With more information available, less time and a lower attention span, our ability to focus and truly process information is suffering.

How to stay focused in the age of distraction

In 2015 Microsoft surveyed more than 2,000 university students and studied the brain activity of more than 100 others using EEGs. The study found that our ability to concentrate is at an all-time low. In fact, our attention spans are even worse than that of a goldfish.  On average, people lose focus in about eight seconds. The goldfish has us beat by one second.

The scientists at Microsoft stated that this drop in attention span is not necessarily a negative change, but rather an adaptation to digital life as a result of constant overstimulation from smartphones and electronic devices.

And overstimulation shows no signs of stopping. Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly and Google economist Hal Varian calculated that information has been growing 66% per year for several decades now. With more information available, less time and a lower attention span, our ability to focus and truly process information is suffering.

If technology and information overload weren’t enough, our work environment also makes us prone to distraction. Between urgent emails, meetings upon meetings, social media breaks, phone calls and chats with coworkers, it’s difficult to find uninterrupted time to focus and be productive.

Here are some useful tips to fight distraction and stay focused at work:

  • Turn off notifications

There’s nothing more distracting than the high-pitched DING from your phone announcing another like on your latest Instagram post. When you’re at work, turn off notifications for apps that aren’t relevant to your job. Social media, weather, news – all of these can wait until you’re off the clock.  If you’re in a meeting or on a deadline, turn your phone on silent.

  • Set a schedule for your day and stick to it

Dedicate thirty minutes in the morning to jot down your to-do list for the day and schedule time for each task into your calendar. This exercise will help you understand what your priorities are for the day and allow you to set aside the time to complete important tasks.

  • Avoid multitasking – enemy number one of concentration

Multitasking used to be something to brag about, but recent research shows that it does more harm than good. Recent studies have shown that multitasking can lead to memory problems, decreased concentration, and even do long-term damage to the cognitive control area of the brain. The brain is not programmed to process several activities at the same time and is more productive if we do one at a time. When it’s time to focus on a task, close your email application, hide your phone, but your headphones in and give full attention to the task at hand.

  • Practice self-care

Self-care isn’t just the latest wellness fad. It’s backed by science. Getting the right amount of sleep, having a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise and meditation are all good practices that help the brain to recharge, to rediscover the concentration and lower the levels of cortisol, the hormone stress.

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