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Expand Your Attention Span

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Focus on Unfocusing

Focusing on details might seem like nitpicking, but not doing so could prove disastrous for many activities—especially with tax season upon us. As the comic book villain, the Joker once remarked, “I’m crazy enough to take on Batman, but the IRS? No, thank you!”

The onerous burden to remember details in relationships has become something of a sitcom cliché, such as the tired trope of forgetting an anniversary. Overused platitude or not, the struggle to focus on particulars remains relevant beyond the fourth wall. Observing details cements personal and professional relationships alike. Remembering a colleague’s birthday or their children’s names and weaving this seemingly trivial information through conversation could go a long way in strengthening interactions.

Writing for the Daily Muse, Tech journalist John Brandon suggests three tactics for remembering details . Foremost among these strategies is to simply repeat the specific detail over and over, a tactic once parodied by the hospital sitcom, Scrubs . Tricks like repetition or word association can be useful gems when it comes to retaining information.

Author and productivity consultant Chris Bailey weighs in on how to tackle limited attention spans in this TED Talk . Bailey zeroes in on a key problem many of us face—excessive distractions. By removing distractions from our daily lives and, as Bailey suggests, welcoming moments of boredom—yes, boredom!–we can possibly expand our attention spans.

The average attention span has been on the decline for years, as evidenced by this Microsoft study . Microsoft researchers found that in the year 2000, the average person’s attention span was 12 seconds. Come the year 2015, that dropped to 8 seconds—meaning the oft-ridiculed goldfish might boast a longer attention span than the average person .

Bailey’s TED Talk observes that by removing ourselves from stimuli bombardment, we help our minds focus when we do have something to pay attention to. Welcoming boredom allows our minds to detach and rest, and a rested mind is a receptive mind.

Today, let’s plan a moment without the demanding glow of screens. Put the phone down. Look away from the computer. Gently fade into the unexpected peace of boredom. Focus on unfocusing, and we just might emerge a bit sharper for it.

“Your true traveler finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty – his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.”
– Aldous Huxley

Do you have an idea you want to share with an empowered community of self-aware professionals? If you’d like to contribute an idea or article to ‘In The Flow of Work’ on the Evolve blog, just send us a message or submit a post to our Head of Content, Adam Schneider

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