We’re bombarded by millions of messages a day, and we can only focus our attention on a few of them before our brain explodes. OK, the brain exploding bit is a lie, but sometimes at the end of the day, my brain actually hurts. When I’m like this, I know nothing is going to stick and I may as well shut it down. These days, everything (and I mean everything) is built to grab your attention and hold it for as long as possible. Big brands want you to hang out on their site all day or watch back-to-back movies so they can sell, sell, sell. Attention = money, people. Hence the beeping.
I work from my office at home in my PJs most days. I love not having to commute every morning on public transport and not being chained to my desk. But if I’m really honest, I love working from home because I can get shit done without being interrupted. Yes, I love a good gossip in the tea room and the ability to work with others on interesting projects, but let’s be honest: who can really focus at work? Certainly not me. So you can see why I thought I was one of the luckiest people in the world until the beeping started.
Last Tuesday I was working hard when I noticed something was beeping. I figured it would go away but after 10 minutes I could still hear it. So I decided to investigate. I stepped into my lounge room and looked around. At that moment my printer beeped to let me know it was going back to sleep (I had printed something earlier) so problem solved. I went and sat back down. Then I heard the beeping again.
This time I hovered outside my laundry. My washing cycle had just finished so my washing machine beeped to let me know. I hung out my washing and got back to work. But after a minute I realised I could still hear the beeping. And then my doorbell rang. I collected my parcel and as I was opening it I put the kettle on and got a snack from the fridge. Before I could finish getting the wrapping off, my phone got a series of messages – I was notified by the succession of beeping. So I went to find my phone.
After finding it, I got distracted by the texts and started working again, but my concentration was broken when I heard the beeping, again. Getting frustrated at this point, I went to look out my kitchen window, which is when I remembered I’d boiled the jug and it was reminding me to make my cup of tea with flashing lights and more beeping. Tea in hand, and halfway back to my office, I heard the beeping again. I retraced my steps and realised it was my fridge telling me I’d left the door open. So I closed it and went back to my office.
Finally, I can get some work done. But not so quick, I could still hear the annoying beeping. Just as I was about to get out of my chair, again, my computer woke up and I realised one of the sites I was on had the instant customer chat at the bottom of the page, which beeped every time a message was entered into the chat. And apparently, it makes sense for a computer-generated message asking “how can I help you?” to be sent every five minutes.
Unable to concentrate at this point I decided to shut my computer down and go for a walk. As I left my house I noticed a van parked outside. Turns out it was this removalist truck that had been beeping for the last 30-odd minutes. I thought: “You’re kidding me?” Thanks to the numerous disruptions, I got about one hour of solid work done across the whole day. And while this particular Tuesday was filled with more disruptions than most, I know this is how most of us get through each day. You only need to substitute my washing machine for a meeting, the postman for a colleague asking a question and my fridge for a email reminder to see that working from home is no different to working in the office.
No matter where we are, we’re constantly fighting off seemingly pointless distractions and wondering “where has the time gone?” From my experience, the important thing is to acknowledge which distractions you’re creating for yourself (because you’re bored or hungry) so you can remove them, and which things deserve your attention (family or productive meetings) so you can decide when to focus on them.
They say we now have attention spans of only a few seconds. Yet, we can watch an entire season of Games of Thrones in one binge session? (I’ve done this more than once.) You know what this tells me? Where we spend our attention is totally our choice. So while everything is fighting for our focus, time and energy, it’s up to us to choose whether we buy into the attention economy. And despite all the doom and gloom we’ve been spoon-fed by the media (you know the one who wants to control our attention?!) my money’s on us buying back our self-control.
So how do you survive the attention economy when everything is beeping at you? Here are my seven tips.
1. Turn it off
This applies to everything: your phone, washing machine and your Facebook notifications. You can’t be tempted to scroll away time if you keep distractions out of reach.
2. Do one thing at a time
Remember: you’re not the multi-tasking queen, you’re the get shit done queen. Allocate important tasks time slots and do them at the same time each day.
3. Limit your screen time
A couple of hours a day is enough to get through your important emails, share cat memes and watch an episode of your fav TV series.
4. Get outside
It’s funny how a light walk in the sun can reduce stress and help you focus on your surroundings in a matter of minutes.
5. Actively listen
I find when I’m speaking with someone on the phone or face-to-face I can concentrate and take in what they are saying without being distracted. (Probably due to the fear of being an arse and looking like I don’t care.)
6. Know what holds your attention
If I’m feeling scattered I stop what I’m doing and practise my Thai. Or I bake something. I have no idea why (I’m sure there is a scientific explanation) but these activities require just enough brain power to re-focus my attention and make me feel engergised.
7. Buy things that don’t beep!
What are your tips for staying focused?
Featured image from Pexels.