Human attention is a scarce resource. A war being fought to capture it.
It’s you against the combined efforts of giant tech companies, advertising agencies and every other business that is trying to sell something. They want to control the attention graph.
You intuitively know that your ability to focus and to do deep work is under attack. If you are a research analyst, you are paid to do deep work but you are constantly practicing shallow attention.
This article will provide you with tools and practices so you can fight back and regain control of your attention span. Take action now.
How focus and attention work
Have you ever drove a manual transmission car? If you did, you would have noticed that it’s almost impossible to move it if you start with the 5th gear, it just doesn’t have enough torque.
The only possible way to move car using the 5th gear is to start slow, reaaallly slow.
The same happens with our capacity to focus and pay attention. It needs momentum. If you start and stop, start and stop you will never achieve cruise speed. You need long uninterrupted periods of focus to make the world around you disappear, to enjoy flow state.
If you are checking WhatsApp, email or any other app 5 times an hour you will never get full speed productivity and focus. Just like the drawing above.
How to solve this problem? With simple but not so easy techniques. Keep reading.
Your undivided attention
The first thing we should agree on is that batching is MUCH better than multitasking. Multitasking is the enemy of deep work.
I don’t have to tell you then that if chopping off your attention into little pieces is bad, then you cell phone should be thrown away by the window.
Even just using your laptop, the amount of micro distractions we suffer these days is beyond normal.
There’s a great podcast called Undivided Attention where they talk about how modern technology and specifically app UX design are destroying our attention spans.
Do you remember the last time you sit down for a couple of hours to read a book? Exactly.
So, first step to improve attention span: work in only one task for prolonged periods at a time. Then take a brake and repeat.
Start by batching blocks of one hour and a half and start building from there. If your work allows, then you can aim to have a whole morning to work in only one thing without any distractions.
Weapons of choice
Don’t fight all these attention grabbers by yourself.
Here find some tools and techniques:
Use Apple time blocking tools or other. Block the use of addictive apps during periods of time. Focusme.com is one other tool.
Be a Pomodoro Technique master. You will not realize the impact of Pomodoros until you try it by yourself. Your productivity will sky rocket.
Sometimes you need accountability. You are in luck, even if you work alone in your home today there are several ways go getting it.
- Tell a friend your goal and put some money on the line. If you don’t accomplish what you are trying to do, the money gets transfer to a charity of your choice.
- Hire a coach that can held you accountable and guide you through accomplishing your goals of having daily deep focus.
- Follow a “Study With Me” or “Work With Me” youtuber. Don’t know what that is? Look it up in Youtube. It’s exploding.
- Create an account in Caveday.org. You will be working with people around the world that held you accountable while working through Zoom for 1 to 3 hours.
Getting in the zone
Trying to get into flow state? Say no more. Try the following:
Earmuff’s or a good pair of headphones to listen to music while you work. I find movie soundtracks or Youtube videos with coffee store sounds (believe it or not there are a lot of these) are a great way for getting into flow.
Drink some matcha tea instead of caffeine. You will have the alertness without the the crash.
Meditation. You will start having more awareness of your internal states. I recommend the Waking Up app from Sam Harris.
You will not realize how out of control your mind is until you start meditating and focusing your attention in one thing. Once you realize how difficult this is, you will have an insight on the mess we are in.
Plan your projects carefully: finish stuff instead of just being busy
Plan for results instead of work. Your to-do list should be comprised of tasks that builds up to accomplish something.
It’s really easy to be busy without accomplishing anything.
Oh, and one more thing: have a deadline.
Be tough with your deadlines. Remember Parkinson’s Law? A task will take the time you have allocated to it.
Looking to your future self
You now are part of the rebels, fighting to get your attention span back. You now have the tools to do it.
Being productive working alone is tough. You are on your own.
Doing research for an investment thesis could take for ever if you do not set clear goals and deadlines.
If you apply the techniques and use the tools shared in this article you will be one step closer to become a super investor.