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Making Peace with a Shrinking Attention Span


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Initial post: Apr 13, 2010 5:31:09 AM PDT
Xing Lu says:
Let's face it. Notwithstanding one of the principles of finding relevance is attention, it is a fact everyone's attention span (including my own!) is continuously shrinking. While meditation and awareness of the power of attention may significantly improve a mind which often fumbles due to lack of awareness of its inattention, and deepen the ability to intelligently focus exclusively on a task or action rather than mindlessly multitasking, we also have to acknowledge a relentless shortening of the period of time we can spend on a particular project or situation. It's a fact.

Although this is mostly a byproduct of the internet and its inherent information overload it isn't strictly a digital phenomenon. You may notice your attention span has shortened even when it comes to - for example - reading a paper news or magazine article (how many of you skip an article that is longer than two pages?), and while performing tasks at work.

You may notice, however, that interestingly enough it rarely happens while you are immersed in a good novel. Provided external distractions can be turned off, most of us can still get lost for hours while reading.

So what does this mean? Is the attention span related to information and activities. Is it related to the amount of external distractions we experience? Would focusing on a task be simpler if the internet explorer button weren't so immediately available, and emails didn't rush in continuously?

This is certainly a big part of what causes the problem and being aware of it helps tune in to our higher attention potentials. We can't however - and wouldn't want to - avoid being part of the digital age, which is so beneficial and empowering from a number of other perspectives.

What we can do, is to raise our level of awareness as to what are the limits of our attention span, and strive on the one hand to improve them, and on the other hand to learn to use that span of time in the most focused way possible. For example, if you know that your maximum focus attention span is 15 minutes, why not divide the task you need to perform into smaller bits that fit into that 15 minute block and schedule minor activities in between (phone calls you need to return? A small search you want to carry out on the internet etc).

I find that writing down a plan (or list of activities) for those flickering moments when attention to the main task fades is an incredibly useful way to make the most of my attention waves. It also helps focus back on the primary task: once the list of minor activities is finished and ticked off, a phone call returned, facebook checked and internet explored you have nothing left but to go back and refocus.
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Initial post:  Apr 13, 2010
Latest post:  Apr 13, 2010

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The Principle of Relevance
The Principle of Relevance by Stefania Lucchetti (Paperback - April 9, 2010)
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