“Humans are the new low-attention span goldfishes, thanks to smartphones.” wrote Tim Denning in one of his articles.
The advertisement industry figured it out long ago. That is why the TV ads are less than eleven seconds.
Now the publishing industry is finding that thicker books don’t sell. A four hundred-page novel is considered as long as War and Peace. I, too, put books back on the shelf if they are too thick, thinking I don’t have time to finish it.
Today we are taking in much more information than when there were no computers or smartphones.
Emails, blog posts, social media, articles, newsletters, and ebooks have turned us into binge readers. We jump from one thing to another all day long, hardly leaving us any time to read quality books for an extended length of time.
The same goes with our To-Do Lists. The sheer number of tasks we have on our To-Dp Lists means that while we are doing one thing, we are also worrying about ten other things.
Add to that the interruptions by social media. No wonder our attention spans are decreasing dramatically.
Short Attention Span is not just limited to some.
The ability to focusing on tasks for any length of time without being distracted is much more widespread.
And the main cause for it is the kind of society we live in. Here are some statistics:
In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986 — the equivalent of 174 newspapers.
Even during our leisure time, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words, every day.
The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day as we watch an average of five hours of television daily, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images.
That’s not counting YouTube, which uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour.
And computer gaming consumes more bytes than all other media put together, including DVDs, TV, books, magazines, and the Internet.
The situation is not going to change.
The data around us will continue to grow. We will continue to be bombarded by thousands of stimuli each day. The distractions we face every day while working are not going to go away. Instead, they are going to increase while we are doing one thing.
The processing capacity of the conscious mind has been estimated at 120 bits per second.
Our brains are equipped to process the information, and it does so by separating the trivial from the important, but it happens at a cost. It makes us tired.
Tiredness leads to a shorter attention span.
So, what to do?
We need strategies to learn to survive.
Here is what you can do.
You don’t have to eat everything offered in the buffet.
We are living in times of excess. Unlimited food, unlimited clothes, unlimited books, unlimited movies, unlimited TV.
But you don’t have to consume everything.
Choose the books you want to read, clothes you want to wear, movies you want to watch and limit their consumption.
Limit your consumption by time.
Allocate 15 to 20 minutes to social media a day and don’t go over that. You will have to train yourself for that, but it is possible. The best way is to tag it to another activity that is limited.
I only check social media while having breakfast. When breakfast ends, so does my time to check social media apps. You might want to use your commute time or washroom time to check social media.
Set small goals
Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile barrier, using a simple strategy. He knew he could run a 400-meters race in under a minute. He just trained himself to run four 400-meters races consecutively.
You may not be able to focus on a task for twenty minutes straight. Start with five minutes of total concentration several times a day. Set a timer for 5 minutes, get a part of the task done, and take a break. Do another 5 minutes, Do another 5 minutes and build it to twenty minutes.
If you can’t find time to read books, read only ten pages a day. It takes only 10 minutes to read ten pages at average speed. If you can read for 10 minutes twice a day, you can finish a 300-page book in a fortnight.
Take a 30-day challenge.
When you do a task for 30 days in a row, your ability to do that task increases many folds.
Bodybuilders used this technique all the time. They do a small set of exercises every day to build specific muscles.
You, too, can develop your writing muscles by writing every day for a short period. That period could be as small as five minutes. Do it for 30 days in a row, and you will discover you can write much more in five minutes compared to when you started.
The reason for a low attention span is distractions and a lack of practice to control our minds.
Meditation is the single most beneficial exercise to enhance concentration. Even a five-minute session is enough to calm the mind. Start and end your day with five minutes of guided or self-directed meditation, and watch your attention span improves tremendously.
Our attention span is decreasing due to the amount of information we are getting bombarded with. Unfortunately, the situation is not going to get better. Rather it will get worse.
Our brains can process only a limited amount of information before it gets tired. Since information overload is not going to decrease, we have to develop our own strategies to function at the optimum level. Some of the strategies are:
- You don’t have to take everything in. Choose what you want to consume and choose wisely.
- Put time restrictions on information consumption such as social media. Tie it with some other activity such as commuting or having breakfast.
- Build concentration in small steps. Start with five minutes and build it to twenty minutes.
- Increase your skills and productivity by doing a task every day for 30 days.
- Learn to control and focus your mind through meditation. Start with five-minute sessions.