Ways to Improve Productivity and Creativity Despite Having a Short Attention Span - Craft Your Content
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Ways to Improve Productivity and Creativity Despite Having a Short Attention Span

Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, a short attention span might be another pandemic we are unwittingly living with in recent times. Due to having short attention spans, a good number of us have issues with being as productive as we ought to be.

Because we are aware of ADHD, we find ourselves identifying with it, even without a proper diagnosis from a professional. 

In this piece, I will share with you how to break away from the trap of misdiagnosing yourself with having ADHD while coming up with ways to be more productive at what you do, despite being prone to having a short attention span.

What Is ADHD?

NHS UK gives a succinct explanation of ADHD in layman’s terms. It says: “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects people’s behavior. People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating, and may act on impulse.”

It goes on to express that the major symptoms of ADHD are broadly divided into two categories:

  • Inattentiveness: that is, difficulty concentrating and focusing 
  • Hyperactivity and impulsiveness

While engaging with content on a social media platform, you might come across a video where a person is pointing in the direction of each phrase as it comes up, with accompanying soft music. Phrases like: 

  • “You put too much effort into your relationships.”
  • “You’re a master procrastinator.”
  • “You like a particular food for a long period of time, and you only want to always eat it.”
  • “You can’t sit or lie still.”
  • “You struggle with fatigue.”
  • “You forget things easily.”

While watching this video, you are nodding along to every single point and mentally ticking the checklist. This video is resonating so much with how you experience and navigate reality.

At the end of the video, you stare at the space before you and mutter in realization, “Wow. I have ADHD.”

Before you know it, you start going on and on about how ADHD is impeding your life—not because of an actual medical diagnosis, but because of social media.

According to Medical News Today, “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, misdiagnosis can happen because many of its symptoms overlap with those of other conditions.” 

Before we hurry to misdiagnose ourselves with having ADHD, we should make sure that we understand what ADHD really is. In addition, we must ensure we are not unnecessarily mistaking our neurodivergence for an ailment. 

A neurodivergent person is defined as one whose neurological development and stare are atypical, usually viewed as abnormal or extreme. Then again, everyone’s brain should not function the same way. That is why we are diverse people.

Diminishing Attention Spans

improve creativity short attention span
If you’ve felt like your attention span has gotten worse, you’re not alone.

Jill Ebstein expresses in the Orlando Sentinel how our attention span in recent times is shorter than that of a goldfish. She writes, “The average human attention span is now shorter than a goldfish’s. A recent study found that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds today. It is reported that goldfish have a 9-second attention span.”

This is true considering how several interesting things are taking our attention within a short period of time. It becomes hard for us to be patient enough to focus on one thing before moving on to the next. We seek instant gratification. It makes sense that we collectively have issues focusing and concentrating.

Short attention span and lack of concentration are bound to be the new normal in a world with so much instant gratification and addictive distractions. 

So, how do we deal with this?

Building Focus

The first way to deal with a short attention span is to build focus. I like to think of focus as a mental muscle. To achieve this, you would have to make a conscious effort to pay attention to one thing for a short period of time. It could be as short as two minutes.

Contrary to what most of us have been misled to believe, meditation does not entirely mean blocking all thoughts from our minds. The sole aim of meditation is mindfulness. To achieve this, you have to make a conscious effort to be in charge of the things you are giving your attention to. 

Of course, thoughts pop up while meditating. However, you have to make sure you return your attention to where you intended to place it at the start of your practice. 

The same applies to tasks. It is very possible to decide to give your attention to a task for five minutes at a stretch. During that time, you focus all your attention on what it is you are doing. When you feel as though your thoughts are straying, you become aware and return your focus. You could try this guided meditation link here.

Compartmentalize Tasks According to Importance

improve creativity short attention span
Multitasking gets you nowhere. Instead, compartmentalize!

In a previous article, I wrote about utilizing the 80/20 principle. According to this principle, you have to “identify inputs that are potentially the most productive and make them the priority.” When we are centered and grounded, it is easier to prioritize tasks according to how urgent, necessary, and important they are.

When I feel tempted to stray from what I am working on, I remember where it falls on my priority and do the needful. In the event it is not pressing, I allow myself to get carried away with whatever distraction that is giving my attention a siren call.

Spreading your attention across several tasks is counterproductive when you are in the process of learning to be good at focusing. 

Travis Bradberry explores how multitasking is bad for our brains in his article on Forbes. He writes, “Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.”

Prioritize Your Time and Energy 

Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique? Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, this “productivity hack” teaches us how to work with time, not against time. 

One of the aims of this technique is to reduce the effect of interruptions on how we focus on tasks. By using this technique, you can break your workday into 25-minute periods where you are occupied with what you are doing with five-minute breaks. After repeating this for four times, you go on to take a 15 – 30 minute break. These intervals are known as “pomodoros.”

Here is how it works:

  1. Pick a task
  2. Set the timer to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the timer goes off
  4. Take a short five-minute break (and repeat steps two, three, and four three more times, thereby making it four cycles)
  5. Take a 15-30 minute break when you are done with the aforementioned steps in four cycles.

It looks as easy as it is to implement. All that is required is that you focus on what it is you have at hand. 

Discipline and Accountability

improve creativity short attention span
Find an accountability buddy or create a reward system to stay disciplined.

Until you are disciplined, you will not achieve anything. Discipline is doing what you should do even when you do not feel like doing it. Resist the urge to indulge in your distractions while on a job. Your social media timeline might be the distraction. 

Moreover, it would be great to come up with a healthy reward system for times when you exert self-discipline. 

Managing Distractions

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of distractions out there and it’s necessary to manage them to be able to fully embrace creative processes. Most of the time, we are unaware of what these things are. Hence, they keep gnawing away at our time like a desperate raccoon furiously munching away at something edible it got from the garbage can.

It is interesting how we become less busy when we cut out distractions. I began with identifying one distraction—which was Twitter. I decided to cut down Twitter time to one hour a day. It was impossible for the first week; it was like moving out of a comfort zone. But you see, “comfort zone” is an illusion because we can master the unfamiliar and create new comfort zones. It is just a matter of time.

Do you think identifying one distraction and cutting down on how much you experience it is something you can do?

When we understand we are in charge of the things to which we give our focus and for how long we can retain focus, we get to understand that ADHD does not have to inhibit us from being productive.

We Are not Helpless!

Taking responsibility for how we chose to use our minds is the first step to achieve maximum productivity.

I like to think of focus as a mental muscle. You can only develop it with constant practice. As in the case of physical muscles, you start little by taking baby steps. You could focus on something for two minutes at a time. And, if you continue at it for about a month, you will realize that two minutes can become eight minutes. It is all a matter of conscious, well-orchestrated effort.

It is also important to remember that we can be intentional about the things to which we give our attention. In a bid to manage distraction and improve focus to be more productive at work, we must apply a certain amount of discipline in our lives. 

It is not enough to admit we have an attention-span issue as a collective. We must look inwards and come up with ways to help us navigate the situation on ground. Truly, we are not helpless!

About the Author Cisi Eze

Cisi Eze works as a freelance journalist, writer, and comic artist. She makes comics and writes on issues she feels strongly about – mental health, feminism, and LGBT+ rights. Her works are on platforms such as Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, African Women in Media, Signal Horizon, Bloody Women, LAPP – The Brand, SOLRAD Magazine, to name a few. Her first book is titled, “Of Women, Edges, and Parks” (2019). More of her random musings are on her blog, ShadesOfCisi.

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