The digital age is challenging us individually and collectively. The current work environment is dominated by information overload, 24/7 connectivity and continuous distractions. We live in an attention economy and managing attention is a crucial part of creative and productive output. Given that technology is here to stay, and the amount of distractions will most likely increase, it’s time for you to train your attention muscle and find ways to engage with your devices in a more wholesome and productive way:
Train your attention muscle with mindfulness meditation
Modern neuroscience shows that mindfulness meditation is like going to the mental gym. Going to the mental gym on a regular basis changes your brain structure, strengthens your attention muscle and improves your ability to focus. Noticing in the meditation that your mind has wandered off to a thought instead of your breath is directly applicable to noticing in daily life - it’s the same as if your attention has wandered away from your presentation to making your shopping list or checking your phone. In meditation you also learn to detach your attention from your thoughts and bring it back to your breath. This helps you to detach your attention in daily life from following the impulse to check an incoming email to returning to focusing on your presentation.
2. Make checking your devices a conscious action.
The next time you feel an impulse to check your phone or emails, and interrupt your workflow or conversation with your partner, co-worker or child, ask yourself if this is what you’d really like to do in this particular moment or if it can wait. You might also take a few conscious breaths to interrupt the unconscious reactivity, and then return to whatever you were doing.
3. Never check your emails first thing in the morning
You might have a habit of using your phone as an alarm clock and checking your emails first thing, even before kissing your partner. While this is common practice, this is pretty much the worst way to start your day when it comes to productivity and it significantly raises your stress levels. When you wake up in the morning, your body is full of cortisol and adrenalin. If you check your phone and immediately see thirty new emails, you’ll probably feel stressed and go into reactivity mode instead of making a conscious and strategic choice of what needs to be done. When you wake up each day, you have a choice of how to start your day. You can grab your phone, check your emails and immediately get dragged into other people’s priorities. You can also take a few deep breaths, pause and centre yourself before you step into the busyness of your day. Ask yourself what is present in your mind, body, breath and the underlying tone of feeling.
4. Use technology to interrupt your automatic pilot
According to Harvard Professor Ellen Langer, “most of us are on autopilot virtually almost all of the time”. We’re either ruminating on the past or worrying about our future. Setting an alarm on your computer or phone three times per day that reminds you to pause and check in with your breath helps you to become more present and interrupt your automatic pilot.
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Palma Michel is our Better in 30 Meditation Coach. She is the Co-Founder of Profuse29, a company that introduces mindfulness and mindful leadership to companies like London School of Economics and The Soho House Group. Palma is the author of ‘The Authority Guide To Mindful Leadership’ due to be published in April.