This past Wednesday afternoon, my 9 year old son kept switching between two tasks.
- Writing a full page of a mantra praising Lord Shiva, a homework from our Sunday Hindu school. (He hated it)
- Reading 10 pages of the comic book, Calvin and Hobbes. (He loved it)
As he kept switching between writing and reading, I asked him why he was doing that. “To stay motivated and focused mom”, he said. I laughed so hard at his ingenuity that I had to keep myself from falling off my chair.
In reality, my son was using a well known focus tool called the “Pomodoro technique”. The idea behind it is to break down any large tasks into small timed intervals called Pomodoros. The intervals are separated by short breaks.
What is attention and why do we need it?
Attention is the characteristic of the mind being possessed by a singular task when there are several simultaneous stimuli in the vicinity. Attention is our ability to stay on a single task for minutes and hours at a time. Nope, we’re not talking about that single task of the endless scroll on Facebook.
We live in an attention economy. Companies like FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) are vying for our time and attention. In the end, we’re a product of what and who we pay attention to.
Why do we have trouble staying on task?
Most humans spend their days in conflict. Conflict to be in the moment, conflict to do something, conflict to stay someplace. We deeply conflict ourselves because our thoughts tell us that we have something else better to do, somewhere else better to be and someone else better to spend our lives with.
Preserving and growing your attention muscle:
With each morning’s promise, we all hope to save the day. And its possible, if we just start the day with an intention.
- Have faith that you’ll do what it takes to make this a productive day. Have trust in yourself that you will make this whole attention thing work.
- If you find yourself lost in thought or distracted, stop. Bring your attention momentarily to your toes, and the feel the sensation of your fingers.
- Create a reward system, tell yourself, “Just 10 minutes of this task and then I can get up to check my phone.”
- If you find yourself not focused at a task, stop. Make yourself a cup of tea. Sit still, smell the flavor, truly for a few minutes enjoy the break. Then, get back to work feeling refreshed.
- Listen to instrumental music in the background. Studies have shown that short symphonies with breaks in them actually help peak and arrest attention which in turn boosts productivity.
- Take care of your body and mind. Stay hydrated throughout the day. At night, commit to having a 7 to 9 hour sleep to repair, restore and rejuvenate your body.
- Use the Pomodoro technique that my son uses. Create small pockets of focus. Give yourself 5 minute, 10 minute challenges and gradually increase the limits. Motivate yourself with small wins and incentives.
- Meditate, meditate, OMG meditate: When you’re meditating, you’ll often get lost in thoughts. Don’t judge and admonish yourself but just get back to breathing, feeling your breath flow in and out of your stomach. Meditation helps catch yourself when you’re in your default thinking mode and quiets down your thoughts. That’s why its called meditation practice not meditation perfection.
Predict, Mitigate and Eliminate distraction addictions:
There are three ways we can deal with distractions. Because managing distractions is a huge part of maintaining our attention at the big projects of our life.
- Become self aware. Why don’t you stay on task? Is it boredom or difficulty? Is it the tedious task or is it the tempting screen that shows what’s next on Netflix?
- Take stock. Did you know today, an average person consumes 174 newspapers worth of information in day? Do you really need all that junk in your life?
- Step back and analyze all the tasks that have your undivided attention and those tasks where you’re struggling to keep your focus up.
- Have you been multitasking too much lately? Learn about attention residue and the cost of constantly switching tasks and its affects on personal growth and productivity. Are you doing deep work for long durations or doing shallow work for short durations?
- Set expectations with your friends and family. Communicate before hand that you’ll be out of pocket for a period of time. Create auto responders for emails.
- Save space in your brain by not having to remember small but important things that can wait. Use brain extending techniques.
- Treat yourself to sudden urges and instant cravings by creating a rewarding system. Tell yourself, if I can just hold off on that icecream craving just a little longer, I can enjoy it more peacefully because I’ll done with what I’m doing.
- Think ahead. Imagine the feeling of accomplishment you will feel once you’ve completed the task at hand. That sensation can be a huge motivator.
- If you’ve a tendency to procrastinate, understand why you’re falling victim to that. Is the project something you don’t understand or is it too time consuming? Either way, split it into manageable bite sized chunks and tackle it.
- Finally, don’t over think, just do it. There’s a reason why an enduring brand has it tag line after this concept.
- Control your environment. Take away the temptations. Remove any and all distracting stimuli around you. Remove apps that are the major distractors and remove easy access to them. Disable notifications for news.
- Don’t be enslaved to your phone. These powerful machines in our machines that we seem to have control over actually carry a lot of cyber dust with them.
- Avoid decision fatigue. It is a productivity killer. Stop making too many small decisions that constantly use up brain resources. Think of decisions as a limited number of marbles in a jar that you have for any given day. Use them wisely.
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