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A recent Microsoft study finds that the average human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish.

A recent Microsoft study finds that the average human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish. Credit: Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

We crave information. We are smarter than ever because of how fast we can access information. But, according to a recent Microsoft study, “our attention span is now less than that of a goldfish.”

Apparently, humans have become so obsessed with portable devices, yet overwhelmed with content, that attention spans are actually shorter. That’s one of the conclusions from the study that surveyed 2,000 people to determine the impact pocket-sized devices, and the increased availability of digital media and information, have on our daily lives.

Attention spans have fallen from an average of 12 seconds (in 2000) to 8 seconds. It’s believed that goldfish can sustain a 9. On the positive side, the report also indicated that multitasking has dramatically improved during this information age we live in.

But can we really multitask? Only 2 percent of people truly can. David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah who studies attention, says there is a small fraction of the population that might actually be true multitaskers, or “supertaskers,” a term he coined. These supertaskers can successfully do several things at once—effectively. As for the remaining 98 percent, Strayer has spent his career telling them they are wrong when they claim they can talk on the phone and drive safely at the same time.

So when we are all being asked to do more with less and keep up with the fast pace of business and the incredible speed of new technology at the same time, how do we manage?

I suggest three steps. One, remember basic time management skills. Prioritize what’s urgent and important over “nice-to-have” activities or easy, quick tasks that are less critical to your goals. Organize your day every morning with the key tasks you need to accomplish.

Two, slow down. Catch your breath and consciously remind yourself to maintain focus on your top priorities for the day, even hour-by-hour. Don’t let yourself get distracted from that mission.

And three, take advantage of technology at your fingertips to better manage yourself. Set aside a few hours of the day to check and respond to your email. Early in the morning, over lunch and at the end of the day are good times for handling emails. Don’t let yourself jump at every ping and immediately write back. If you use Outlook at work, take advantage of task lists, flagging emails, rules and folders to keep yourself organized and on track. If you aren’t familiar with the technology tools available to you, call your IT support desk to ask for help, and find out what training your company provides.

If you are diligent about improving these core skills—managing your time, keeping focus and learning how to use technology’s time-saving tools—your proficiency and productivity can only increase.

I know it’s not simple. Stuff happens. Crises pop up. Priorities shift. So, go ahead and soak up as much information as you can to continue to learn and grow. Yet, at the same time, give yourself a break from constantly multitasking. We do have to roll with the punches. But, to swim with the sharks—or even the goldfish—we need to remember to use technology in smart ways at the right times.

1 Comment
  • Amy Glass

    Wow, what a great suggestion to prioritize my emails through Outlook! I have an almost compulsive need to reply as fast as I can to any email that comes in and now that I can organize who is a priority, hopefully, my stress level will decrease. Thanks Judy!

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