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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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

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Published on May 3, 2021

What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

How often have you had the experience of needing to make tough decisions that pull you in different directions? You go round and round in circles and, in the end, you either flip a coin or make a snap decision because you’re just too tired to think anymore. Or maybe, you simply put off reaching a decision indefinitely, which is sometimes easier than making a tough call.

Can you relate to this currently? If so, then you’re likely suffering from decision fatigue. Poor decisions are made not because of incapability but because arriving at one or more choices takes its toll—to the extent that it severely weakens our mental energy.

Now that we know what decision fatigue is, let’s explore the primary ways to combat it to enable a stronger mental state coupled with better decision-making.

1. Identify and Make the Most Important Decisions First

If you have a busy personal or work life where many tricky decisions are on the table every day, this can easily and quickly become overwhelming. In this instance, create mental space by initially laying out all situations and challenges requiring a decision. Use a basic software tool or write them down on paper—a notepad file or word document is sufficient.

Once you have your complete list, carefully pick out the most important items needing a conclusion sooner rather than later. Be mindful of the fact that you can’t treat everything as urgent or requiring immediate attention. There have to be some things that are more important than others!

Prioritize and Declare the Appropriate Options

Equipped with your most pressing items awaiting decisions, add another layer of scrutiny by prioritizing them even further. The result should allow you to identify, in order, your most urgent and important tasks without any conflicting priorities.

The last part of this exercise is to highlight all of the options to consider for your most important decision and work through them one by one. With the visual representation of options and most critical decisions out the way first, you’ll be able to think more clearly and prevent decision fatigue from subtly kicking in.

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2. Implement Daily Routines to Automate Less Important Decisions

“Shall I have a healthy lunch today?” “Should I wake up earlier tomorrow?” “What time should I prepare dinner tonight?”

As trivial as these questions appear to be, each one still requires a decision. Stack them on top of other straightforward everyday questions in addition to more significant ones, and things can start to add up unpleasantly.

Small or less important decisions can eat away at your time and productivity. When many other decisions need to be made in parallel, it can lead to decision fatigue. However, there’s a method to avoid this. It involves streamlining aspects of your life by automating repetitive decisions, and this drives the ability to make better decisions overall.[1]

It’s Your Routine—Control It to Create Time for Other Activities

Instead of having to decide multiple times per week if you should have a healthy lunch, create a daily routine sufficiently ahead of time by dictating what healthy food you’ll eat for lunch every day. In doing so, you’re putting that particular decision on autopilot. Your predefined routine commits you to a decision immediately and without hesitation.

Invest time into highlighting all of the trivial and recurring situations requiring decisions daily, then implement a collective routine that relieves the need for you to give them much thought (if any thought at all).

3. Put a Time Limit on Every Decision

Making complex or big decisions increases the risk of draining your energy. This is especially true if you struggle with the fear of making the wrong decision. The doubt and worry bouncing around inside continuously are enough for the majority of people to become fed up and exhausted.

To make good decisions, you need to be in the right position to act. A tactic to deploy is to essentially force yourself to act by setting a time limit on your decision-making process. What might seem a little daunting—given that it can create a sense of added pressure—actually provides clarity on when you need to conclude since you can see the end in sight.

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Grow in Confidence by Reducing Hesitation

After making the decision, it’s time to move on. You’ll feel good and build self-confidence knowing that you didn’t linger on the choices available.

Only consider revisiting a previous decision if something unexpected occurs that impacts it. If that’s the case, then follow the same process by ensuring you make the revised decision before a new deadline.

4. Seek Input From Other People—Don’t Decide Alone

There’s a time and place to make decisions alone, but sometimes, it’s appropriate to involve others. If there’s any degree of struggle in reaching a verdict, then seeking opinions from people in your network can lessen the mental burden of indecisiveness.

Do you feel comfortable seeking input from other people to help make decisions? Trust and feeling secure in your relationships are crucial to answer “yes” to this question.

Explore the Thoughts of Others and Gain a Different Perspective

An insecure business leader likely won’t trust their team(s) to help them make decisions. On the other hand, an assured and secure business leader realizes they don’t “know it all.” Instead of going solo on all work-related decisions, they install trust among their team and get the support required to arrive at the best possible decisions.

The ability to make a great decision can depend on the information related to it that’s at your disposal. When faced with a difficult choice, don’t be afraid to lean on the relevant people for help. They can offer valid alternatives that are otherwise easy to overlook or hold the key to you making a well-informed decision.

5. Simplify and Lower the Number of Available Options

You’re standing in the store, facing an aisle of more than 20 varieties of peanut butter. You have no idea which one to choose, and although there are subtle differences, they all look fairly similar. No doubt you’ve been in this situation at least once in the past (maybe with a substitute for peanut butter!).

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This is a classic example of having too many choices—an event that makes you prone to decide to do nothing or waste time by continually pondering on which product to buy.

According to the psychological concept known as choice overload, simply having too many options can be disruptive and overburdening, causing decision fatigue.[2] Using the example above, you might make the easiest choice of avoiding any further thought, which often results in the purchase of the wrong item.

Extract Meaningful Information and Evaluate Options With a Binary Outcome

To simplify and lower your range of options, leverage the information available and extract what’s most important for you to make a decision. Is it the price? The protein content? Whether it has sustainable packaging or a combination of multiple details?

Keep a tight lid on having too many important components. Prioritize if necessary, and implement a binary outcome (of “yes” or “no” / “true” or “false”) to help arrive at decisions earlier, such as defining a limited price range that the product must fall within.

6. Eliminate Unnecessary Distractions

Arguably, attention is the currency of the modern world. The ability to concentrate better than the next person can mean the difference between a successful student, a thriving business, a happy parent, and a great decision-maker.

So, how can you improve your attention span to make better choices and avoid decision fatigue? There are many strategies, and one of the most optimal ways is to eliminate distractions. Today, the easiest distractions are a result of technology and the devices running it—all of which are at your fingertips 24/7.

Create Extended Periods of Time to Increase Focus

These distractions might be small or large, but the broader issue is the frequency of them, and they repeatedly cause a break in your focus. Dealing with this while trying to make the right decision can be mentally debilitating.

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Technology distractions commonly relate to email, instant messages, push notifications from mobile apps, and scrolling through social media feeds. Access to all of these technologies and tools must be limited to scheduled time blocks (ideally, using a calendar if it’s during a working day).

Switch off notifications entirely to all of the above to prevent distractions (where possible) when it’s not time to look at them. This enables you to think more deeply and focus for prolonged periods of time, ultimately boosting the chances of making good decisions.

Final Thoughts

Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon that can deplete energy levels and increase stress. It can affect anyone who has to make decisions, whether they are minor or major ones.

Overcoming decision fatigue needs patience and dedication. By applying the best practices discussed in this article, you’ll be on the path to implement valuable changes. These changes will increase your productivity, as well as drastically improve your consistency and ability to make the right choices.

More About Decision Fatigue

Featured photo credit: Jake Melara via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] FlexRule: Decision Automation
[2] Behavioral Economics: Choice Overload

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