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Coping with a short attention span

Call it what you want. ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Short Attention Span Syndrome. Or the ‘lifestyle flu’ of our times. Here’s a lowdown on the condition in short, bite-sized morsels for the easily distracted reader.

health and fitness Updated: Nov 12, 2011 20:59 IST
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Call it what you want. ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Short Attention Span Syndrome. Or the ‘lifestyle flu’ of our times. Here’s a lowdown on the condition in short, bite-sized morsels for the easily distracted reader. Oh, gotta rush now, we have other pages to look at in the magazine.



Why? How?

Consultant psychologist at Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai, Dr Kersi Chavda says that ‘attention deficit syndrome’ has more than just the obvious causes. "Overload of everything – technology, stress, work etc – is just one of the reasons," he says. Check these out:



Too much intrusion in one’s private space

From the Internet to TV to films to social networking in the real and virtual worlds to workload – there isn’t enough time for everything. Everything has to be compressed into tiny capsules, because anything longer than a tiny capsule is beyond our short (and steadily shortening further) attention spans.



Woman thinkingA restless temperament

An anxious, nervous temperament can be a big cause of attention problems. With more than one thing to do, many people are constantly anxious about finishing the work on time and getting on to other tasks, resulting in them not being able to focus on anything.



General tiredness and fatigue

Because we have so many things to do, we tend to overlook our stress levels and continue exerting ourselves. That fatigue often manifests itself as an inability to concentrate.



No sleep or too much of it

Either way, your attention span could go for a toss. While it may feel good to say that you can do with just a few hours of sleep, what it actually means is that your temperament is borderline hyper-active, which is not really a good thing. Hard as it seems, you must have a calm mindset to go about your work properly, say experts. Similarly, too much sleep is unhealthy, making you lethargic. Ideally: a six to eight hour sleep ritual is what you should stick to.



Nutritional deficiencies Lack of a nutritious diet, say experts, is a primary reason for lack of concentration. While small meals every two hours is a great concept, experts say that these can’t substitute the three meals-a-day ritual. Psychologist Dr Seema Hingorrany says a proper breakfast with cereals, fruits etc., is a must, as is a proper lunch and dinner. "You must have green vegetables, fruits and dairy products such as milk, curd, paneer etc. Have coconut water, but you can’t make it a meal," she adds.



Lack of support structures According to Dr Seema Hingorrany, this could be due to disintegration of joint families or just our growing individualistic mindsets. "We are left with no or minimum support structures and need to do everything on our own. From buying groceries to catering to kids and our spouse to giving 100 per cent in office, the responsibility is solely on the individual," says Hingorrany.



Too hooked to take a break Most of us don’t know when to switch off. It is necessary to take that 30 minutes and walk in the fresh air. "Shut off your phone, Facebook, Twitter, all your connections with the world and find a few minutes to be with yourself. You will be able to come back with much better focus," says Hingorrany.



Sounds familiar?

Do these words and phrases resonate with you?

Restless, impatient

Channel surfing

Anxiety

Difficulty getting things done on time

Unfinished tasks

Information overload

Media saturation

Coffee addiction

Easily bored

Easily distracted

Disorganised

Chronically late

Stressed

Frustration

If even half of them did, you may be the victim of short attention span syndrome / attention deficit syndrome, often called the yuppie flu / lifestyle flu of our times

By the way… don’t confuse this with the real McCoy
Don’t confuse the ‘short attention span syndrome’ with ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder which is a problem that affects children of school-going age.
Experts agree that the signs (inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsiveness) seem the same but in adults it usually isn’t a disorder of a clinical nature.
“Rather, it could be termed as a lifestyle crisis. With so much and more to do in a limited span of time and the number of tasks increasing fast, it is becoming nearly impossible for people to hold their attention on a single thing for more than a few minutes,” says Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant psychologist,
Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai.

The cure? Not medicines. Just learn to be calm and try and go slow.

When you can't concentrate at work

WorkHR consultant Mayuri


Mistry says that at training sessions, many executives complain of work stress caused by endless distractions. They are invited for meetings by bosses, tea and smoke breaks by colleagues and bosses, plus all manner of people drop by for a chat. This results in work spilling over to beyond office hours.



