Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on December 8, 2020

How to Focus Better and Increase Your Attention Span

How to Focus Better and Increase Your Attention Span

Can you remember the last five articles you read? More importantly, do you remember how they ended?

Studies show that a reduced attention span is formed and enhanced by companies like Facebook & Google, SnapChat, and their peers[1]. Instead of relying on expensive marketing, they link their services to our daily routines and emotions.

What do you do when you feel a tad boredDo you instantly open Twitter or Instagram? 

Today, tech companies can profoundly change our behavior by guiding us through a series of hooks. The hooked model was developed by Nir Eyal in his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products , typically consists of four phases:

1. Trigger

Imagine a friend of yours is uploading a picture to Instagram (external trigger). You see it and click on it. Over time you form an internal trigger, which you attach to your behavior or emotions. 

2. Action

You like the post. Maybe you click on it and see the whole album of your friend’s holiday. 

3. Variable Reward

You’ll see more pictures of your friend. You don’t know what you will see when you scroll down your feed. Many pictures, status updates, and ads may bore you to death, but there are some rare gems that you really enjoy (or hate).

4. Investment

Finally, you leave a comment on the picture, and you don’t know if your friend will reply or like your comment. 

When you invest time and effort into an app, it’s more likely that you’ll pass through the hooked cycle again in the future, which will reduce your ability to focus. 

Advertising

How to Stay Focused and Increase Your Attention Span

If you are wondering if you can learn how to focus and increase your attention span, you want to inject awareness before you form negative habits.

1. Be More Aware of Your Actions

For this, a simple approach developed by Martin Boeddeker to overcome our internet addiction[2] works to respond to the reason for your reduced attention span and increase your focus.  

How far away is your mobile phone right now? Most people are within one arms length away from their phones 24/7.

In one experiment[3], researchers found that anxiety levels of many people increase drastically after just 10 minutes of not being able to use their phone, and their level of anxiety continued to decrease in the next 60 minutes as well.

Another study[4] points out that “simply the presence of a cell phone and which it might represent (i.e., social connections, broader social network, etc.) can be similarly distracting and have negative consequences in a social interaction.”

Rightfully, Larry D. Rosen commented on this experiment in his book The Distracted Mind:

“If the presence of a mobile phone can negatively affect social connections and feelings of closeness during a short conversation with a stranger, what does that imply about how it can impair our real relationships?”

2. Write Down the Things that Distract You

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with tasks and unable to focus, keep a little piece of paper and a pen/pencil with you and write down the things you check often, putting a mark next to those things each time you check them[5].

If you use this technique of noting when you use your cell phone you raise your awareness. That’s the first step to increase your attention span.

Advertising

If this does not work for you, there are several apps and softwares you can download that will track your usage of various websites, helping you to see where you’re spending your time. 

The goal is to get you an accurate picture of the distractions taking your focus from the important tasks in front of you. 

The best way to work on your attention is to raise your awareness, notice when you get distracted, and create a mental pause for just one second.

During this mental pause, simply ask yourself, “Am I distracted again, and why?”

Try to catch yourself as often as possible when you get distracted. This will tremendously help in your pursuit of increasing your attention span. If you find this difficult, try working with meditation for five minutes each day. This will increase your awareness of your thoughts, which can help you identify when your mind wanders.

3. Reduce Proximity and Exposure by Design

Ideally, you want to reduce proximity to all kinds of distractions that will lower your attention span by changing your environment.

This will reduce the need to use willpower or to “remember it.”

It’s the same for losing weight and changing your eating habits where it’s recommended to throw out all tempting junk food.

That’s why the best way to increase your attentionspan is to reduce your proximity and exposure to your smartphone. This will remove most of the triggers that start the hooked model. 

Advertising

To do this, simply start by putting your cell phone in another room while you’re working. It will likely be difficult at first, but after a few hours, you likely won’t even remember that you don’t have it.

4. Delay Discounting

Delay discounting is a trick that Kelly McGonigal presents in her book The Willpower Instinct. It is also a mind hack recommend by behavioral scientists.

Researchers found that the longer you have to wait for a reward (e.g. checking Instagram or Twitter), the less it is worth to you[6].

Your brain chooses immediate gratification at the cost of future rewards because immediate rewards trigger the old reward system in your brain. 

To increase your attention span and delay gratification, the prefrontal cortex has to be forced to cool off the promise of the reward. Therefore, even small delays can dramatically lower the chance that you distract yourself.

It only takes a moment of resistance to stay focused. As soon as there is any distance between you and the temptation, the rational part of your brain takes over and it becomes easier to stay focused.

How to Inject a Small Pause

Put your smartphone on airplane mode and put it into another room or into a drawer.

Take note of which apps you use most often. Is it Instagram? Facebook? Youtube? Quora? Twitter? 

You know what your digital kryptonite is. 

Advertising

Ideally, when you feel the urge to check something, pause for just one second.

During this pause, simply ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this, and why?”

