Newsflash! Your attention didn’t collapse. It was stolen (and what to do about it).
Is your attention span feeling the effects of the constant consumption of information?
You’re not alone.
With multiple forms of media and extremely busy schedules, we’re living through a serious attention crisis. After years of overconsumption, studies now find that office workers can only focus for three minutes at a time on average. It’s time to take on the forces that are stealing our attention and regain control of how we spend our time and energy.
The hosts of The Future Belongs to Creators podcast recently discussed how they are experiencing the impact of the attention crisis and the methods and tactics they use to avoid distractions and stay focused.
It’s not you, it’s society
If you’re feeling frustrated with yourself for spending too much time scrolling your feed, or picking up your phone every few minutes in the midst of an important task, don’t beat yourself up too much. This isn’t simply an individual problem unique to you, but a problem with the society we are living and working in.
Our phones, computers, and favorite media outlets, after all, are designed to keep us addicted to them.
Our mindset must shift from ‘I know I have the willpower to limit my time using this device’ to ‘my devices and the media are out to steal my attention, what strategies can I put into play to protect myself and my energy?’
We are very single-minded beings with limited cognitive capacity, we weren’t built for the massive media exposure we are experiencing daily.
Dr. Earl Miller, professor and neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explained that our brains are only capable of producing one or two thoughts in our conscious mind at once.
It’s clear that we have fallen for an enormous delusion when the average teenager believes they can follow six forms of media at the same time. This kind of multitasking that splits our focus and attention results in lower and slower performance.
Are you always on call?
Even outside of work, within our social or familial circles, we may feel pressure (or put pressure on others) to stay accessible and engaged on all of our devices. If we’re honest, most of us are guilty of assuming we have easy access to another’s attention, without even knowing what they are doing.
Aside from distraction, this pressure to engage can also bring on perpetual feelings of anxiety. No one wants to miss a timely text or emergency phone call, and no one wants to hurt someone’s feelings for not responding to them quickly enough. If this is something you can relate to, determine boundaries to help protect your mental wellbeing then communicate those boundaries to your friends and family. For example, an urgent matter or an emergency requires a phone call rather than a text message. A text message you can then assume is not time-sensitive.
Boundaries can help keep you focused and engaged in what you are working on without feeling like you will miss something important.
Being a creator in the attention-crisis era
What responsibility do creators who are publishing media to digital devices have in all of this? Are they aware of how they are stealing people’s attention? In order to have a successful career as a creator, is it necessary to be constantly adding to the noise?
Instead of publishing click-bait content that steals the attention of consumers, creators should focus instead on creating valuable content consumers are willingly giving their attention to. When audiences are intentionally absorbing content, that content will have a greater impact on them.
As a creator, your hope should be that when someone is consuming your content, they are fully engaged in it.
Content that helps an audience move forward within their goals is valuable, serves a purpose, and is worth giving attention to.
Getting into the flow
Getting into the flow is removing distractions and focusing on a single task. There are three key factors you need to get into the flow:
- Choose one goal. Flows take all of your energy deliberately in one direction.
- The goal you choose must be meaningful to you. It’s hard to put all of your energy into something you don’t care about. Distractions come easier when you aren’t even engaged with the content.
- It helps if what you are doing is at the edge of your abilities. Mindless tasks are easy to stray away from. Stay engaged by challenging yourself with a task that tests your abilities.
Creators can use this flow state while creating their content to ensure their audiences stay engaged and focused, therefore consuming meaningful content for them.
While a digital “detox” can be helpful for the time you are away from your devices, it acts more as a bandaid than a long-term solution. Detoxes are not sustainable and are not an answer to the large systemic issues.
Individual abstinence from our attention-stealing things is not the solution, for the same reason that wearing a gas mask outside isn’t the answer to pollution.
Consumption doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Rather than quitting cold turkey or submitting to the reality of the digitally-addicted society we now live in, consider a healthier third way. Be deliberate in what you surround yourself with while engaging with content, in your work, in a hobby, or in a conversation with loved ones.
There are ways to set yourself up for success and remove distractions. Whether that’s silencing phone notifications, setting boundaries with people around you, or leveraging technology like screen time limitation and/or focus apps.
As individuals, we must set anti-distraction boundaries and windows of focus for ourselves that hold us accountable. As for our role as creators in society? Let’s commit to being a bigger part of the solution than we are the problem.