Have you ever worked on solving a problem that you just couldn’t seem to let go of, no matter how long it was taking? Or perhaps you have found yourself in a constant struggle to maintain focus on the solving problem, but end up doing anything else instead. Eventually, exhaustion and time creep up on you and you finally give in, resolved to tackle it anew the next day.
Then it happens – the next day you look at the problem again, and voilà! the solution presents itself so obviously that you literally smack yourself in the head and announce to no one in particular what an imbecile you are.
Of course, you’re not really an imbecile, just perhaps a little unbalanced. Let me explain. We all need balance in our lives; the right amount of food, the right amount of exercise, the right amount of work (yes, work is a necessary and good thing), and the right amount of leisure, to name a few. We also need to balance our attention, especially given the extraordinary demands on it in this current information age.
Ultimately, we all have limited attention spans, and although some are more limited than others, the key is not to treat this as a problem for which we need a cure, but simply to understand and accept the limits of our attentions span and structure our life and work in a way that best complement it.
For those who tend to have longer attention spans, this may mean the constructive use of deadlines to rein in our über-attention and force us to “Ship It,” as Seth Godin advocates in his excellent book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
For those with shorter attention spans, it may mean the constructive use of time-chunking, or working in chunks of time attuned to our natural attention span, with micro breaks in between to refresh our attention for the next chunk.
My guess is, most of us fall into both categories depending on the time of day, what we are doing, or the setting we are in. The point is, when you feel your attention slipping, it may be time to ship it or chunk it, and find something else to keep your attention.