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Published on May 18, 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

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Dmitry Dragilev

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

How to Focus Better and Increase Your Attention Span How to Measure a Goal? (With Examples of Measurable Goals) 5 Learning Management Systems (LMS) for Effective Learning 10 Employee Engagement Ideas to Improve Teamwork 10 Essential People Management Skills Every Manager Needs

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Last Updated on June 3, 2020

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

Builds Workers’ Skills

Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

Boosts Employee Loyalty

Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

Strengthens Team Bonds

Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

Promotes Mentorship

There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

How to Give Constructive Feedback

Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

1. Listen First

Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

You could say:

  • “Help me understand your thought process.”
  • “What led you to take that step?”
  • “What’s your perspective?”

2. Lead With a Compliment

In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

You could say:

  • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
  • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

3. Address the Wider Team

Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

You could say:

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  • “Let’s think through this together.”
  • “I want everyone to see . . .”

4. Ask How You Can Help

When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

You could say:

  • “What can I do to support you?”
  • “How can I make your life easier?
  • “Is there something I could do better?”

5. Give Examples

To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

You could say:

  • “I wanted to show you . . .”
  • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
  • “This is a perfect example.”
  • “My ideal is . . .”

6. Be Empathetic

Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

You could say:

  • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
  • “I understand.”
  • “I’m sorry.”

7. Smile

Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

8. Be Grateful

When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

You could say:

  • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
  • “We all learned an important lesson.”
  • “I love improving as a team.”

9. Avoid Accusations

Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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You could say:

  • “We all make mistakes.”
  • “I know you did your best.”
  • “I don’t hold it against you.”

10. Take Responsibility

More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

You could say:

  • “I should have . . .”
  • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

11. Time it Right

Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

12. Use Their Name

When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

You could say:

  • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
  • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

13. Suggest, Don’t Order

When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

You could say:

  • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
  • “Try it this way.”
  • “Are you on board with that?”

14. Be Brief

Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

15. Follow Up

Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

You could say:

  • “I wanted to recap . . .”
  • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
  • “Did that make sense?”

16. Expect Improvement

Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

You could say:

  • “I’d like to see you . . .”
  • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
  • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
  • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

17. Give Second Chances

Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

You could say:

  • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
  • “I’d love to see you try again.”
  • “Let’s give it another go.”

Final Thoughts

Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

More on Constructive Feedback

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

Reference

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