Our performance is fundamentally dependent on our focus. According to multiple indicators, however, attention is declining steadily.
It would be easy to fault the pervasive, 24/7 presence of mobile platforms in our lives. Ultimately, taps, downloads, likes, views, followers, and shares have become the new currency of social interaction and our digital economy.
Platforms such as TikTok provide easily consumable, bite-sized content while automatically recommending similar content and even beginning to play similar videos, thereby reducing the likelihood of interruptions.
This is not limited to our adolescents, who follow sensationalism and TL;DR culture. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 77% of employees use social media in the workplace.
While AI has exacerbated this trend by transforming human attention into advertising revenue for decades, the most recent evolution of generative AI is anticipated to exponentially increase the rate and effectiveness of content soliciting our attention.
Researchers in Turkey discovered that declines in adolescent attention are strongly associated with declines in sleep quality, self-esteem, and productivity, as well as increases in loneliness, apathy, narcissism, anxiety, and depression.
These types of studies typically uncover what is known as “multi-directional causation”; these things are so interconnected that changes in one will impact the others.
Thus, declining attention threatens not only our ability to concentrate and perform but also the quality and longevity of our lives and the lives of our offspring. It is now an existential crisis for ourselves, our families, and our communities, as opposed to a necessary evil of the digital age.
Instead of acquiescing to the ever-increasing demands we face every day, business executives can take a different approach.
Initially, it is essential to comprehend how our attention operates through the three primary attentional states.
This is what most people refer to as “paying attention.” It is the controlled application of one’s attention to perform a specific task or series of tasks while selectively monitoring for, attending to, or inhibiting various internal and external stimuli.
Mindful State: This is a state of sustaining attention to present-moment experiences while inhibiting irrelevant external stimuli and dismissing tangential paths without emotional reaction or evaluation.
Meditation can not only temporarily improve the ability to maintain a focused state and general mental health, but it can also reconfigure the network architecture of the entire brain for long-term improvements in attention.
Distractable State: This is a state of constant attentional interruption characterized by susceptibility to irrelevant and inappropriate stimuli that attempt to divert attention away from the current task.
Keeping this summary in mind, consider the following advice for business executives navigating the attention crisis:
Exercise your focus. Try setting a timer for five minutes and concentrating intently on a particular task you wish to complete. After a two-minute respite, continue for another five minutes. The following day, add five minutes to your concentration sessions and two minutes of respite in between.
When my team employs this strategy, using dedicated focus timers (rather than phone timers) and building the stamina to work for extended periods of time, we not only see an increase in work output but also an increase in creativity and quality. We discovered that this is an incredibly simple way to “work out” the brain and make it more focused over time.
Recharge your cognitive networks. Sleep is essential for recharging the brain, but so are mindfulness-habituating activities such as meditation and nature excursions. To cultivate and maintain a state of focus, it is necessary to balance effortful daily work with a mindful state.
At my workplace, we encourage team members to use mindfulness applications and take at least two 10-minute breaks to recharge. We’ve discovered that this makes a remarkable difference for many of our employees; they return refreshed and ready to tackle their next projects, and it’s easy to persuade them to opt in when they experience the profound impact of the mindful pause in their hectic days.
Evolve your digital behavior. When accessing an addictive platform, set a timer ahead of time. Try viewing a single video and then selecting a video from a completely different domain. Find methods to decrease the content’s similarity and repetition.
While it can be difficult to enforce limits on digital and social media use in the workplace, the best way to establish such a culture is to lead by example. I was able to control my digital addiction by deleting phone applications and only using my laptop to access social media. Thus, I decide when to browse. You would be astonished by the number of employees eager to follow suit.