In the last week I read the following four statements:
- On average we check our smartphones over 200 times a day;
- We spend about 3.5 hours a day looking at our phones;
- We're more likely to look at our phone each day before we look at the sky, and
- 87% of people go to bed with their phone beside them.
I was left wondering whether the combination of our easily distracted attention span + highly addictive gadgets is leading to feelings of excessive busyness and overwhelm. What are we all so busy doing and is it helping us create lives we love?
Attention is like a muscle. The more we're able to pay attention the easier it becomes to focus and stay interested. The converse is also true, the more distracted we become the less able we are to pay deep attention, to turn away from the shiny objects that clamour for our precious time and to focus with the full power of our heads and hearts.
If we want to get high quality outcomes, we need to be able to connect deeply and to pay sustained attention, over time.
Addicted to dopamine
Dopamine, commonly known as the reward chemical is involved in how we behave, how we think, our feelings and motivations, working memory, attention and learning. Dopamine is released each time we post, like or share things on social media. It's also released when you click on that red dot on an app that tells you there's mail or a message.
The gadgets and apps that we now rely on are not in themselves inherently good or bad but they have been carefully designed to be highly addictive. It's not the apps themselves that we're addicted to, it's the feeling we get from the dopamine. The feelings of inclusion, of being connected, of feeling valued. Paradoxically though the more time we spend on our devices, the less time and ability we have to really pay attention to the people and experiences that make life memorable and meaningful.
4 simple ways to (re)build your attention muscles:
To flourish in a world where there are no limits we will all need to create our own. Here are 4 ways to (re)focus your attention:
- Turn off your phone and all apps/email notifications for at least one hour a day. Put your phone out of sight and focus on your most important task or the person you're with without interruption.
- Check emails twice a day - once in the morning and again toward the end of your day. This simple act alone will allow you to prioritise the most important tasks and will save you hours. Put a message on your signature box or out of office explaining what you're doing. Mine reads: 'This Inbox is an easeful one: email is responded to once in the morning and once in the afternoon, if you need to speak to me before then please do call'.
- Turn your phone off at least 1-2 hours before you normally go to bed. You need Melatonin to help you sleep well and the light from your phone interferes with it's production. You're also potentially taking in new information which you're probably not in the right mental or emotional place to deal with - I promise you, it really can wait (and if it can't, someone will call).
- Try a digital detox - start with one day a week and build to one weekend a month where you have no phone/internet at all....the fact it's hard is why it's so worth doing!