It's not news that we all live in a world that is moving faster each year. We are in immediate contact with information at our finger tips. Information is a constant 24/7 stream but not just one stream, its like many rivers all converging on you at once! While sometimes this may feel powerful, or motivating, it can also alter our ability to focus and perform at an optimal level. The ability to control where our attention is directed is fundamental to optimal performance in any aspect of our life.

"The way we live is eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention." -- Maggie Jackson in "Distraction: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age"

So let's take a little deeper look at our own behaviours. How many of you identify with one of the following:

  • Do you often have difficulty sustaining attention in tasks?
  • Do you often have difficulty listening when one is speaking to you directly or while in phone conversations?
  • Do you often have difficulty organizing tasks and activities?
  • Do you often avoid or dislike or are reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort?
  • Are you often distracted by external stimuli, such as an email or text message? Does that distract you from what you were doing?

Yes, right?! I would imagine that many people identify pretty strongly to that list. I'll even add a few more:

  • Do you often put down your phone, only to remember that you didn't do what you had originally intended when you first picked it up? "Yay, a high score in Cut The Rope! Oh shoot - forgot to check what time that meeting is tomorrow!"
  • Is part of your waking ritual immediately checking email, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Usually before getting out of bed?
  • Do you stand alongside other people; all of you staring into a tiny palm-sized screen? No one talking to each other?

Here's the fascinating bit: the first set of questions are used as diagnostic criteria for ADHD diagnosis (1). Of course, Im not here to diagnose anyone, just to point out how fascinating it is that we contribute to reduced attention span through the use of technology. The second set, well those are just how I laugh at myself somedays!

One thing I like to do periodically is completely step away from technology for 5-10 days at a stretch. It helps me regain focus and broadens my attention span. I try to do this several times a year and usually when on holiday. But you don't need to go on a fancy trip just to unplug.

So while I am embarking on my own Digital Sabbatical for the next 8 days, I thought I would share with you what I will be doing to reset.

Tips for a Digital Sabbatical

  • Set Ground-Rules for Devices: On this trip, I only took my iPad and iPhone. The iPhone will be only used for phone calls, directions, and as my primary camera. The iPad will only be used for writing and for reading books. I plan to do a lot of hiking and lounging on the beach this trip, so aside from the camera, I don't really need the iDevices for much of anything else.
  • Uninstall Social Media Apps: As much as I love to interact with my friends and colleagues on social media, (and Im thoroughly enamored with photographers on Instagram) that will all be there when I get back. So my devices do not have social media apps on them starting now. When I get back I'll choose which ones to install again.
  • Turn off Notifications: I have also turned off any badge or sound notifications for other apps: Mail, Calendar, Reminders, games, etc. I find that some days are spent playing a long game of Whack-a-Badge to get rid of them. It's like a compulsion to respond to the badge!
  • Turn Off Network Completely: For some, this is too much. But Im going to try at least several consecutive days on this trip where I keep the devices completely off of the internet entirely.
  • Plan Alternatives: Suddenly there will be quite a bit of free time. So have a game plan in place so you don't cave and go on an Angry Birds high score quest. On holiday, this is easier - as long walks on the beach, taking naps and reading books are pretty evident. But if you are at home, plan a walk with a friend, drink some tea, read a book, start a new hobby, or perhaps use the extra time to finally build that meditation habit you have been promising yourself!

Let me know what kinds of things you do to step away from the devices and give yourself an attention span boost in the comments.