Between screaming kids, the ever-present allure of the living room home theatre system, and the strange need to pop into the kitchen every 15 minutes, working from home (WFH) comes with its own array of distractions threatening to pull you away from your desk at any time.
Distractibility itself, however, is not a new phenomenon. Even before the pandemic, studies have shown that thanks to the technological developments of the past few decades, attention spans have significantly decreased.
As it turns out, most of us were already suffering from an eroded concentration abilities pre-pandemic—we were just largely unaware of it.
WFH, though, has forced us to learn the art of attentional management—which, according to productivity expert Maura Thomas, is the key to improved productivity and less distractibility. In the first place, however, tackling the problem of distractibility requires each of us to understand the exact processes behind why we have difficulty focusing.
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Different people have different WFH situations, different needs, and different priorities. A working parent whose children are constantly demanding his attention will need an entirely different approach to attentional management than one who finds himself spending more time checking and answering emails than she should.
Likewise, diagnosing the exact roots of your distractibility is indispensable. According to clinical psychologist Michael Lipson, getting insights into the “structure of distraction”—or the exact patterns that cause you to break concentration—helps in learning to “stay with your original point of attention.”
Generally, there are 4 stages of focus and distraction, as Lipson wrote in the Harvard Business Review:
Indeed, just growing conscious of your patterns of distraction can facilitate changes in your concentration ability.
The more you work at it, the longer the time you spend in the initial concentration stages, the less time you spend actually being distracted, and the sooner it will take for you to come to your senses and get back to the task at hand.
Think of your ability to focus as a scarce resource. You start each day with a given amount of attention to apportion to different tasks and events over the course of the day.
Being intentional and purposeful about where you choose to invest your attention—as opposed to haphazard and almost trigger-happy—is vital in reaping the most returns over time.
For example, some of the worst ways to spend your attentional resources include: