant, distraction-free sound, like ocean waves or falling rain. This constant background noise can drown out other noises, helping you focus better and ignore distractions.
Follow some simple nutritional tips:
Drink water: Many of us don't think about drinking water while we are studying. However, dehydration can make us feel tired, irritable, slow, or even sick. When our brain doesn't have enough fluid, it can't function at peak performance. Staying hydrated is an easy way to help improve your concentration throughout the day.
Eat breakfast: start the day with a healthy breakfast. It is much more difficult to concentrate when you are hungry, so eat a full meal before going to study. It can also help your concentration throughout the day by keeping healthy snacks on your desk. Almonds, whole grain crackers, fresh fruits, and vegetables are good options.
Get up and move: If you're like many people, you probably won't move enough. Research has shown that regular walking can help increase your concentration throughout the day.
Constant distractions, and the low productivity associated with these distractions, have become so common that doctors have even given it a name: Attention Deficit Trait or ADT. Follow some of these guidelines to help focus your mind:
Take time to deal with worries: Many of us have trouble concentrating during the day because we constantly worry about other things. If you are distracted by worries, write them down so you don't need to keep them in mind. Then schedule time to deal with these problems. Concentrate on one task at a time: It can be much more difficult to concentrate if you take minibreaks to answer emails, send text messages, or receive quick phone calls. Some researchers believe that it can take up to 15 minutes to regain full focus after a distraction.
Close your email inbox and Whatsapp: If you are studying at home, close the door of your place of study or put up a "Do not disturb" sign so that people know you need to focus. Switch between high-attention and low-attention tasks - this can give your brain a break after heavy concentration. For example, if you spend two hours working on a high-difficulty exercise, you will probably feel tired afterward. You can recharge your energy by working on a low-attention task, such as cleaning up a few notes before going back to exercise.
Prioritizing: Having too much to do can be a distraction, and this can sometimes cause delays. Or, you can quickly jump from task to task, creating the illusion of work, but in reality, you're not accomplishing much. If you're not sure which tasks to start or which ones are more important, take 10-15 minutes to prioritize your to-do list.
Take short breaks: We can be masters of focus, but eventually we will need a break. Our minds can struggle to focus intensely on tasks for eight hours a day. This is where it may be best to divide the work into one-hour segments, with a 5-10 minute break between tasks. This short break will allow your mind to rest before concentrating. Make your tasks more difficult when you are more alert: this will help you maximize your concentration. Promise yourself a reward: For example, set a rule that if you focus intensely for 45 minutes on a task, you can take a break for a cup of coffee when you're done.
Barragán, E. (2007). 1er Consenso latinoamericano sobre el trastorno por déficit de atención e hiperactividad. Grupo de expertos nacionales para el estudio del trastorno por déficit de atención e hiperactividad. México: Genpetdha
Campion, J. (1987I “Los sistemas conjuntos: el psicólogo, la familia y la escuela”. En: El niño en su contexto. La teoría de los sistemas familiares en psicología de la educación. Argentina: Paidos.
Condemarín, M., Gorostegui, M. y Milicic, N. (2005). Déficit Atencional: Estrategias para el diagnóstico y la intervención psicoeducativa. Chile: Editorial Planeta Chilena.