What did you think (and probably say) within the first 45 minutes of the last training session you attended? Think hard. You’ve likely said it for every training session you’ve had since entering the corporate world.
“I can’t pay attention.”
“This is so boring.”
“This instructor is way overpaid. She’s terrible.”
There is one problem at the root of each of these statements. Our attention spans are dwindling at an alarmingly fast rate.
My short attention span came to my attention one day while talking with a man before church services one Sunday. We were talking about playing games with our children when I mentioned that the kids’ attention spans were so short but we, as adults, probably had shorter attention spans.
Kids can play the same game over and over again, as long as it’s a quick game. Parents have trouble playing it repeatedly. Even if we switch games every 10 minutes, within the first 10 minutes, most adults are bored and want to do something “adult.”
I admit it. My name is Bert. I’m 36 years old and I have a short attention span.
Maybe I’m the only adult who has a short attention span when playing games with my kids. I doubt it though. I’m definitely not the only adult who has a short attention span when it comes to sitting in training sessions.
What has caused us to lose focus so quickly? I assume this has been a problem for generations and I strongly believe it’s getting worse…quickly.
We live in the Information Age. We live in a technological age where information is at our fingertips. Information can be accessed quickly from our laptops, smart phones or vehicles. When we want to know something, we ask Siri.
Did you know the average person will not wait longer than three seconds for a website to load before closing the browser? Three seconds! That’s a crazy short time in the grand scheme of life but to the internet surfer, it’s an eternity.
Gaining access to information so quickly has corrupted our ability to sit and wait. It has shortened the attention span of the average person. We want to learn when we need to know something, not when we’re told we need to learn something.
What can we do to combat the shrinking attention span? Something has to be done. Right?
Don’t fight it – If your attention span is short, don’t fight it. Why is sitting for long periods of time necessary? It’s probably not.
If you’re forced to attend an all-day training session, don’t be afraid to get up often. I try to sit at the back of the room so I can get up frequently. Even if I’m refilling a cup of coffee or glass of water, it helps me to break up the day.
Standing at the back or side of the room is a good option too. You’re still paying attention. You’re just not seated.
But, what if you’re the only one? So be it. Do it and see what happens. Most likely, as long as you’re participating and focused, no one will care.
I do the same when working in the office. Because of my short attention span, I get out of my seat at least every 20 minutes. In most cases, it’s to refill coffee or water and to use the restroom. I’ll also deliver reports to the word processing department rather than waiting for someone to come get them.
Some people may not see those practices as efficient uses of my time. Oh well! If I can focus for 20 minutes at a time, those three-minute breaks will make me more efficient overall.
Know the purpose – In some instances, you know you really need to sit and focus for longer periods. Knowing the purpose of your activity is key to managing your attention span. If it’s truly important to you, you’ll be able to make it work.
Play time with your kids is an important part of your day. Even though you might want to sit on the couch and watch Sportscenter, your kids are more important. Letting your children know you love them is a purpose worth sitting for a longer period of time.
A major project at work with an imposing deadline can lengthen your attention span too. If you have two hours to get done what you think will take you four hours, you’ll focus. You’ll get it done because it’s important.
Do less – Have you noticed that when you try to multi-task that nothing gets done? Multi-tasking is impossible anyway since you can only focus on one thing at a time. Since you can’t multi-task, don’t try.
Work on one thing at a time. Set firm time periods to work on your projects. Work 20 minutes on one, take a break for three minutes and work 20 minutes on another project. You’ll be much more productive and you’ll still satisfy that annoying short attention span.
Remove distractions – As stated above as a major cause of the decreasing attention span, smart phones provide us information quickly. Because of this, we reach for them often.
How many times today have you checked Facebook on your phone? How many text messages have you sent? These are all distractions that shorten our attention spans.
Try turning your phone off and putting it away. Get it out at lunch of at other set times of the day. Your productivity will soar and your attention span will increase.
You’re in control
You can control your attention span if you really desire to do so. No one is responsible for your actions except you so take responsibility for them.
If you can’t pay attention, don’t blame the speaker. It’s not a speaker problem, it’s an internal problem. Sure, some speakers just aren’t that good but you can get some nugget of wisdom from everyone, if you really want to.
Take responsibility for your attention span and affirm to yourself that you can and will pay attention. If you have to do something, you might as well get something out of it. You can if you want to.
P.S. If you’ve read all the way to this point, I’m impressed with your attention span!