We stay focussed until we get distracted by social media alerts, our computer or smartphones.
Over a day it has a detrimental effect on your productivity. Microsoft research suggests there is a “switch cost” as it takes 15 to 25 minutes to get our mind focussed on what we were doing before an interruption.
The microsoft survey placed attention span into three categories: sustained i.e. prolonged focus, selective i.e. avoiding distraction, and alternating i.e. switching between tasks.
You might think you can multitask but that’s a myth. You might be able to deal with a handful of things but what you are actually doing is switching attention between them. And each time you do it you lose time re-focussing.
Microsoft estimates that it takes 15 to 25 minutes to get back to where you were before you were distracted.
David Rock, a neuropsychologist, thinks we can probably manage, at the most, 4 demanding things. This is fewer than the famous 7 plus or minus two that George Miller hypothesised back in the 1950s. So are we getting stupider? Microsoft’s research in 2000 found that the average human attention span was 12 seconds, compared to 8 seconds today.
What seems to be happening is that our brain is not keeping pace with modern technological demands even creating a phenomenon known as “phantom text syndrome” where we believe we have heard an alert from our phone or tablet. This particularly affects teenagers who typically text their friends twice as often as speaking to them face to face and are more dependent on the technology.
Factors affecting our attention span are: media consumption, social media usage, technology adoption (something Professor Sir Cary Cooper has spoken about recently), and multiscreen behaviour e.g. texting while watching TV.
I’ve posted elsewhere about FOMO and related anxiety-related conditions.
The only way to deal with this type of problem is to turn off your phone or computer at regular intervals. It will not only reduce anxiety but increase productivity by improving your focus.
Being focussed uses the pre-frontal cortex which is where you can be more creative and control your emotions better.
People who have trouble focussing make more emotional decisions and pay less attention to emotional cues.
If you are a regular technology user take regular breaks, go for a walk in the park, and talk to your colleagues face to face!