Controlling Your Attention in a Social Media Age

In today’s society, we are constantly inundated with messages, emails, texts, notifications, alerts and more.  We love technology and its ability to make our lives so much more efficient.  We can chat with friends across the globe and create business networks that were not possible years ago.  But the question remains….are the social and digital media tools of today’s world actually making us more effective?

As a marketing specialist, it is my job to keep up with the latest and greatest social media trends.  I am required to be on Twitter and Facebook and know what is going on at all times.  But this act in itself can very easily lead to distraction.  We’ve all been there…you start out checking your work email, then head to your business Twitter, then all of the sudden you are looking through pictures on Facebook and don’t know how you even got there.  Essentially, we are having more trouble than ever controlling our attention.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Austin’s Social Media Breakfast.  I typically attend every month regardless, but this month’s topic really sparked my interest: Controlling Your Attention in Today’s Social Media Age.  The talk was lead by a woman named Maura Thomas from

The basic premise was that the key to productivity is maintaining control:
1. Control over Your Area
2. Control over Your Thoughts (Mind)
3. Control over Your Behavior

In other words, make choices about what you do, when you do it, and how long you will do it.  It is almost silly to think that we need to re-train ourselves to focus, but we do!  In fact, she mentioned that Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is actually on the rise…in adults!  According to Maura’s latest research, we are actually giving it to ourselves by living in a state of constant distraction (Acquired ADD or Attention Deficit Trait ADT).

Interestingly enough, the ability to focus actually affects your creativity.  Have you ever noticed that your best ideas come in the shower?  Or that you are able to generate your most quality work when you are “in the zone?”  This is because you are actually allowing your brain to focus on one task.  In today’s age, our distracted state is decreasing our ability to be creative by hindering us from going deeper.  We stay on a surface level with quick and fast interactions.  Maura likened being “in the zone” to the ability of an athlete to focus on the task ahead of them without responding to distractions.  The ability to focus is actually a tool that these athletes apply.

“Distraction is the enemy of creativity: Attention is a finite resource.”

Another interesting point made by Maura: There is actually no such thing as Mentally Multitasking!  Our brains can only entertain one conscious thought at a time.  The perception of multitasking comes from our ability to switch quickly between thoughts (cognitive switch), but in reality we can only hold one thought at a time.  This ability peaks at age 20.

To link multitasking back to taking control, Maura presented a story from a lecture that she had attended.  The person sitting next to her was so thrilled to attend the lecture that he wanted to tell the world!  He tweeted and took video and updated his social media tools throughout the lecture…he shared his experience live!  BUT, did he really absorb the lecture?  Probably not.   In order to take control, we must choose ahead of time HOW we want to experience the lecture.  Do we want to share it live, or absorb it?  Neither choice is incorrect, but must be determined ahead of time.

“My experiences are what I agree to attend to.”   -William James

Visual Cognition – Basketballs & Gorillas:
Have you ever watched those videos where you are asked to focus on one thing intentely, ex. to watch how many times a basketball is passed (bounce pass) between the players?  Meanwhile, while you are counting basketballs, a man dressed in a gorilla costume walks through the center of the game…and you don’t even see him!?!  When you watch it for the second time, without that intense focus on the basketballs, you are appalled that you didn’t see the gorilla…so obvious!  Try it (don’t cheat)

This video hits us at the heart of visual cognition.   Any distraction, whether talking, listening or texting, actually takes away our visual function and hinders us from focusing.  Creativity suffers.  Without full focus, we are unable to be proactive and peak productivity sufffers.

Maura’s advice?  Practice and Manage.
1. Set times for distraction (ex. Set times for social media use, personal time, etc.)
2. Don’t scatter your focus in the middle of a task
3. Finish one project before starting the next
4. Focus on what you’re NOT doing to relieve stress (ex. Not putting out fires, nothing pressing)
5. Support how you are feeling (ex. Feeling creative?  Choose a creative project.)

The ability to focus is like any other skill…we must practice!

For more information, contact Upbeat Marketing at or visit the website

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