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Attention problems: tips to focus like you're in 1990


Cell phones, notifications and technology in general have shortened our attention span. Recommendations.

In 2004, Gloria Mark, a professor of computer science at the University of California at Irvine, observed knowledge workers during a typical office day.

Using a stopwatch, he noted each time they switched tasks on the computer, going from spreadsheet to email to web page to web page to spreadsheet again.

He found that people spent an average of

just 2.5 minutes on a given task

before switching.

When Mark repeated the experiment in 2012, the average time office workers spent on a task had

dropped to 75 seconds


And it has continued to decline ever since.

"Our attention spans while on our computers and cell phones have been severely shortened, as we now

spend an average of 47 seconds

on any screen," Mark wrote in his new book,

"Attention Span: An Innovative Way to Restore Balance." , happiness and productivity


Anyone who has tried to study for a test, write a report, or read a book knows how hard it is to focus for long periods of time.

Usually, digital devices are to blame for the disorder.

The internet is omniscient, our phones omnipotent, and together they

demand and destroy our concentration


Even when we try to focus on a task, we often find that we can't, our eyes cloud over and

our thoughts wander


Fortunately, there are ways to regain control of your attention.

You don't need to give up technology entirely, just a little


-control and a few well-timed alarms.

External and internal sources of distraction

First, you have to identify what distracts you.

Notifications are one of the biggest sources of distraction: those beeps that pull you out of your work and prompt you to

check your texts

, email, or Slack.

Since our brains are evolutionarily designed to pay attention to novelty, these alerts are

nearly impossible to ignore


And if you try, your anxiety will most likely increase.

In one devilish study, psychologists brought heavy and moderate cell phone users into the lab under the auspices of another experiment.

They hooked up the participants to skin conductance monitors, which

measure arousal levels

, and took their phones away, telling them they were interfering with the research equipment.

Next, the researchers sent several text messages to the participants;

the phones were close enough to hear, but too far away to check.

When their phones rang, the participants' arousal levels skyrocketed.


They felt they had to respond to that message

or at least see who it was from, and they couldn't," explains Larry Rosen, emeritus professor of psychology at California State University in Dominguez Hills and co-author of the study.

"And that made them anxious."

Turning off notifications is a

good way to reduce distractions

- in fact, it's classic advice - but it won't completely solve the problem.

In his research on office workers, Mark found that outside distractions accounted for only

half of the interruptions to concentration


The other half was due to an internal motivation to change tasks.

Most interestingly, Mark observed that when the number of external interrupts decreased, the number of self-interrupts increased.

"We get used to having

short attention spans,

" he says.

"And if we're not interrupted by something external, we change course and start interrupting ourselves."

Rosen hypothesizes that these self-distraction impulses are caused by stress.

Research shows that increased smartphone use is correlated with higher cortisol levels and other markers of stress.

Increased anxiety could become an internal cue to look at text messages or Twitter, even without ringing or vibrating.

When there are no notifications, Rosen says, people "get a

strong internal signal

from their anxiety system that says, 'I have to check it out! And so they do.'

According to Mark, we also grab the cell phone because we need a break.

Our brains

are simply not capable of concentrating

for long periods of time.

Maintaining attention and resisting distractions consumes cognitive resources, and we need to

periodically replenish

them to refocus.

There's no equation for calculating the number of breaks needed per day, but Mark says it's normal for concentration to ebb and flow.

"You can't expect us to hold attention for very long, in the same way that a person

can't lift weights all day

," he says.

While a walk around the block or 10 minutes of meditation would probably be more rejuvenating, there's nothing inherently wrong with scrolling through social media or playing a repetitive game like Candy Crush to recharge.

The problem arises when

the breaks become longer

or more frequent than expected.

This is where the timer and self control come into play.

Scheduled technology breaks can help.

Photo Shutterstock.

Take a scheduled tech break

To increase your attention span, Rosen recommends employing what he calls a "tech pause."

