What You’ll Learn Today:
- Why your time management problem is really an attention management problem and why your smartphone and other electronics are a big part of the problem
- The 4 reasons why distraction is your enemy and killing your relationships
- My top 8 tips and strategies for getting in charge of your attention management
- My top 5 mindful media tools
Learning to focus your attention is the key to feeling more efficient and less burnt out. And you can’t do that if you’re not aware of what you’re unknowingly doing that’s undermining your efforts. Believe it or not, your smartphone and similar electronics are one of the big reasons why it’s so difficult to get a handle on your day, your relationship and your time.
Distraction is the Enemy
Distraction is your enemy and you need to treat it like one. Being on your phone and similar electronics is distracting you from your life in four big ways:
- It kills your ability to be present.
- It leads to dopamine surges.
- Browsing the internet and social media also cause excessive comparison.
- Your phone and all this distraction prevents connection.
What you might not realize is that you’re making decisions a lot when you’re on your phone. Should I like this post? Should I comment or share? Should I read this article right now or wait? Should I look at my email? Should I answer this email now? If so, what should I say? Should I buy this sweater I’m looking at? You get the idea. There are literally hundreds of decisions (if not thousands) added to your day.
This all adds up to something called decision fatigue. You make your best decisions first thing in the day. As the day goes on, you get worn down and will often make the easiest decision (which is often not the best for you).
You Consume Decisions
All of these decisions can really be looked at as consuming. When you’re looking at social media, emails, and all things internet, you’re consuming.
Every day your consumption diet likely includes any of the following:
- Articles on web sites
- Status updates
- Online Shopping
All this excessive consumption results in multitasking and something called attention residue. You see, no one can multitask really because you need to stop thinking about one task in order to fully transition your attention and perform well on another. But the research shows that it’s difficult to transition your attention away from an unfinished task and your performance on the next task actually suffers because part of you is still thinking about the other thing you didn’t finish!
In the end, you end up with attention residue. This attention residue shows up in lots of ways. If you try to do something like sit and read a book after your attention has been jumping around for most the day, it’s hard to stay focused. You might find it difficult to stick with a project or paper you’re working on. You might find yourself being consistently forgetful or having trouble even staying on a small task (have you ever gone into the supermarket for two specific items but left with a bag full of groceries and at least one of those items missing?!)?!
Specific Tips and Strategies:
Attention Management is a skill, and like any skill, you need to practice. So, here are my top curated tips and strategies for becoming an attention management ninja!
- Start your day without electronics, at least for the first one to two hours.
- Avoid multitasking or task switching.
- Have true downtime.
- Plan your day the night before.
- Say “no” more often.
- Get rid of the toxic people in your life.
- My last general tip is about something called the attention currency paradox. I apologize because this is not my idea, but I don’t remember where I read this, but I loved it, so here you go!
So, whatever requires less of your attention costs more in terms of cognitive benefit, and what requires more of your attention costs you less! I want you to examine each day from a cost-benefit analysis. Are you spending the majority of your time on the things that require more attention, but cost you less (playing with your kids, reading a book, finishing that project, focusing on your workout) or are you spending more time on the stuff that doesn’t take much attention but is expensive in the end? (Things like spending time on social media, playing video games and watching three-minute YouTube videos).
Those are some general things to keep in mind, but I want to give you some specific mindful media consumption tips too that I’ve gathered from the literature:
- Treat the information you consume like the food you put into your body. How much of it is junk or empty calories?
- Setup a separate email address for newsletters or other inspirational things that come your way.
- Use Inbox Pause. This literally pauses email for whatever period of time you set.
- Use tools like Heyfocus, Freedom, and Rescue Time to block distracting sites.
- Keep a minimalist attitude about your desktop or iPhone home screen.
Resources and Links:
Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work