While this will help dramatically, you’ll see a real breakthrough when you don’t use willpower to “remember it” but to use apps to change your environment.

To do this, try the following:

Step 1: Identify Potentially Addictive Apps on Your Phone

Action Step

  1. Write down the apps that you want to use on a piece of paper.
  2. Rate the addictiveness of these apps on a scale from 1 to 10.

Use these 3 questions as guidelines to decide which websites and apps to use: 

  • What’s the best possible outcome if I stop using this app?
  • What’s the worst possible outcome if I stop using this app?
  • What’s the most likely outcome if I stop using this app?

Step 2: Block Everything That Increases Your Internet Addiction

Action Steps:

  1. Delete every app that is potentially addictive from your phone.
  2. Download apps like AppDetox and add times for apps that you have to use less often but cannot delete completely.
  3. Download the app AppLock for Android to block the play store and your internet browser.

Step 3: Prepare for Emergencies with the Password-Photo-Hack

Action Steps:

  1. Take a photo of a complicated password.
  2. Use this password in the AppLock-App.

This will force you to look at the photo and write down the complicated password with a pen and paper when you want to access a specific app or website. 

Final Thoughts

In today’s world of constant contact with technology and social media, pausing to reflect on the way we use it and how it affects our focus and attention span is more important than ever. Analyze your distractions and act on them in order to find your focus and complete more of your important tasks.

More Tips on Learning How to Focus

Featured photo credit: David Sager via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dmitry Dragilev

Single-handedly grew a startup from zero to 40 million page views, Dmitry is a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs.

How to Measure a Goal (With Examples of Measurable Goals) Is It Possible to Repay Your Sleep Debt? Why Being Well Rested Matters How to Focus Better and Increase Your Attention Span 5 Learning Management Systems (LMS) for Effective Learning 10 Employee Engagement Ideas to Improve Teamwork

Trending in Focus

1 7 Ways to Concentrate Better in a Toxic Work Environment 2 Why You Can’t Focus and 20 Things You Can Do to Fix It 3 How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus 4 How To Get Rid Of Your Social Media Addiction 5 How To Create A Daily Schedule To Organize Your Day

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on March 4, 2021

7 Ways to Concentrate Better in a Toxic Work Environment

7 Ways to Concentrate Better in a Toxic Work Environment

Many of us have had the misfortune of working in a toxic work environment, where the atmosphere in the workplace is filled with negativity and politics. It’s unpleasant and can lead to stress, anxiety, and a more negative outlook on life.

Many years ago, I found myself working in a small country house hotel and restaurant with a team of great front-of-house people who worked well together, but with a newly installed kitchen team that saw front-of-house employees as the enemy. They wanted to create conflict where there previously was none.

The kitchen team was led by a highly respected head chef who was a minor celebrity TV chef, and when he joined our hotel, he insisted on bringing in his own team. This meant the existing kitchen team was fired, almost without notice, and overnight we were dealing with a team of strangers.

At first managing this negative work culture was easy; we just stayed out of the kitchen as much as possible. But then one day, the general manager of the hotel left, and he was replaced by the head chef. From then on, it felt like open warfare.

In less than a week, a workplace that was a pleasure to go to turned into a nightmare. I remember driving to work with a feeling of dread, bordering on fear. I wasn’t sleeping well, I smoked a lot more, and I had this constant, horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, even on days when I was not working.

I remember one evening after we had finished a shift, and all the customers and kitchen team had gone home, sitting down with a colleague to talk about the situation. I was fortunate as my colleague was a little older and wiser than I, and he had a forward-looking, philosophical attitude to life. He taught me that no matter the environment you are working in, if you focus on doing your best work every day, and avoid getting caught up in the politics, you can rise above it.

Looking back now, I am glad I experienced this culture. I learned a lot about how to deal with negativity in a toxic work environment, and the lessons I learned then still help me today.

What Causes a Toxic Work Environment?

A toxic work environment can come about in many ways, but poor communication is often at the root of it. This may include a lack of communication between the boss and the employees regarding roles and expectations, or a lack of communication between coworkers that leads to misunderstandings and resentment.

Advertising

Poor leadership is another common culprit. If a workplace lacks a good leader, it can lead to a chaotic workplace or one where everyone looks out for only themselves instead of working together. In my case, the head chef favored one set of employees, making it difficult for the other set to enjoy their work.

If a workplace has little opportunity for growth or learning, it can also turn toxic. When workers feel stagnant, they can experience the effects of burnout and boredom, which can cause other coworkers to feel less motivated to do their work well.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage your mindset in a toxic work environment.

How to Concentrate in a Toxic Work Environment

Here are seven lessons I learned from experiencing two years of working in a highly toxic work environment.

1. Don’t Get Sucked in

We are faced with a choice in a toxic work environment. You can react to the negativity and become part of the problem, or you can rise above it. Rising above it involves not being provoked. Allow the negativity to pass over you.

Instead, focus on doing the best work you can. When you arrive at work, start your day.