Her advice: Learn to say no politely, and let colleagues know that you mean it.

Problem area number two is when multiple tasks are assigned, and office workers are not able to prioritise tasks, causing them a great deal of stress.



Her advice: It’s simple. Make a to-do list in terms of priorities and stick to it. Finish one task and move to the next one.

So what’s wrong with multi-tasking?
It’s important for us to realise that we have been multi-tasking for a while now. After all, working women juggle multiple responsibilities of childcare, home care and work tasks. So it’s not multi-tasking that is the problem – it’s the fact that we multi-task frequently in a state of panic, rushing around doing things in a haphazard manner. If our mind is calm, we can actually multi-task in an efficient manner.

Solution: Tried and tested yoga and meditation go a long way in calming the mind. If you can’t manage this, spend some time with yourself, while commuting by bus or train, for instance. Don’t read or listen to music,
just stare into space. Initially, you will find thoughts crowding your mind – but eventually, you will find your mind calming down.

That’s what sociologist and corporate trainer Dr Anonna Guha, Nrityanjali Education and Management Services, advises.

Life in the super fast lane

Express lunches
Quick, non fussy, easy to order.
Everything is already laid out, No need to spend time looking at the menu.
On workdays, people look for quick eating options. Relaxed lunches work well only on special occasions or Sundays.

Real life example: Says Saurabh Khanjio, CEO, Kylin Premier, The Teppanyaki Grill, “When we opened at the Ambience Mall in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, our lunch time earnings were very poor. After some serious thinking, we decided to start with our Busy Bee express lunches that offer a set lunch menu. This was an instant hit and now more than 60 per cent of our lunch earnings are through the Busy Bee
option.”

Coffee on the go
The coffee lounge model is also changing.
Takeaway coffee is becoming popular.
Real life example: Although coffee lounges started with the concept of offering everyone a place to sit and enjoy their cup of coffee, that’s not the case any longer. Says K Ramakrishna, president, marketing, Café Coffee Day, “Today, in coffee lounges near office complexes and transportation hubs (metro stations, airports), the demand for coffee on the go is as high as 30 per cent of the total sales. We have recently introduced new lunch options that include pizzas, pastas and even salads. However, the fastest moving items during lunch time are sandwiches.”

Quick reads
Quick and easy reads cater to the mass market audience.
Also for people on the go and for frequent travellers
Packaging content in an attractive format is important.
Real life example: Here’s Kapish Mehra, MD, Rupa Books’ take on shortened reading habits: “There is no denying the fact that the attention span of readers has gone down and publishing houses need to offer better and more attractive options to keep them hooked. Several authors like Chetan Bhagat, Ravi Subramanium, among others, are writing these quick read options. Even short stories written in a crisp manner are appealing.”

Three hour films?
If we are so rushed, we have to see shorter films, don’t we? Today even films are seldom over two hours and almost never three hours.
Real life example: Says director Raj Kumar Gupta who made the 100-minute Aamir and then 120-minute No One Killed Jessica (both did very well), “When the total time that one allots for entertainment is perhaps three to four hours on a single day of the week, then people want to pack in everything – movie watching, dinner, shopping etc – in those fews hours. No one has the time to waste three hours on a film.”
Even in a short film, if there is a boring song or sequence, half the audience will be on their cellphones, checking mail or sending SMSes. “You have to catch their attention and keep it with you for as long as possible. And that is becoming increasingly difficult. Why else do you think the trend of ‘no
interval films?’” laughs Vikas Behl, director of Chillar Party.

The McDonaldisation of news
Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief, CNN IBN, feels news has become ‘McDonald-ised.’ “A lot of viewers now want news served to them as fast food. And that’s why the concept of bullet news where you package top 20 or 50 stories in five minutes. The target audience wants the news shorter, crisper and perfectly capsuled,” he says. Sardesai feels the essential reason for this is the lack of time, and the disinclination of viewers to watch the same thing over an extended period of time. “Talking of TV, the viewer today is absolutely spoilt for choice. He demands a quick rapid fire sort of news bulletin which, while it satiates his need for news, does not intrude on his time.”

