By PLA Lindsay
I’ve recently come across several sources that claim the average attention span for a person today is five seconds. This basically means that once we start doing something, we have roughly five seconds before our brain starts to look for something else to grab our attention. As a university student with hours of homework and readings to complete almost every night, this thought terrified me. Although the number may not be exact, it makes sense that attention spans would be shorter in our modern technology-reliant world.
I constantly find myself multi-tasking throughout the day – I check my e-mail while eating lunch and text my friends while walking to class. Understandably, when it comes time to sit down and do work, it can be quite difficult to focus on one task for the required amount of time. I’m going to go on a different track for a second here. Just stay with me.
Nearly everyone these days has access to television, and has a few favourite shows that they look forward to each week. Pick one show that you like and help me out by using your imagination while you read on. You’re sitting at home, on the couch, with the TV on, excited because you’re about to watch the newest episode of [insert name of awesome T.V. show that you enjoy]. Everyone in the room gets quiet as the show starts. You settle into the couch more and more as you get sucked into this week’s story. Oh. My. Gosh. That did not just happen. Suddenly, right in the middle of a scene, right when something EXCITING is about to happen —
SURPRISE! COMMERCIAL BREAK!
Cue the amped up volume and bright lights of happy, beautiful people trying to sell you things. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just watch the entire fifty minutes of your show in one, long uninterrupted section? Then you could have the full ten minutes of commercial break at the end, rather than the few scattered minutes here and there. These breaks not only disrupt the flow of the show, but are also too short for a bathroom break (without having to sprint there and back), or having a full conversation with someone.
Okay, remember at the beginning when I talked about short attention spans and how scary that is for students with hours of work each night? I want you to think about that problem again, but this time, try thinking about it with relation to your favourite TV show. Imagine that your brain is you, and your homework is the TV show. When you’ve selected what you’re going to work on, it’s like choosing a TV show that you want to watch. Anything that might be a distraction is a new, annoying commercial. Every time you take a break from working to check your cell or browse Facebook, it’s like forcing your brain to take a commercial break and it completely disrupts the flow of your work. It’ll take you a few minutes before you can get back the focus you had before the break, which is wasted time that could have been very useful.
Now that you may find it a bit more relatable, here’s a breakdown of the 50-10 method that can save your attention span and your grades.
- Pick a course that you need to work on. Work for a full 50 minutes with no small breaks or interruptions (this means turn off that cell phone). When you give yourself that chunk of time to focus on your work, you should discover that you can get much more accomplished than you thought. This should be a realistic goal.
- When that 50 minutes is up, take ten minutes all to yourself. Put your books away and call a friend, grab a snack, or listen to some music. Go for a walk! Don’t try to push through and keep working because that’s an easy way to burn yourself out. Take the full ten minutes to rest your brain and get yourself ready for the next 50 minute section.
Once you master the 50-10 work method, I hope you find that you can not only work for longer periods of time without interruption, but that you have actually increased your attention span. The only thing the 50-10 method can’t help you with is dealing with those pesky commercial breaks.