As a freelancer or small business owner, you might consider your most important skill as being the one for which your clients pay you. Yet there’s a particular skill that is even more essential. It has a significant impact on your career’s destiny. The skill? A strong attention span.
Every day we are bombarded with distractions, from the moment we awake in the morning to when we go to bed at night. Our smartphones are continually sending us notifications with social media updates, news events, and friends’ latest gossip. There’s always an email to check, a fun video clip to watch, and a new photo to like.
In our modern technological era, with the whole world at our fingertips, distractions are in abundance.
Distractions and their impact on work
Yet while we have so much information to help us in our work and an unlimited number of new potential contacts with whom to communicate, this overwhelming choice can also destroy our productivity.
Productivity is essentially your ability to give full attention to one thing at any moment. The more you get done through focused work, the more billable hours you can complete and, usually, to a higher standard. Your best work often comes about from sustained focus on a problem and its solution.
In other words, you need distraction-free time to get into the zone.
When distractions plague your work hours, your mind is constantly flitting from one focus to the next. The brain never really dives deep into a problem. The result is a constant mad rush to complete tasks, a feeling of tension, and a reduction in your work quality.
Attention span strengthening
Thankfully, there’s a way out of this productivity black hole. By strengthening your attention span, you will inevitably get more work done. With a few simple modifications to your daily habits and a lot of determination, you can quickly expand your focus and remove time-consuming distractions.
Here are six effective ways to expand your attention span this week.
- Reduce technological distractions
With technology everywhere we look, it might seem an impossible task to truly disconnect. Yet spending just an extra hour or two a day away from technological distractions can have a subtle impact on our long-term ability to concentrate.
When possible, disconnect from everything tech. Put your smartphone away, turn the television off, place your laptop into sleep mode, and engage in a particular activity that requires focus for a set amount of time. This activity might be walking in a park, writing in a journal, playing with your children, reading a novel, or even things like knitting and crossword puzzles.
- Reduce constant social media checks
Similar to minimizing tech distractions, figure out ways to reduce your social media usage. Continually flicking between social media platforms seeking the latest updates and striving for likes or discussions can lead to a crash in productivity and decreased emotional wellbeing.
Turn off social media notifications completely. Make it your goal to check into social media just twice a day, for a set amount of time (twenty minutes perhaps). Set a timer to go off when you reach your time limit.
- Drink caffeine strategically
If you’re drinking caffeine regularly throughout the day, you might want to consider a more strategic approach. By doing so, you will heighten your attention span when it matters most, particularly before the essential tasks on your to-do list.
Some studies have found that drinking coffee mid-morning provides an optimal period of caffeine-induced focus. You may naturally feel a little sluggish as the morning progresses, so caffeine at this point offers a boost that continues through to the late afternoon. It’s also early enough to avoid sleep disturbances and plays to our natural bodily rhythms.
Eating the right food is also essential for increased productivity.
- Work harder but in shorter blocks of time
We’ve all heard of the Pomodoro Technique. It’s the time management system devised by Francesco Cirillo, where large work tasks are broken down into small intervals of intense focus. The technique is famous because it works.
When we see a long stretch of work before us, it’s easier to give in to distractions. It’s difficult for anyone to focus on the same task for hours at a time. Instead, strengthen your attention span by giving it a smaller and more realistic goal of 25 minutes of intense focus, followed by a five-minute break.
- Break through your comfort barrier
As humans, we are naturally averse to discomfort. We hate boredom and struggle through activities we find tedious or difficult. With so many tempting distractions a mouse click away – or in the kitchen nearby – pushing through long and dull tasks can feel daunting.
The answer is to make peace with boredom and actively push through discomfort. Practice sitting silently in meditation during rest breaks. Explore what happens in your mind and body as feelings of boredom arise. With practice, these moments of meditative exploration will positively influence your attention span and how you cope with your work schedule.
- Be close to nature
According to a 2014 study, office environments enriched by plants were more conducive to higher mental concentration levels than those without any greenery at all. Whether you work from home or in a studio, adding plants to the interior can help concentrate your focus.
In the same way, spending more time in nature improves overall wellbeing. If possible, take breaks during the day in a garden or by walking in a local park. These green breaks will give you extra focus when returning to your work tasks.
Health and happiness are key facets of a productive mind.
Working on your attention span
Strengthening your attention span is all about modifying certain behaviors over time. Consider how you can include just one or two of the tactics mentioned above in your business life.
The brain is remarkably quick to adapt to different habits, and within a week or two, you should notice improvements in your concentration. Over time, these habits build on themselves, and your ability to get more work done will become a lot more noticeable.
It does, however, take practice and persistence.