Are you better than a goldfish?

Red Goldfish Isolated on White Background

According to a recent study by Microsoft (published in the Yahoo!Canada), the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000, down to a pathetic eight seconds today.

Believe it or not, a goldfish can concentrate for nine seconds.

And—while I have no idea how they know what the attention span of a goldfish is—it’s a pretty sad indictment on our society, isn’t it?

We have so many things going on at the same time that it seems almost impossible to focus on one thing at a time and get some work done.

The good news is, it’s not impossible—but it does take some discipline.

Forty-four per cent of respondents in a recent National Post survey said they struggle to focus on tasks. Thirty-seven per cent said that their inability to use their time productively forces them to work late or on weekends.

Is your inability to stay focused causing you to work late or on weekends? Does this cause stress in your relationships?

Why can’t we focus? We can blame it on a busy workplace, technology, our co-workers, or anything else that will provide us with a good excuse, but the reality is that we have to teach ourselves to focus at work.

Here are some tips to help you increase your focus:

  • Ask yourself periodically, “Is this the best of use my time right now?” If the answer is no, then move on to something that makes better use of your time. Note: if you are sitting in a meeting it is probably not a good time to ask yourself that question. You should ask yourself that question when you realize you are not focused; when you are jumping from task to task but not getting anything done.
  • Apply a “Five-Minute Rule” when focus is difficult (due to busy workspaces, interrupting co-workers etc.). Close your incoming email for just five minutes. Turn off the radio for just five minutes. Put your cell phone in a drawer, with the ringer off, for just five minutes. Close all the tabs you have open on your computer. Allow yourself to have total focus on something for just five minutes before you jump to something else. It doesn’t sound like much time, so at the end of the five minutes you can ask yourself if you can do another five minutes. If you can do another five minutes and it isn’t eating you up inside, give yourself a high-five as you are re-training yourself to focus!
  • Determine your prime focus times each day and plan around them. In the morning I’m a little less focused because I’m trying to get a handle on all the things I have to do that day, so that would be a bad time for me to choose to work on a task that requires intense focus. Once I have a handle on everything, then I can afford to intensely focus on a task. In the afternoon when I need a pick-me-up (in the form of a bit of chocolate or some caffeine), that is also not a prime focus time for me. We all work differently, but you likely know when focus is not going to happen for you, so don’t plan it for that time.
  • Put those focus times in your schedule, and stick to them—this is where some discipline will be required. Once you’ve planned your focus times, stick with your plan as much as possible.
  • Stop being a victim of your situation. Stop looking for reasons you can’t focus and just do it!

Lastly, think about this: Do you do other things in your life that require focus? Can you stay focused through a gym or yoga class? Can you stay focused while driving? Can you watch a television show without multi-tasking (not always, but is it possible)? The reality is that you can focus—you’re just allowing yourself to come up with reasons why you can’t at work.

Prove to yourself that you are better than a goldfish. Practice focus so that your work stops interfering with your free time.

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