Family Tech: How to Save Your Vanishing Attention Span

technology and attention spanResearchers have published a handful of studies in the past few years that examine the impact of technology on the human brain and our dwindling attention spans. One study even compares our now eight-second attention span (down from 12 seconds in the year 2000) to that of a goldfish.

While several studies cite the social and neurobiological impact of technology, most of us can leapfrog all those statistics and admit that we — as well as our kids — simply aren’t as present as we could be.

It doesn’t take a study to illustrate the reality that most of us have been swept away by the “always-on” river of stimuli created by technology. Our brains have been slowly but surely rewired to engage with and respond to living in a digital culture.

Reclaiming Our Attention Spans

Our attention span can be defined as the amount of concentrated time we give to a task without becoming distracted. So how healthy is your family’s attention span?

Take an honest look at your home on any given Saturday. How many devices are powered up at one time? How many faces are planted on screens? How much time is spent together void of devices? How quick are you to respond to your email, social media, and text messages? How many details need to be repeated because of digital distractions? Do you interrupt face-to-face time with others when your phone beeps? How long does it take an individual to disrupt a gathering to look up something on their phone and then how long does it take before everyone feels permission to do the same?

More and more our entire lives are connected from home to school, to the office, and beyond. It’s easy to conduct our days fully connected and uninterrupted if we chose to do so. Such connectivity brings incredible positives but at what cost to our family’s attention spans?

If you’re serious about nursing your attention span back to health and raising kids that know how to do the same, here are a few practical changes to consider. If our brains can create new neuropaths that can efficiently multitask a digital life, they are also capable of creating paths designed to rebuild our attention spans.

5 Tips to Restore Your Attention Span

  1. Master single tasking. While most people see multitasking as a strength, studies show multitasking actually decreases productivity. Focus on one thing (or person) at a time. Put the phone down, close the laptop, and mute the TV. Not only will this improve your ability to focus and get things done, but you may also see a boost in the quality of your relationships. Resolution: Master the art of single tasking.
  2. No tech zones. The first thing we do in the morning can set the tone for the entire day. So, if you check your phone when you wake up, this can open the door to a distraction-filled day. Go old school. Leave your phone technology and attention spanin another room when you go bed and purchase an old-fashioned alarm clock. Keep your phone in a drawer for the first hour of your day so you can focus on your family and thoughts without distraction. This applies to kids as well. Resolution: Make the bedroom (and mornings) tech-free.
  3. Nurture your senses. Constant technology can deplete our physical senses. Two things can restore them: Taking periodic breaks from technology and drinking more water. Simply by putting down your technology and taking a walk or doing a physical task can restore your senses and boost your attention span. Also, staying hydrated helps every aspect of your ability to stay focused on the things and the people around you. Experts also encourage mediation, breathing deeply, and exercising as ways to nurture focus. Resolution: Take the time daily to restore your senses.
  4. Audit digital distractions. Studies show that for every distraction we indulge, it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back on course. Time tracking tools such as Toggle and Rescuetime can help you identify distractions. And, tools Google Chrome’s Stay Focused, will even block distracting sites.
  5. Streamline social. If you are active on ten social media channels, it could be time to streamline. Adding online groups and social networks to our lives — from communities within apps to Facebook groups — is a slow creep much like gaining weight. Audit your technology and attention spandigital communities and determine which three deserve your time and attention. Delete or deactivate the others. It may sound extreme but striking balance requires censoring. To help kids in this area, parental controls with time limits are an option. Resolution: Simplify social activity.
  6. Turn off notifications. Yes, sometimes the biggest changes are one simple step away. Turn off notifications that somehow have become the norm. Get rid of those Facebook, email, and Twitter notifications that pop up on your phone and fragment your attention span — and your relationships. Resolution: Live life notification free!

Author Bob Goff says, “What constantly distracts us, will eventually define us.” That’s a heavy thought for parents bringing up kids in a digital world. Building your attention span is like building up a muscle. It will take time, consistency, and you will make revisions along the way. So begin gradually and build. You may be surprised at rewards that start coming your way.


toni page birdsong


Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).

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