Before you have to focus on a task, take a minute or two to open all your favorite apps.


set a timer for 15 minutes

, silence your phone, turn it face down, and set it aside.

When the timer goes off, you'll have another minute or two to look at it: a tech break.

Repeat this cycle three or four times before taking a longer break from your work.

(Pomodoro Technique aficionados will recognize this structure.)

The goal is

to gradually increase the time

between technology breaks, up to breaks of 20, 30, and even 45 minutes.

Rosen says you'll know you're ready to focus for longer periods when the timer goes off and

you want to stick with the task

instead of reaching for your phone.

Tech breaks aren't just for work;

you can use them whenever you want to be present in the moment.

Rosen advises doing them over dinner, especially if you have frequent conflicts with teens over phone use at the dinner table.

The goal is to gradually increase the time between technology breaks.

Photo Shutterstock.

increase self awareness

Another strategy Mark recommends is to increase self-awareness about technology use.

When you feel like opening Instagram, for example, ask yourself why: Are you feeling exhausted and need a break?

Is it going to help you recover?

If so, do it.

After a few minutes, check again and ask yourself if the application continues to provide you with value.

If not, it's time to get back to work.

Neither Mark nor Rosen are in favor of declaring a phone-free day or blocking certain websites.


inevitably revert to their old habits

when they have access again, and their self-control does not improve.

Read on paper, another of the tips.

Photo Shutterstock.

Try deep reading (on paper)

Tech breaks and self-awareness can help you control the urge to jump from one screen to another, but Maryanne Wolf, professor-in-residence at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, says that even when reading a single screen , we are not engaging with it in depth.

This is because the screens are designed for us to

read very quickly

: scanning, flipping and scrolling.

As a result, we don't pay our full attention to the text and are more prone to missing information.

"When you think about it, the nature of a screen is to

constantly refresh

information," Wolf says.

"There's a psychological mentality of going from start to finish as quickly as possible."

Traditionally, our brains tended to read printed materials more slowly, in part because we were more likely to go back and check what we just read.

That extra time lent itself to sophisticated mental processes like critical analysis, inference, deduction, and empathy.

Unfortunately, printing an article or opting for a paperback over a Kindle doesn't guarantee that we'll suddenly become more engaged readers.

Our brains

adapt to reading in the style of the medium

we use most often, and chances are you'll spend far more time reading on a screen than on paper.

As a result, Wolf says you're now likely to read on paper the same way you read on a screen.

"Many people have lost the ability to really dive," he says.

"We have developed

cognitive impatience

with our reading."

To get back into the practice of what Wolf calls "deep reading," try to spend at least 20 minutes a day reading a physical book, combined with Mark and Rosen's tips for combating distraction.

Start with something you want to read for pleasure, set an alarm for 20 minutes, put your phone on silent, and force yourself to read

slowly and deliberately


Don't get frustrated if it doesn't grab you right away: When Wolf tried this experiment on himself, it took two weeks for him to be able to fully engage and enjoy what he was reading.

Even if you're not an avid reader, exercise can help you regain your ability to

focus deeply

on what you're doing.

"There's a lot of power in feeling like you can control your attention," says Mark.

"You are in control of your behavior."

©The New York Times

Translation: Patricia Sar


Do you want to take a break and learn more about how to increase your well-being?

These notes may interest you:

➪How to meditate when you have attention problems

➪Holiday stress: how to know if you suffer from it and 5 tips to rest

➪A neuroscientist explains five elements that you can "train" to increase well-being

➪The three minutes of full attention that can change your day

To sleep better: how to apply the technique of "letting go" and a step-by-step guided meditation


➪Do you have any questions about health and well-being that you would like us to address in section notes?

Enter the Clarín Help Center by clicking here, enter

Message to the newsroom

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Questions to Buena Vida


Write us your query and send.


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Source: clarin

All news articles on 2023-02-06

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