Or, How I Took Back Control Of My Attention
If you were to rate your focus on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being “Everything always grabs my focu—SQUIRREL!” and 10 being “I find my zone every time I try,” where would you land?
Be honest with yourself. Most of us aren’t 10s, nor are we 9s, 8s, or even 7s.
Most of us—at least those of us who spend a lot of time in front of our computers—experience a great deal of struggle to truly find our focus and get into the groove.
Whether self-imposed distractions (e.g. opening social media or cruising through browser tabs) or external forces (e.g. a colleague walks to your desk or you find some “fire” that needs you right away), there’s a near-endless number of forces vying for your attention.
And oftentimes, losing your attention is not entirely your fault.
To be blunt, the tricky part here is to admit you have a problem controlling your attention, and then accepting that as truth.
“I have a hard time focusing and regularly let myself get distracted.”
We’re saying it. Can you?
How about, “I’m not a good multitasker because human beings are not truly able to multitask.”
How’s that feel?
It’s a scientific fact1, and something we each need to work through because just like driving a car, 80% of us think we’re great at it when the reality is much more… depressing.
Controlling your attention is important because it means you can be truly effective with your time.
The end result of being effective with your time is that you then have more time on your hands to do with it as you like.
After all, that’s what we’re talking about here, right? Changing our relationship with time and freeing ourselves to operate beyond the constructs of time. Right?
We’re not here to say “OPTIMIZE ALL THE THINGS!” but we do believe that by finding ways to optimize your attention and focus, and make conscious, intentional choices about when and where you get things done, you are more likely to free up your time—which can then be used with intention, the way you want it to be, in whatever manner makes sense to you.
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Controlling your attention and focus is arguably the most effective way to push back on that force and get things done in the amount of time it really takes to get them done.
What are we actually able to control?
Stoic philosophy says that the only thing we really control in this world are our thoughts, and within our thoughts are the choices we make. Whether choosing between fried chicken or a grain bowl, television or a book, we are the ones in control of our choices, which means we control how we spend our time.
Spending time is a conscious choice made by you and only you. Similarly, spending attention is also a conscious choice, and you’re in complete control of how you choose to use whatever supply of attention you have at any given moment in the day.
If we think of attention as a resource in limited supply—one that diminishes over time and replenishes when we sleep—we can start to imagine how important it is to find the optimal times for expending attention.
Each person on this earth operates differently: some hit their peak energy in the morning while others find their groove at night. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding your time to focus (don’t let anybody tell you morning is better than nighttime) or making choices—there’s only what works best for you and the life you’re choosing to live.
So, how do we take back control of our attention?
First, it’s a matter of recognizing that your attention has been slipping away from you. Whether you’re aware of your habits and behaviors or not, the first step is to observe your actions and gain an understanding of where exactly your time and attention are going.
During this process you can observe what triggers cause you to lose your focus. If you’re writing a document and get a text message, what happens? If you open your phone to search for an answer but find you’ve lost 20 minutes and don’t remember your initial question, what might that tell you? How about if you’re in a meeting and your laptop is open and actively being used, are you really focused on that meeting?
When noon rolls around each day can you write a list of the things you’ve gotten done in the morning? Or do you find you have many things still being worked on? That might say something about your focus.
As with any change, it all starts with awareness.
Increase awareness and you’ll start to see patterns and behaviors. From there, you can design methods, practices, and behaviors that you can use when you need to find your moments of focus, but also when you need to enjoy your moments of relaxation.
Remember, you’re not here to become more productive. You are already productive enough.
We are here to help you change your relationship with time, so that you find more joy, serenity, and fulfillment throughout your days. Whether at work, home, or out in your community, we hope to guide you to be more present, authentic, and fulfilled by the experiences you have each day.
Hamilton, Jon. “Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again.” NPR, NPR, 2 Oct. 2008, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95256794. ↩