5 Lifehacks For Living With A Terrible Attention Span
If you're like me, you've forgotten what you're supposed to be doing right now and are distracting yourself with something fun until the shame goes away, because you too are afflicted with the special madness of being easily distracted. Of being a space cadet. Of being an easily distracted jackass.
What's the deal with folks like us, huh? Do we eat too much sugar and caffeine? Not get enough sleep or masturbation? Undiagnosed ADD? Or is it the meth? Whatever the cause, if you can stop rearranging the Pacific Rim action figures on your desk and pay attention to what I'm telling you for just 2,000 words, I'll give you some tips that just might save your life. Or marriage. Or job. Oh, and I promise not to make any "har har, what was I talking about?" jokes just because I don't know how to end a paragraph.
Do The Stuff You Want To Do Before The Stuff You Have To
Let's say you wake up on your day off and itemize your tasks thusly:
"Stop Being The Kind Of Person Who Says Thusly"
"Drag Race Neighbor For Parking Spot"
"Pay Credit Card Bill"
To a disorganized person, even a simple, five-item task list can be overwhelming. The ant thing alone could take more than five hours. I know that your first impulse, like mine, will be to dump your trash on the floor in your living room, curl up in a ball on top of it, and get good and drunk.
I did not expect there to be a stock photo for that concept.
And I also know that you're going to overpower that impulse and get started -- but how do you prioritize?
I think the typical instinct is to do the unpleasant stuff (the nasty parts of cleaning the apartment, seminar with Snob-Away dialect coach, and paying my credit card bill) before the pleasant stuff (re-organizing my DVDs, waging war against the encroaching insect army, and drag racing my neighbor through the crowded streets of L.A. for Parking Supremacy). That way, the fun part is like a dessert. If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding, right? How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?
Well, let me tell you, that shit don't work for spacey people. You can't focus on your credit score knowing there's a drag race in your future any more than you could focus on doing your taxes knowing that there was a drag race in your future. A wandering mind just can't handle the procrastination of something as awesome as a drag race.
You may not have a drag race in your immediate future, and that's fine -- not everyone's life is as cool as I pretend mine is for comedy purposes -- but maybe you enjoy grocery shopping or organizing your DVD collection autobiographically like John Cusack in High Fidelity, and if you get those things done first, your brain will be free from the shackles of anticipated joy and more capable to concentrate on the soul-crushing monotony of modern life.
Turn Off Every Notification On Your Phone
The smartphone is a marvel of modern technology. Everything you need to stay organized crammed into something the size of a $25 sex toy -- and yet, every single study about them finds that they're terrible for our concentration, productivity, and general smartness. What's the solution?
Simple: Turn off every goddamn notification. Seriously, here is an exhaustive list of every noise my cellphone makes (I really like making lists):
1. Ringtone (same for everyone, because caller ID exists)
2. Text noise
3. My morning alarm (which is "Junesong Provision" by the sci-fi prog-rock band Coheed And Cambria, because I like waking up feeling both cheerful and ready to fistfight some space-angels)
Through careful research and even more careful thought, I've realized that every single other notification possible is pointless distraction. You do not need to know when your boyfriend favorites your new profile picture, you do not need to know whenever someone retweets you, and you do not need to know whenever you get a new email. Develop a system for checking regularly, and then turn that fucking notification off.
Because, ironically, the smartphone -- a modern-day Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and a symbol of our fast-paced, individualized, information-driven super-society -- has robbed us of what our productivity needed most: a sense of isolation, a sense of privacy. A sense of independence. A sense of self. Also, I really hate all my "notification" options, because they just sound like different parts of the same techno-disco-themed fairy orgy, and none of those words help me get work done.
Remind Yourself That Momentum Is More Important Than Direction
Even if you start with the fun stuff, and even if you manage to stay cool, you can't escape the core problem of being a spacey dude, and that is, of course, the inability to keep working on one fucking task for longer than eight to 12 seconds before you check Twitter or decide to get a snack or remember that you need to call your dentist and oh shit, real talk: I need to call my dentist. I'm getting my wisdom teeth out later this month and ... ah hell, I promised in the intro that I wouldn't do this.
It's easy to forget that a lot of tasks can be done in pretty much any order, so changing gears is less of a problem than wasting time: If you're trying to perform your weekly voodoo ritual on all the talk radio hosts you don't like, but your brain is insisting that it's time to feed the captive talk radio host you keep in your basement, then maybe it'd be more efficient to just go and pour him that bowl of kibble. In fact, the less time you spend frustrated at yourself for getting distracted, the more quickly you'll make headway.
For the chunk of my audience that aren't AM-radio-infatuated serial killers: Just think about the stress of moving into a new place. Not only are there a million things to do, they surround you like a pack of velociraptors, each one armed with claws made of broken glassware and cracked picture frames. The best way to fend them off is to just keep unpacking, one step at a time -- and I do mean one step: Pick up this cup, put it in the cabinet. Then get distracted by that box of macaroni and put it in a different cabinet. Then notice that you haven't set up your cat's litter box, so do that. Then put one sheet on your bed before deciding to plug in your TV. Then go back and put the other sheets on the bed. Just keep doing stuff, in whatever order your brain demands and, shockingly, stuff will start to get done.
Is this the most efficient way to plow through your tasks? Fuck no, but listen: You're a spacey person. "The most efficient way" was never an option. And it's a damn sight more efficient than drinking yourself to sleep in a pile of trash, which may be a pretty low bar, but let's ... just ... cut yourself some slack, all right? You're surrounded by velociraptors.
Drink Lots Of Water
OK, so this is sort of a simple one, but bear with me, because I've found that drinking a lot of water helps me concentrate for two equally important reasons.
First, hydration is just good for your brain. That makes sense in the context of my understanding of neurology. See, your brain gets all clogged up and slow, and it needs some lubin' up to keep those thoughts floatin' free. I imagine it's something like oil in a car. Like all the water sits in a water pan at the bottom of your brain, and after 6,000 miles (15,000 in some newer, German brains, provided you use synthetic water) you have to change it because it has all kinds of weird debris floating in it. OK, fine, I have no idea how brains work. But water helps.
The second reason is that frequent, regular breaks help improve concentration, especially if they involve movement and a change in environment. Do you ... do you get what I'm saying? Go pee a lot. If you pee a lot, it'll help you concentrate. Plus peeing is kinda nice. Certainly not unpleasant, anyway.
Don't Give Up
Here's the first thing I do every morning:
I change it up a lot.
Now, I'd like to say that I've been doing that since I was 14 years old and decided to become a Serious Organized Person, but the truth is that I started doing that about six months ago. For the six months before that, I had a totally different system involving my Google Calendar. And before that, I had a Moleskine yearly planner that I kept on my desk. That technique worked for a solid year before, all of the sudden, it didn't, and I started screwing up at work and missing deadlines again and I had to figure out a new technique.
If you're like me, figuring out where you're supposed to be, when, and for how long is always just as hard as doing the actual stuff that you need to do. Staying organized and concentrating may as well be foreign languages, unless you're good at those too, in which case they may as well be car engines, unless you also understand those things, in which case, come on, just pick something you suck at and meet me halfway on this analogy please.
For the Spacey Dude, modern society is an unending assault from the forces of chaos, and all we can do is build weapons from the fragments of our own mind and try to carve out a little slice that makes sense to us. Then, with the winds of madness howling outside the walls of our own pluck, we curl up and get drunk in a pile of trash in the middle of our living room. Because we've earned it, dammit.
JF Sargent is an editor and columnist for Cracked because there aren't many other options when you're the kind of guy who frequently loses track of every single pair of shoes he owns. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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