Attention Deficit

Here’s a few things I’m pretty convinced are true;

  1. There is a constant war being fought for the attention of our digital selves which is having dramatic adverse effects on people’s happiness, especially amongst digital natives who have never known a world without digital media;

  2. Activities practiced regularly which reward participants for consistent time investment over many years are essential to a meaningful life;

  3. The instant dopaminergic gratifications available through social media and the 24-hour news cycle are training us against investing time into activities which generate meaning over time;

  4. Therefore, it is necessary to reframe the benefits of investing time and energy into skills and activities which create meaning and value over time for those who don’t understand this intuitively.

Deadlines are awesome.

They force you to focus on accomplishing a clear goal within a specific time, and usually do a good job of motivating you to get across the line.

But some of us (me) enjoy capitalising on this pressure so much that we get reliant on it.

This becomes a problem when longer term tasks show up – because they’re not the kinds of things you can smash out in an all-nighter.

Some things require slow, gradual, meaningful work.

When we can’t rely on sweet deadline pressure to get that work done, we need to employ other means.

For me, it’s games.

I’ll create a finite set of rules which govern the rate, pace and quality of the work I’ve got to do, break it into parts and sprinkle rewards along the way to encourage victory.

This blog is a prime example of that kind of game.

I’ve posted here every day for 6 months as of today (minus one day where my scheduling was out and I scheduled a post for three days in the future – thanks to who noticed).

That would never have been possible if I hadn’t set out goals, expectations and rewards for myself along the way which turned half a year’s worth of writing into daily, bite sized chunks.

Take care of your goals. Treat them well. And when you’re not progressing in their direction, find out why – then design something special and have some fun.

How many actionable thoughts did you have today?

How many did you resist?

Of those you resisted, did your resistance stem from logic or fear?

Your nature is to act.

Resist the resistance.

Do the thing.

Go.

The blessing of a diagnosis clarity. It’s validation, it’s a community of others dealing with similar circumstances.

A diagnosis says, ‘You experience this particular thing, it’s real, and other people also experience it.’

And the more you discuss your diagnosis, the more you seek the experiences of others who share your experience and begin to understand your diagnosis more deeply, a character starts to form from its description.

The great thing about this is that it can help you strategise around the disorder.

The problem is that it gives you someone else to blame when things go wrong.

I slip into this thinking with ADHD all the time.

‘My ADHD doesn’t let me focus when I want to.’

‘I’m sorry I didn’t do that thing I was supposed to, my ADHD means I get distracted sometimes.’

‘I forgot what time we were meant to meet – ADHD.’

These are comfortable thoughts, but they’re bullshit.

I can force myself to focus whenever I need to. I just need to isolate potential distractions more-so than most.

If I forgot to do something, or what time I was meant to be somewhere, it’s because I didn’t write it down like I should have, or I didn’t prioritise it high enough. ADHD certainly doesn’t make these things easier to do, but it’s me who lets people down.

I am in no way seperate from my ADHD.

Personifying it, giving it character, and imagining what its motivations are can all be helpful ways to frame the diagnosis and help explain it to other people.

Its usefulness ends at the point where I start believing that its character exists outside of my own.

I’m no doctor or psychologist, but I’d be willing to bet that the same goes for a whole lot more than ADHD.

I returned to my office three times today because of things I’d forgotten to do or take with me.

Not because I hadn’t considered the things, but because each time I left, I was thinking about what I needed to do after I’d left the office, and each time one of the things slipped my mind.

We each only have so much executive bandwidth with which to function.

I held myself up because I didn’t allow myself the focus to finish one task fully before trying to leap into the next.

Look closely and you’ll see people do this all the time.

Rushing from task to task without clear direction – often leaving chaos (and mess) in their tracks.

I try to catch myself when my mind races past the present, but it can be hard in a life so overflowing with distraction.

Be careful not to live too far into the future, lest you undermine your present.

When the quantity of work required to achieve a planned outcome increases disproportionately to the resources you have available to achieve said outcomes, you have scope creep.

Scope creep is entirely common and can be absolutely paralysing, but is totally avoidable.

Scope Creep is often a product of poor planning.

Before commencing any project, you should have a clear list of specific tasks which need to be completed in order to achieve the outcome you’re working towards.

The specificity and tangibility of these tasks is directly related to how difficult it will be for scope to creep.

Vague goals generate vague tasks which lead to not much getting done.

Vagueness is the enemy of progress. Which is why we all have a friend who is still writing that ‘thing’ they have been working on and adapting for years. I have been that friend. In many ways, I still am that friend. But I’m working on it.

More specifically, I’m working on setting goals which are strategic, time sensitive, achievable and meaningful.

Being busy is easy.