Q. How would they diagnose ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) in a chicken?
A. It never gets all the way across the road because of all the distractions.

Q. How many people with AD/HD does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. ....Wanna go get some icecream?

My husband says I never listen to him. At least I think that’s what he said.
I stopped to think, and forgot to start again.

I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering.

Here’s what I tried!
Life coach Priya Kumar’s experience
Even though technology has definitely made our lives easier, at the same time it is enormously distracting. The constant beep of the BlackBerry ensures that whatever I may be doing, I have to stop and look at the message. The only time I could actually concentrate on doing something constructive (like writing my book) was at night. So, I decided to reschedule my routine a bit, and put my phone away for a certain period of time. Unfortunately, the whole of last week was spent in returning missed calls. Not only that, I realised that due to all these distractions, I ended up committing several errors in my work.

Get that job done!

BlackberrySo this is what she advises: Get into the discipline of Start-Change-Stop. Start is the process of starting the work. Change means the process of doing that job while Stop means finishing the job.

When you start something, make sure you finish it. Don’t leave it in the middle.

Either do or delegate: If you have committed to do something, make sure you finish it or else delegate it to someone else.

Use post-its in office
If you need to check things with colleagues when they are in the middle of something, instead of just walking up to them and distracting them, use Post-its to tell them that you need to talk to them and they should get back to you.

The other side
Our tech guru Rajiv Makhni strikes a dissenting note:
Everyone talks about the information overload. But no one notices the segregated area of our brain that is now free as we don’t have just our own memory to rely on. For example, before the advent of mobile phones, you were expected to remember 27 numbers on an average because the only other way was to carry them around in a diary. This information had no purpose. Now you can recall three numbers on average. Any topic that interests you, be it the shades of lipstick by Bobbi Brown or the latest breakthrough in rocket science, you know so much more about that subject than you did in the past. And that information does get stored up.

That’s because information has been allowed to move freely via mail, video chat, blogs and telephone. You become a slave to information overload only if you want to. Most of us in fact, end up pulling the plug and those who get consumed by the vastness are the ones who suffer from ADD. Though there is a downside to this information excess: one can’t recall information immediately under pressure. Like this contestant I met for a quiz show who browsed Wikipedia for over three hours a day. But when he was pitted against a guy who was simply interested in tech, the score was 117:9, 9 being the score of the Wikipedia surfer. Because he couldn’t recall any of it under pressure.

Now if you tell me that you get distracted every now and then and are compelled to check your Facebook every 10 minutes, then why do you think it wasn’t the same earlier? If it was 20 years ago, then you’d be distracted by the radio. It is human nature, we all get distracted, apart from the ones who work with a tunnel vision and sit until they finish their work, even if the earth shook. That is so boring.

It can also be a good thing
Lots of great achievers have had ADD. Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein and Churchill were all ADD adults.That’s because such people also have the ability to get intensely and obsessively focused on something they are interested in.

Really?
According to urbandictionary.com, there are actually such conditions as:

YouTube Attention Span

youtubeWhereas normally 10 minutes is a short amount of time, YouTube turns it into a cinematic

experience.

Jill: Watch this video!

Jack: Okay.

Jack: Wtf? 10 minutes? That’s way over my YouTube Attention Span.

Afriendsion Attention Span
Afriendsion span is your attention span when it comes to friends.
For example, “I wouldn’t get too friendly with Anne, she has a very short afriendsion span”

People with short afriendsion spans can be the cause of fights among friends, one minute they are the best of friends, the next minute they get a new one.

Texttention Attention Span
This is the attention span you have for a texting conversation.
For example: “Sorry I didn’t reply, I’ve got such a short texttention span.”

Did you know
Plato accused writing of destroying memory (he said his students became too dependant on writing)!

(Reporting by Veenu Singh, Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi, Yashica Dutt, Amrah Ashraf and Mignonne Dsouza)

From HT Brunch, November 13

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