Beat the 7-Minute Attention Span with These Tips

UPDATED: April 3, 2012
PUBLISHED: April 3, 2012

Do you manage your day efficiently? Or do you, like most people feel stressed by the unfinished projects and tasks in your life?

Take a quick honest assessment of your life:

When you look around your office, do you see physical clutter: stacks of paper, file folders, torn pieces of paper with phone numbers you meant to call two days ago?

Does your subconscious tape constantly replay thought like:  “I will never finish this project by Tuesday.”  “I wish I had more time.” “I am so tired.”  “I need to exercise.”  “I am not sure if I can do this.”

If you answered yes to the questions above, it may seem that the strain of “what you need to do” is crushing you.

Inefficient time-management habits lead to stress, anxiety, guilt, indecision and procrastination. Your body responds by releasing the stress chemicals cortisol and norepinephrine. Your heart rate rises, your breath quickens, your palms sweat, and you quickly lose your ability to concentrate.

Research shows that the average adult has an attention span of seven minutes. (That is how you were created.  If a cave man wasn’t distracted by the noise in the bushes… he became a tiger’s dinner!) But the fact that you may have seven-attention span doesn’t mean you have to subsist in a state of stress.

I want to offer you hope: You don’t have to live with constant chaos. Stay with me for a few more minutes and I’ll show you three key strategies for improving your time-management skills:

1. Understand the Philosophy of Time

The philosophy of time explores the relationship of connecting your left brain—the strategic, logical, linear and goal-oriented part of you—with your right brain—the creativity, innovative, inspirational, imaginative and hopeful part of you.

Time is a reality that is experienced based on what you choose to focus your attention on. When you learn to focus your time and attention on what is most important, you can experience life at an entirely different level of significance and fulfillment.

2. Use the Brain Science to Improve Your Use of Time

The science of neuroplasticity (the idea that the human brain is plastic or changeable) proves the long-known concept that the actions you repeat over and over again create NEW connections and NEW habits in your life.

Because of neuroplasticity, you do not have to continue to have poor skill sets in any area of your life.  If you are disorganized… you can learn to become more organized.  If you are inefficient… you can learn to improve your efficiency.  If you are out of shape… you can get in shape.

It has never been a secret that you “become what you do.” The phenomenon of neuroplasticity means that you can be different tomorrow than you are today.

3. Implement Systems that Make Your Life Work Better

Time is a reality. You only have 24 hours a day. Since you can’t change the reality of time, you must implement processes and repeatable systems to make the most of every minute. These systems can be incredibly simple. In fact, I call some of them microactions because they are so simple.  

Here are three concrete microactions you can implement today:

1. Take “7 Minutes” to create a written list of the unfinished tasks and projects in your life at work and at home.  Write down every single thing that is causing stress and anxiety in your life.  This list may include replacing a button on your shirt, changing a light bulb in your bathroom, returning a phone call or finding that receipt for reimbursement.

2. Take “7 Minutes” to make two quick phone calls to people on the list you just created.  It could be someone who has been on your call-back list for several days. Or perhaps you need to set up a time for a personal meeting. Make the call. Do not send an email to accomplish this task. Actually speaking to these people eliminates the need to bounce email back and forth for a decision—you can set a time for a meeting or get your question answered on the spot.

3. Take “7 Minutes” to create your “Written Daily Plan of Action” for tomorrow.  Review your written unfinished task list and write down NO MORE than five of the highest value activities that you will make an emotional commitment to complete before eleven o’clock the next morning.

As a time-management coach, I believe, “Change happens in an Instant! It happens the moment you decide to change.” The first step to improve your time management skills is deciding to change. The next step is finding quality information to help you change. And then, take action.  Taking tiny microactions will empower you to make significant changes in your life—seven minutes at a time.  

Allyson Lewis