So easy that you can live in a perpetual state of busyness without actually doing a whole lot. To stay feeling busy, just make sure that you’re always focussed on at least two tasks.

Productivity requires the opposite. It doesn’t feel as good to tell people how little you’ve been focussing on, but focussing purely on a few important things, one at a time, will get you much further.

When people ask how I’ve been, I’m often guilty of responding with, “Busy, but good.”

“Oh, that’s good.” Is what people usually say. But it’s not good. Being ‘busy’ is a waste of the two most valuable assets we have; our time and our attention.

Protect them from the distractions which would prey on your productivity and feed your sense of busy at all costs.

We associate the quantity of choice a person has available to them with the amount of freedom that person possess.

Freedom is good. Therefore, we assume that choice must also be good – and to an extent, it is. However, there’s a turning point at which our freedom to choose from a growing list of options no longer increases our level of happiness. In fact, over saturation of choice can actually diminish our happiness.

In the early 2000s, a scientist name Barry Schwartz popularised this idea with a challenge western society’s obsession with generating freedom through an ever increasing number of options.

Image result for paradox of choice schwartz

After conducting multiple studies, he wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice which argued that while abundance of choice provides some short term satisfaction in the moment (and keeps us coming back for more), the more options a person has available to them, the less likely they are to be satisfied with the result of their choice.

To demonstrate, imagine that you have to choose between two restaurants. You have no way to look at the menus, but you know that the first restaurant features a menu with four main courses, while the second has sixteen main courses on theirs.

Which restaurant are you more likely to try?

Statistically, you’d probably go with the second, and there’s a lot of sense in this; if there’s four times as many main dishes at the second restaurant, there’s a better chance that they’ll have a meal perfectly suited to your taste.

At first glance, it makes logical sense to give yourself as many options as possible. We are hardwired not to limit ourselves, even when it comes to something as basic as dinner.

But when we take a closer look, Schwartz’s paradox of choice comes into play.

He discovered that in circumstances where people had to decide between an outlet with more choice versus an outlet with less, it was true that those who opted for more choice, the ones who went to the second restaurant and scoured over the ingredients in all sixteen dishes before finally making a decision, reported being more satisfied with their choice than those who limited their options and made a quick dinner selection. But only by a tiny margin.

What’s fascinating is that while the group who went to the first restaurant didn’t think about the choice again, when asked about their decision after the fact (once the meal was over) those who went to the second restaurant started to second guess the choice they made. Their satisfaction, despite being mildy higher at the time of consumption, took a hit once they started to consider all the options they opted not to choose.

As our options increase, so do our expectations that we’ll be able find the perfect option.

The more options we have to forgo when making a choice, the higher the possibility that we’ll make the wrong one.

More choice does not equate to more happiness because choice itself is a double edged sword.

When we are constantly saturated with choice, it’s not uncommon to experience choice paralysis. A sensation which often results in no choice being made at all.

While sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, we have a lot more control over the choices we present ourselves with than we feel like we do.

Do your best to find a balance.

Our attention is even more valuable than our time, and we trade it every day.

We live in an attention economy.

Businesses bid for it constantly. On billboards, backs of busses, and through buzzes in your pocket.

How frugal we are with our attention influences every aspect of our lives.

Where can you see your attention seeping through the gaps of things which don’t matter?

Good time management means nothing without good attention management.

Fail to focus your attention, and all that time you saved is waste.

Now’s the time to stocktake and trim the fat.

I’ve never been a fast reader.

In fact, unless it’s an exceptional book, my attention span struggles to with written text. As most of the books I ‘read’ are audiobooks, reading quickly is just never a skill I’d invested in.

This was until a few days ago, when I stumbled across a ten minute Tim Ferris video which changed the game.

I’ve been trying out the techniques he describes for a few days, and I can’t believe nobody taught me how to do this sooner.

The tip which blew my mind has to do with taking advantage of your peripheral vision.

When we were first learning to read, we had to focus intently on the letters which made up each word. As we did this, our eyes were trained to jump from word to word as we read across the page.

Unfortunately, most of us didn’t adapt our reading style once we started to recognise words without needing to break them down letter by letter.

Now we can!

By progressively indenting your focal points further into the centre of the page, you can eventually end up only needing to focus on the central third of a chunk of text, as your peripherals allow you to read the first and last third of the page without needing to direct your focus away from the centre.

Never before had I considered that I could read words in my periphery.

I understand how strange this sounds, and I’ll admit that it does feel weird for the first few pages.

But once you adjust, you’ll find it hard to go back. My reading speed has more than doubled in less than a week.

There are a couple of other techniques to add to this one in the video below, which I highly recommend checking it out.

It’ll take ten minutes of your time, but has already saved me hours.