It's Hard To Pay Attentio...
We're in the heart of the so-called "attention economy". Technology fights for our gaze as we fill any moment of boredom with likes, scrolls and swipes. Being stuck with our own thoughts is a thing of the past, today stimulation is always at hand. But among the pings and buzzes, it's not easy to get sh*t done.
Yep, we're plugged into distraction. Insta, Reddit, WhatsApp, a nostalgic Nu-Metal Spotify playlist, googling the origin of fig-rolls, or falling into a four-hour YouTube rabbit hole wondering how marble racing could be so addictive. There's a lot to take us away from what we should actually be doing.
This isn't to say enjoying a gif or two (or ten) is always a bad thing. However, hours of scrolling quickly add up, and we only have limited attention to give. Sometimes we need a deep focus, particularly with creative work.
After all, where we place attention determines who we eventually are. If you spend time reading spy-fiction, this becomes part of your life. If you follow sports, this is part of you. If you create motion graphics and develop animated characters, this is who you are. Where we allocate attention defines us.
So, what can you do to rebalance the distractions? Fight off the attention-hijack? How can you make your time, your time?
. . .
Well, it’s not easy shifting a habit - first, it takes a conscious recognition that any slight vibration has you reaching for your phone. An understanding that you are searching for dopamine (the hormone associated with our brains’ reward system) when we check the views on our Instagram story or likes on that Twitter post. After we notice our shifting attention, we can begin to question the importance of a distraction - “is this where my focus is best placed?”. Then it is simply a case of repetition and training the brain, just as you would train any other muscle.
Below are a few tips to help you regain attention, particularly useful when you have creative tasks at hand:
Take Control of Digital Distractions
There is no need to go cold-turkey, heck the internet can be an amazing resource for inspiration. However, giving yourself time away from notifications and endless feeds frees you to stay in your creative zone for longer.
A Stanford University study reported that people who digitally multi-task, overall perform worse and tend to remember less about what they’ve consumed than those concentrating solely on one task.
If you think this is you, there are a bunch of apps designed to alter your relationship with distracting media. Alternatively, you can try old-school methods like leaving your smartphone in another room, or turning on “do not disturb” mode while working with devices connected to the internet.
Then, at the end of the day give yourself half-an-hour to scroll to your heart's content, knowing you aren’t avoiding what really matters.
Incorporating exercise into your daily routine is an equally powerful way to train your brain. Researchers at the University of Illinois found physical activity significantly helps to build the brain’s ability to ignore distraction.
Exercise is the most primal mood improving activity. Through taking control of physical space and your body’s movements, it puts you in the moment. Physical activity also releases endorphins, the natural hormone known for positive effects on stress and anxiety.
Practice Prolonged Focus
Think of focus like sleep. We are best rested after a full eight-hour night, rather than multiple short naps. The more we practice attention, the better adapted we become to staying focused on important tasks.
A study from the University of Washington has shown that simply adding 15-20 minutes of meditation and mindful practices into your day can extend attention span, overall performance and happiness. And this can be applied beyond meditation, as long as you’re solely focusing on one given task. Think gardening, drawing, washing up, playing an instrument or just walking.
Managing distractions and staying focused is not easy. At Vidsy we’ve even designated a ‘deep focus’ zone with no noise, purely so people can dive into attention heavy tasks without distraction. Remember, with all things wellbeing, it’s about finding what works for you and tailoring habits to what you want to achieve.
Bonus: Congratulations if you got this far. Statistically only 20% of online readers make it through an entire article. You’ve managed to fight off the distraction for more than a few minu…
Original Illustrations by Duane - @madamolio 🦎