You Only Have 100 Attention Points Per Day

Auriane Alix
The reason why your attention span is depleted.
Photo by Altin Ferreira on Unsplash

Do you sometimes feel a weight behind your forehead? It often translates into a total lack of motivation to work. Your ability to think is restricted. Everything feels heavy, everything is a chore.

This is a sign that your attention span is depleted.

Don’t expect to do anything productive then. If you manage to accomplish something anyway, chances are it won’t be of the highest quality.

Your attention is a scarce resource. Many things drain your reserve without you realizing it. Learn how to use it efficiently and recharge it in the right way. Understanding this has revolutionized the way I work and the quality of it.

“A short attention span makes all of your perceptions and relationships shallow and unsatisfying.” — Eckhart Tolle

Your attention span is overloaded

You are currently taking a break from work, aren’t you? You are resting. Or at least that’s what you think.

What’s the first thing people do when it’s time for a break?

They pick up their phone. They sit down in front of another screen. They scroll endlessly. It has become the common way to unplug our brain — our attention — and give it a much-needed rest.

That’s exactly what I used to do too. Instagram was such a relief for my tired brain. So did Twitter. I didn’t need to concentrate. It was just endless pieces of snack content to consume.

Think of your daily attention span as a 100-point gauge. It’s the fuel for everything you have and want to do today, from reading a book to completing that task to that phone call. Once it’s used up, there’s almost nothing you can do except another consuming activity like Netflix.

How do you distribute your 100 points? Your answer may somehow look like this: 70 points for your daily work, 20 points for your side-project, and the remaining 10 points for some reading.

Except that there is a crucial missing element in the equation. Watching TV, scrolling social media, responding to texts, and reading the news also use points. And a lot of them.

When you think you’re resting while you spend your 10-hour break on Instagram, you’re actually using a few extra points. Doubt it? Just pay attention to how you feel when you go back to your desk. Do you feel replenished? Energized? Focused? I doubt it. Compare it to coming back from a workout or a walk in nature. Now you see the difference?

Anything that asks you to look at or read something consumes some of these precious points. Leaving you depleted much sooner than you think.

Better to keep it for meaningful tasks

Your attention and ability to focus and think clearly is therefore a very scarce resource. Since I discovered this, I’ve been paying more attention to how I use it so that I can devote it to meaningful tasks rather than to things that don’t add up.

That’s why I rarely watch or read the news. I drop a book when I don’t like it (there’s no obligation to finish certain things, you know). I stopped using my social media accounts. I check my e-mails twice a day and no more. I mainly read in the evening and make sure I complete my most important task of the day first thing in the morning.

If you start your day by opening your e-mails or sip your coffee while scrolling through Facebook before reading the news, you clutter up your brain and reduce your attention span first thing in the morning. If you take things the other way around, and start by keeping your mind fresh for as long as possible, it becomes much easier to get things done — to make progress towards your goals.

Learn to feel it when your reserve is reaching the end of its capacity. In my case, this translates into a half-physical, half-mental feeling. A weight behind the forehead, a reduced perspective that brings more negativity, and a lack of motivation to do anything that requires concentration.

Once you’ve learned to recognize this feeling, you can learn how to fix it. To add a few more points just to end the day. Even though there is no substitute for a good night’s sleep.

Tips and tricks to refill your attention span

Think of yourself as a double-decker bus. There is your higher level, your mind/brain, which is the center of thought. And there’s the lower level: your body. When you feel your attention span is reduced and you can’t work anymore, it’s because you’ve been too hard or too long in your head. What you need is to get back into your body. To unfocus.

Unfocusing is like relaxing a muscle. Other screens and activities that require concentration do the opposite: they still stretch it, even if you think differently. There’s only one way to take a break from your work: by getting inside your body.

Sport is perfect for this. A walk in nature works too. Otherwise, daydreaming while sipping a coffee without distraction or taking a short 20-minute nap are also effective for me.

Just find the activity that will give your mind a little space. Pay attention to how you feel i the attic of your mind, and you’ll notice both when it’s needed and what works.

Final Thoughts

Your attention span is a very valuable resource. Distribute it with care. Protect it. And be aware of what uses it and what restores it. What doesn’t replenish it uses it, and what doesn’t use it replenishes it.

When you feel cramped up there, go back down into your body. The four solutions that work best for me are:

  • Exercising ;
  • Taking a walk;
  • Daydreaming and getting away from all screens and distractions;
  • Taking a nap.

Your attention span is your greatest power. Use it wisely.

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