How do I: deal with low attention spans

When there are a lot of distractions going on, it is hard to retain anyone’s attention. So how do I deal with periods of time like this?

People are busy. So am I. If you want someone’s attention, ping them on a scheduled basis to see when you can schedule a short amount of time with them. Now is not likely the best time and you will quickly realize that when asking for their time.

Scheduling short meetings will help retain more focus and attention than hour (or longer) droning meetings. Imagine if you cut the chatter out completely and limited meetings to 15 total minutes or 30 total minutes. The people who need to make a point will get to it much faster than during a 1 to 2 hour meeting.

Need a 5-minute buffer between calls for a breather, a bathroom break or to get a beverage? Add the 5 minutes to your schedule and cut the meeting to 25 minutes instead. Emphasize that hard stop time in the beginning of the meeting. Give a reminder when all of you have 5 minutes left and hold to the scheduled end time as if it was your religion. Need more time? Schedule another block of time in the future. Make sure to get to points you need to cover and add those to a meeting agenda beforehand as a prequel for everyone to prepare as needed.

Now imagine if only the people who need to be there are invited and everyone starts on time regardless of stragglers or late people (no matter how important they might be). Record the decisions made and email it to people who need to know. If decision-makers are not there, no sense in being in the meeting at all. Just reschedule. If decisions don’t need to be made, email the update, and don’t waste time with a meeting. If you need to verbally tell lots of people something, video record it and send it to them. Fewer distractions. More focus. This is easier when everyone is remote and you don’t have to waste time walking to any meeting room or waiting for it to clear out from the last meeting. I don’t miss the useless office.

This goes for home life too. Schedule time with your loved ones as well as friends and be clear when they get your scheduled attention. They will hold you to it since it should work for all parties or reschedule.

If you notice your metrics (social media traffic, website traffic, emails directed personally to you) drop significantly, it will be noticeable and it often happens seasonally. For example, the last week of the year or just before a major holiday or during the last weeks of an election, don’t expect anyone’s attention nor true focus. Their mind is elsewhere. Schedule a time afterward.

If you do find the time, focus, and ideas to work on, take that less disrupted time to work on self-assigned projects that mean something to you.

Shiny objects will keep appearing. Everyone is out to steal your attention away from you. Guard your time by ruthlessly filtering out distractions that you have no control over. Realize what you do and don’t control among the many things that take your attention and time away from you. What do you want to do with your own time and attention?

How do I: reset focus

focus on target

 

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Focus is important when you are trying to get something done. We can easily get distracted. How do we maintain focus? How do we reset our focus on target once we lose it?

I find my focus and my happiness are closely linked because I track these nightly as an exercise in noting and journaling. If you have smart goals and you are goal-oriented, you might notice the same. If you are not focused on the tasks that need to be accomplished toward your goals, it almost hurts.

Indistractable author Nir Eyal wrote that time management is closely tied to energy management (having the energy when we need to do something) as well as pain management (when we do things we need to even though we don’t want to).

So how do we reset our focus from dis-traction back to focused traction? Here are many of the things I do to reset my focus and regain focus needed:

Manage your time

To manage your time, schedule your time with one online calendar that follows you wherever you go. Not you going to your calendar to check what is on it. On your mobile phone is ideal. I happen to use Google Calendar that seamlessly appears on my laptop and phone. Noting in your calendar what you need to be doing when and for how long is a big help. Having it all online makes it accessible and flexible as things change so you and your calendar can adapt quickly to any change. If I need to do something later, I move it as needed.

Having one online calendar, just one, is key. I only have one set of 24 hours per day to manage, not several sets of 24 hours.

Be specific when noting what needs to be done in your online calendar. “Write book” is not specific enough, however “draft TOC for new book on [topic XYZ]” between 8am and 9am on Tuesday” work better as a doable smart task.

Breakdown a large project or tasks into a series of smaller more manageable tasks that are actually doable in a small time frame like an hour.

Schedule your own time or get your time scheduled for other people’s activities.

Take breaks

Some companies have scheduled hourly stretching breaks that help minimize aches, pains and workforce injuries. Even if you are stationed at a desk for hours, stretching and doing a few floor exercises each hour can help your mind and body.

Taking a walk outside is very beneficial to reset the mind in any weather provided you are dressed and prepared for it. Walking meetings are good as long as the slowest person is leading upfront to set the pace of the walk.

Exercise

30-minutes of walking, biking, or swimming are great resets and gets the endorphins flowing. I don’t run, but you can if wish. I walk faster than most people jog. This keeps my heart rate lower, endurance higher, and furthers distance.

I will walk on the beach, at a wildlife refuge or my neighborhood for 15-30 minutes one direction (with a timer on to have me turn around and return when it rings). I will walk while listening to a podcast I have not heard before like Distributed, Tim Ferriss Show, Masters of Scale,  or an audiobook in one ear while still being able to hear the ocean waves in the other ear is extremely stimulating for ideas.

Note taking

Note-taking of those ideas on a mobile phone is the easiest so the notes are already in electronic form for digital repurposing, even if I email myself the notes. I loathe paper and avoid it like… a virus. Regardless of our age, ideas are fleeting, so capture ideas when they are at the top of your mind before the idea clutters your mind or even worse, you lose that idea. Email links or ideas with a note of context to a friend that would find them helpful and relevant to them. Even if the note is for your own consumption, email it to yourself with some context that you can lookup and find again in the future using some keywords. Getting content out of your head will lighten the load on your mind so you have less burden on your memory and fewer nagging thoughts. ABC = Always Be Capturing

Declutter your environment

If you become really frustrated and unfocused, take a look at your work environment or living space on what needs to be decluttered. We all have a pile of things to clean up  and /or declutter somewhere somehow. Refocus your energy to cleaning up and decluttering that space wherever it is. Get it done. Check it off your list.

Eat and drink well

Notice that eating well and drinking enough water are very key to having the energy needed for focused work. Headaches go away when properly hydrated. If you get a headache, try rehydrating before medicating the issue.

You will notice about an hour afterward if you did not eat or drink well. Note what you ate and/or drank so you can track your reactions to it in your online calendar.

Mediate

Occasionally, I will mediate using the Headspace app for 10 minutes. The app has options to mindfully work on your focus.

Reward yourself

Once you refocus and get things done, reward yourself. I schedule an on-demand film to watch if I accomplish what I wanted done that day. If I did not get things done, I reschedule the reward to later when I believe it will be done and schedule something else that needs doing that night. Some serve themselves a small snack to replenish the energy they need to do the next thing on their calendar.

Breathe

If all the above are not options for you, try box breathing which can be done to feel the effects about one minute, but longer works even better. It calms you, purposely slows the breath, and that helps reset the brain. Simply breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath in for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, hold no breath for 4 seconds, and repeat. Easy and works anywhere, for any situation in 16-second cycles. We take our breathe for granted until it is compromised and then it is too late.

How do you reset your focus?

Questions?