Having worked next door to a bar that was crowded on weekend nights and where cheers (or boos) could be periodically heard due to the weekly football games shown, I know what it’s like to have distractions in the public space. At an internship I did, they played music in the background and I wore headphone solely to block it out. My grandfather likes to listen to the news on TV at the loudest volume setting. And with these constant distractions, how are we supposed to concentrate on any one thing?
When I notice that my mind has been somewhere else during a meeting, I wonder what opportunities I’ve been missing right here.
– Daniel Goleman
I decided to test my attention span against my sister’s and did it the fun way: Disney. Presenting her with photos of Disney princesses, I let her look for 5 seconds and then hid it. Asking her what she remembered, I found that she paid attention to the dresses and could remember the colour and style of each princess’s dress. I was better at identifying features like skin and hair colour and poses. Easy enough – my sister does fashion at uni.
The next task we undertook was looking at DVD covers of various Disney movies. Ten seconds were given to look and then recite what we each remembered. Possessing a more refined artist’s eye, my sister focused more on the scenery and artwork of the covers, whilst I remembered all the characters.
The way we pay attention is inherently different – despite being twins. This has always been so, with our history teacher remarking that we got very similar marks on our tests but I would excel in one area whilst my sister excelled in another. When we did the selective school test, my sister’s marks trumped mine in Maths but I beat her in English. Two halves of a whole, we are. My sister tends to see intricacies, whilst I tend to absorb bigger details.
We both admitted to letting our attention wander and distractions getting the best of us. Just last night I spent an hour watching Riverdance instead of cleaning my room. We both frequently end up in weird places on the Internet due to clicking links here and there. We practically embody this Buzzfeed list! But attention is also relative to how our brains work. Learning and thinking styles differ greatly and affect the way we retain information and memories. As a visual learner, it’s a requirement for me to have an analogue watch and a planner to keep on top of tasks. I need to see written instructions to follow them, and on a huge essay last semester I physically wrote up the guidelines and steps to ensure that it turned out the way I saw it in my head.
There are countless articles on how to rebuild your attention span, and I’ve found some cool ways to keep your focus as well: using feed aggregators and readers like Flipboard and and Feedly to keep your information consumption on only the most important – distraction-free.