If you are in sales, focus on being the best sales person. If you are in administration, focus on making sure you do your work accurately and in a timely way. If you are a bar manager (as I was), make sure your bar is clean, stocked, and open for business when the first customer comes in.

Don’t give the negative influences and passive aggressive coworkers an excuse to attack you. When you see negative energy coming your way, pause, identify the emotions that are surfacing, and let them pass.

Advertising

This, of course, can be easier said than done. For a little extra help, check out Lifehack’s free guide: End Distraction And Find Your Focus.

2. Become a Beacon of Positivity

Often a toxic work environment is caused by workplace bullying. When you see this happening, become a rock of support for the person or people experiencing these attacks to help them feel safe and heard. Be nice, attentive, and understanding. If you see your colleague make a mistake, quietly fix the mistake or gently point it out.

Never attack or be negative. Instead, be a good listener, offer support, and take your attacked colleague out for lunch and give them the space to talk things through.

If there are signs of a toxic workplace, having a non-judgmental colleague who offers support, an ear to listen, and kindness applies an antidote to the stress, upset, and fear[1].

Surviving a toxic work environment

    3. Have a Plan

    The best way to stay away from the negativity is to have a plan for the day. How will you start the day? What tasks will you accomplish by the end of the day?

    Having a plan for the day takes your focus away from the toxicity around you and puts your focus on doing your work.

    For me, I made sure the first task I did when I arrived at work was to clean my bar and make sure my fridges were stocked. I did not want to give an excuse to the unpleasant members of the team to attack me. My purpose every morning was to set an example, to be ready for when the diners came in. And when the diners did come in, I gave them my full, undivided attention.

    Advertising

    This focus on my plan for the day kept me away from the politics. It gave me a positive purpose and enabled me to stay above what was going on around me.

    If you’ve lost your motivation while working in a toxic environment, you can check out this Lifehack Fast-Track Class to get back on track: Activate Your Motivation

    4. Stay Away From the Toxic People

    This is often easier said than done. Sometimes, the toxic people in your organization are your bosses and are unavoidable. However, in most workplaces today, there are quiet corners where you can get on with your work when you see the red flags of a hostile workplace.

    Working in an open-plan office can leave us at the mercy of disruptive colleagues and bosses, but if you can find yourself a quiet corner where you can get your head down and do you work, you will, for the most part, stay away from the negative forces working around you.

    When you “hang out” with the toxic people, they will drag you into their toxicity. Quietly and calmly explaining you have a lot of work to get on with and moving to a different place leaves you less vulnerable to their negative influence.

    5. Talk to Your HR Department

    This is one where you need to be careful. You do not want to make accusations or get involved in a blame game when you’re in a toxic work environment. Instead, you want to explain to your HR department that you find it difficult working with a particular person or team[2], and that it’s beginning to negatively affect your personal life.

    Where possible, make it out that this is your fault, not theirs—you do not want to make things worse for yourself. Explain that for you to do your work, you need to be moved somewhere else so you can concentrate and be more focused.

    In a toxic work environment, you will find your HR team is likely fully aware of the problem and will understand your request and do whatever they can to accommodate you.

    Advertising

    The worst thing you can do is ignore the problem. If the situation is preventing you from doing your work, you need to have that conversation with HR, or if you do not have an HR department, your boss.

    You can learn more about when to go to HR or your boss here.

    6. Listen to Music

    Buy yourself some headphones, not earphones. This is a trick I use on airplanes. Sometimes I want to be left alone to think, read, or just be left with my thoughts. Having my headphones on stops my fellow passengers from interrupting me with questions about what I do, where I’m from, and where I’m going.

    In a toxic work environment, wearing headphones achieves the same result. When we see someone with a pair of headphones on, we automatically leave them alone unless we urgently need to ask them something.

    Whether you actually listen to music or not is less important. The wearing of headphones prevents interruptions and allows you to quietly get on with your work.

    7. Work From Home

    With the current global pandemic, the ability to work from home is more accessible than ever before. Being able to stay outside your toxic work environment will allow you to focus on your work and not on what is going on around you.

    If you do have the option to work from home, then do so for your mental and physical health. One thing I learned is that the people causing the toxic environment do not last long in a company, and the turnover rate is quite high. They either move on by their own accord or are fired or moved to another position where they can cause less harm.

    Final Thoughts

    I have intentionally not suggested that you leave your job, but if you do find yourself feeling stressed and fearful, then the best advice would be to find another company. Nobody should work in a toxic work environment, and if you have taken all the necessary steps to resolve the issue with your company and nothing changes, then you should take steps to leave.

    I understand this can be very difficult, particularly with a complicated job environment and toxic employees around you, but the harm to your health and wellbeing is not worth it. If you need the income, then start looking for a new job and work life. The good news is most companies do not have toxic work cultures, and with a little effort, you should be able to find a new job.

    More on Dealing With a Negative Workplace

    Featured photo credit: Siavash Ghanbari via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next