The Goldfish Myth
Those of us with ADHD have a problem with attention.
You may have read (in many different places) that today the average American has an attention span of 8 seconds – shorter than that of a goldfish.
This “theory” is from a 2015 study done by Microsoft, and it’s since been challenged by a number of authorities. See this article from the BBC, which states that our attention spans vary depending on what we’re doing.
And, by the way, goldfish are the model for studying learning and memory because they possess the ability to learn. No short attention span there.
But We Have This Problem
Yes. I’m aware that those of us with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) do have a reputation for a lack of attention.
But guess what?
A lot of the reason that we have trouble paying attention is because we are not interested.
Not being able to pay attention because someone is droning on about something we have absolutely no interest in.
Now, to be fair, we do have more trouble than people without ADHD do when it comes to paying attention, and we are easily bored.
It would help if we could find a way to improve our focus.
So How Do We Learn to Focus Longer?
I have a number of suggestions that can help improve our focus, and some of them have long lasting effects.
So let’s get to it:
- Exercise has been proven to help improve your focus and help you pay attention longer. In some cases, for as much as 24 hours!
- Take breaks. If you’re working on a long project, first, it helps to break it up into more manageable pieces. And if, after 15 – 25 minutes, you find yourself losing attention, take a break. Drink some water. Grab a healthy snack. Even a short dance break or quick walk outside will help.
- Get clear about what you’re trying to accomplish. Some of the hardest things to focus on are tasks given to us by others. First, we likely aren’t that interested, but that’s probably not something we should share. Instead, try to find out exactly what is being asked of you. Once you have a specific goal in mind, it may make it easier to stay focused and get it done.
- Keep your work area clean and as clear as possible. (I tried this myself recently; it really works.)
- Set a deadline for yourself, and stick to it.
- Identify your peak attention span times and try to do your most mind intensive work then, if you can.
- Set up routines and rituals. Once you’re identified your peak attention time, use the time around it for more mundane tasks, like returning phone calls and checking email.
- No multitasking! Focus on one thing at a time, and make it the most important thing you have to get done that day.
The Good News
There is some good news in all of this.
Focus and expanding your attention span are things that you can learn and improve upon.
Once you put some of these suggestions into place, the longer you practice them, the better you will get at implementing them. Soon (yay!) they will become a habit and not so much of a problem anymore.
The other thing to pay attention to – as you think about your peak attention time – it how it feels when you first begin to lose focus. And if you can put a time frame on that, even better,
Likely by the time you realize that you are no longer focusing on the task at hand, it’s been happening for at least several minutes. Giving yourself a break and then going back over the last few things you did may confirm this.
Signs of losing focus may include yawning, excessive stretching or movement, or just general restlessness.
Give in to your tendencies – just not for too long. In the end, it will help keep you more focused and productive.
You might also want to check out this article on hyper focus – when we get so engrossed in something the house could burn down and we wouldn’t realize it.