Much ado has been made about our diminishing powers of concentration for a while now. Back in 2015, Microsoft famously reported that goldfish can hold it together longer than humans (9 seconds vs. our measly 8 seconds).
And newer research shows that our collective attention span is narrowing, thanks to things like social media and the 24/7 news churn. Add in the anxiety of a global pandemic and the new normal of working from home with a bevy of distractions, and focus is out the door (unlike the rest of us).
For example, in the time it took me to write less than 100 words, I’ve been interrupted by family about a half-dozen times, got pinged in Slack by three different clients, and refilled my coffee twice. Clearly, finding a way to concentrate in the time of COVID-19 deserves our focus.
What drives distraction
Under normal circumstances, the sheer volume of content at our fingertips combined with the addictive nature of our devices leaves us “distracted, distant, and drained,” according to the American Psychological Association.
On top of that, information that literally has life and death implications is now vying for our attention. This puts our primal neurology on high alert:
Therefore, under conditions of threat and uncertainty, we’re wired to find it hard to redirect our attention and get absorbed thinking about safe topics (e.g., read a fun novel or a dense document for work).
Additionally, we’re missing the usual cues that help us settle into a productive flow, like going to an office or working at home alone. Even if you’re starting to get into a routine, it may still be hard to stay on task — so now’s the perfect time to cultivate better concentration.
Come into focus
While there are lots of ways to enhance your productivity, when you’re under stress that goes beyond the norm, experts recommend tempering your expectations. Tips to up your attention ante without going all-in include:
- Work at functional capacity vs. full capacity. Recognize that your cognitive and emotional resources need some of your energy and attention, so figure out what that means to you. Sixty-percent might be your new capacity level.
- Tackle less-demanding administrative tasks first. Use straightforward work to get into a groove to tackle bigger projects.
- Manage your productivity expectations. Accept it may take longer for you to feel good about your work, much like it does when you force yourself to exercise even though you don’t feel like it.
- Get disciplined about your media consumption. Limit your time on news and social channels to once or twice a day.
- Take breaks. Take a walk, connect with your family, and do what feels like recovery to you.
Most of all, don’t be so hard on yourself. We’re experiencing what is likely the strangest situation of our lives — and that’s saying something.
How to Concentrate When You’re Working from Home (Psychology Today)