How to fix your attention deficit issues…

In a life-changing, year-long experiment, Suzy Walker confronts her ‘stop the world I want to get off’ state of mind, and commits to a calmer, less frazzled life. This month, she breaks the cycle of being driven to distraction


How to fix your attention deficit issues...

3 minute read

This column is being written in silence. I have one window open on my laptop, no other devices in the room and I aim to finish it in 52 minutes. Four weeks ago, I had 38 windows open, was listening to an audiobook and having a lively discussion with colleagues on WhatsApp – all at the same time. This page took half a day to write.

Duped by dopamine

I thought multitasking spiked productivity and saved time. I was wrong. Research shows it increases the time to complete a task by 40 per cent – and drops the performance of a Harvard MBA student to that of an eight-year-old, says Tony Crabbe, author of Busy, How To Thrive In A World Of Too Much (Piatkus, £8.99). ‘Multitasking makes you feel efficient, due to the release of the feel-good transmitter dopamine, which makes us think we’re potent and effective, but it does the opposite.’

The answer? Singletasking and managing our attention by ‘bigchunking’– staying focused on one taskfor longer – the optimum balance is 52 minutes of focus, followed by 17 minutes away from your desk. But it’s no good scrolling on social media for a break. You need to give your brain a rest, so go for a walk, preferably in nature.

What about interruptions? Forty-four per cent are self-initiated, says Crabbe. ‘The new is more exciting than an intellectually demanding activity, such as deep thinking.’ Guilty as charged!

To stay focused on one task for 52 minutes felt like a gargantuan undertaking. Clear of distractions, I just sat there… Then I made a cup of tea… and another… But, as the month went on, I became less scattered and found a state of flow, which positive psychologists say is one of the major routes to happiness.

We know that giving loved ones our full beam of attention makes them feel seen and loved. When you direct that same beam on yourself, you don’t just become more productive, you create a quieter, more enjoyable space to inhabit – not bad for 52 minutes’ work.

Listen to ‘My slow year’ podcasts: Browse the ‘Psychologies’ podcast channel on iTunes, TuneIn and SoundCloud to hear Suzy in conversation with various experts

Image: Getty