Photo: georgerudy via 123RF

Do you find it difficult to complete or stay focused on tasks requiring extended periods of dedicated attention? If that were the case, you wouldn’t be alone in this struggle. With the ubiquity of wireless devices and social media, more people find maintaining and controlling their concentration challenging. 

Johann Hari, author of the book Stolen Focus, found that the average office worker can only spend three minutes focused on a single task. The average college student can only manage 65 seconds.

The good news is: it’s not your fault. Tech and social media companies make money by getting users to spend as much time as possible on their platforms, showing advertisements between highly-stimulating content.

Here are some methods to recapture your fractured attention if you want to be more productive at work or engage more in recreational activities.

Get Away from Your Phone

Smartphones are a significant reason so many people have lost their attention spans. The instant gratification of the internet is available to us at all times and a moment’s notice through our phones. This technological advance makes it extremely difficult to think about or focus on activities that are not immediately rewarding. When your mind starts to wander while working on something, it can feel very tempting to pick up your phone and start scrolling Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. So, try to make it harder to satisfy this urge to get on your phone by turning it off or putting it in another room. When you feel your attention drifting or get an impulse to check your phone, satisfying that urge will take extra effort. Therefore, you will be more likely to return to the task.

Turn Off Push Notifications

Push notifications are popular tools companies use to increase user engagement with their product. Many app developers use push notification algorithms to manipulate users into a specific action. These messages appear on your lock screen with prompts to open the app. These notifications might signal an important text, a like on a social media post, a recent news article, or much more. Getting distracted by these push notifications is not your fault; it is by design. If you wear a smartwatch or cannot leave your phone in another room, try turning off push notifications within your operating system’s settings to eliminate these distractions.

Photo: fizkes via 123RF

Turn on Focus Mode

Most phones also have a focus mode feature, which allows users to turn off notifications only for specific apps. This feature cuts through the noise and limits distraction. However, it still allows important work emails or urgent messages from family and friends to trickle through. 

Complete One Task at a Time

Being overwhelmed by a high volume of tasks you need to complete can often make paying enough attention to complete these tasks extremely difficult. The stress of having too much to do can cause your mind to jump rapidly from task to task, killing your productivity. 

To combat this, slow things down, pick one task to complete first, and start working your way through objectives one by one. Trying to get everything done at once will likely result in you getting nothing done.

If you are especially overwhelmed, try sitting down and writing a to-do list. Decide on the most critical and time-sensitive tasks, and order your list accordingly. Then, move down this list while completing one task at a time. Writing everything down will allow your brain to relax without feeling like you’re forgetting something.

To learn more about why staying focused has become so difficult and to learn more strategies for regaining it, check out Stolen Focus by Johann Hari.