Having a short attention span doesn’t help anxiety

I can’t recall having a short attention span as a child but I certainly have one as an adult. I actually think it’s getting worse as time passes. These days, unless I’m fully bought into what I’m doing, I find my mind races all over the place and I can never concentrate wholly on the task at hand. I like to keep busy and have a personal to-do list that currently consists of 5 sheets of A4, which doesn’t help. Admittedly, this list includes all my mid / longer-term aspirations, but I find myself thinking about the various subjects on numerous occasions each day, without fail. These include potential YYCDI blog post themes, how to develop YYCDI, how to best use my time at home and spend quality time with my wife and daughter, how to help my daughter with her studies as we approach a crucial period in her education, potential ways to promote Lux Bay (the live music duo I am one-half of), ideas for song lyrics, ideas for stories / book lists, music playlists to compile, and many, many more.

I’ve tried improving my attention span, though I find it really difficult. There is so much to do in life, it’s almost a default mode of mine to think of everything all at once, rather than focus on the task at hand. Hence this is another constant battle to endure, though it certainly isn’t debilitating, as such; more a source of frustration and something that can affect my mood on certain days. It really bothers me if I feel I haven’t given my all to a task. It also bothers me if I feel a task is taking longer than it should to complete.

I’ve tried a few things to combat this over the past month or two. The primary action is to place my mobile phone out of reach whilst I’m working on a task I need to completely focus on. My phone is a constant source of distraction. Like most of us, I’m sure, I’m constantly responding to text and WhatsApp messages; checking for e-mails; glancing at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter updates; and casually surfing the web for nothing in particular. This sucks so much time out of my day, it’s actually quite alarming to sit back, consider just how long, and realise just how unproductive my phone makes me. When I say I place it out of reach, I mean I have it in a different room. This is especially true when working on my ‘day job’. I simply cannot afford to waste that amount of time.

I also try to adopt the Pomodoro technique as often as possible, especially whilst working on my day job. If you’re not familiar with it, this is a time management method using a timer to break work down into intervals which are in turn spaced out by short breaks. Variations exist but the common approach is to work on a task, without interruption, for 25 minutes (the Pomodoro period) prior to taking a 5-minute break. After 4 Pomodoros have passed, a longer break can be taken (I take a 15-minute break here). I find this works really well for me as it retains my focus but still gives me a small window every half-hour to either make a brew or check my e-mails etc, thereby meaning good old FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) isn’t an issue for me. Adhering to the Pomodoro technique is working relatively well for me currently and is something I’ll certainly continue doing. As an aside, if you’re wondering, the name comes from the inventor of the technique, Francesco Cirillo, who named the system Pomodoro after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student in the late-80s / early-90s.

Another small yet effective change I’ve made is to have Google as my default internet browser homepage on my laptop and phone. Previously, my homepages were either the BBC homepage or a default newsfeed on my laptop. These have the potential to be huge timewasters as I find them to be nothing more than clickbait. How easy is it to spot an article or new story that looks mildly interesting, click on it, and lose 5-minutes of the day? I’ve done this far too often in the past and simply have to change. More often than not, if I access the internet, it’s to conduct a search for something, therefore it makes much more sense to have Google as my homepage, avoid any distractions, and get on with what it is I need to do.

Additionally, as regular readers will know, I’m a fan of motivational quotes, and I refer to a core folder on my phone each morning. This may sound counter-productive given what I’ve written above, though they really do help, especially the ones relating to focus and time-management. I can flick through this folder in the time it takes to make my first cup of tea of the day and this really helps me to focus on the day ahead. I also need to revisit what was one of the most eye-opening books I’ve read in recent years: Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. A quote on the front cover sums this up perfectly for me: ‘An essential read for anyone who wants to regain control of their health, wellbeing and happiness.’ The book blurb states:

  • Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin at home or at work?
  • Have you ever felt both underworked and underutilised?
  • Do you ever feel busy but not productive?
  • Do you ever feel like you’re constantly in motion, but never getting anywhere?
  • If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is becoming an Essentialist.

Basically, the book advocates determining what is essential in our lives, ignoring pretty much everything else, and concentrating fully on the things that really matter. It’s a pretty easy read and is highly recommended.

So, time to wrap up another post. I hope what I’ve written about here resonates with some of you. I’m aware that this post may sound like the ramblings of a slightly mad man to some, though it’s something I feel strongly about. Having a short attention span certainly isn’t the biggest issue in my life, though it can frequently affect how I feel on any given day. I’m constantly searching for the little wins in life; the relatively small changes that help me have a better state-of-mind each day. Feeling that I’ve shunned everyday distractions and concentrated fully on the task/s at hand certainly helps me in that regard.

As always, thanks for reading and please do let me know if you use any effective methods for shutting out distractions.

Take care and best wishes.

Mick

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