Our attention span averages just 47 seconds on a screen — and it is shrinking.
As a psychologist and tech behavior researcher, I've watched (and empirically tracked) our brain's pattern of attention-switching, and with it, the stress and exhaustion buildup.
To avoid doing one time-consuming task right after another, consider how your tasks fit together like a puzzle. Long stretches of sustained attention can be exhausting, leaving you without energy later in the day.
Many people prefer to begin their day with rote work (tasks that are repetitive and don't require much brain energy) before diving into harder work.
If you can, don't jam-pack your day with meetings. The problem with Zoom meetings is that we tend to schedule them back-to-back, and there's no chance to reset in-between.
I like to do something easy and rewarding before a long meeting, then replenish afterwards with social interaction, some rote activity, or best yet, a walk.
Your peak focus time is impacted by your natural circadian rhythm. Most people focus the best at 11:00 a.m. or closer to 4 p.m.
Save activities that require the most effort and creativity for your peak hours. If you're an early bird, it's probably earlier than 11:00 a.m. If you're the late type, you might not hit your stride until the mid-afternoon.
My peak time is around 11:00 a.m., so I start my day a few hours earlier by looking at news headlines. By 11:00 a.m., I am ready to do more creative work, so I plan my hardest tasks around then.
Emails create stress, so they 're better done when you're not at your peak. It also ages fast, and if you wait to check your inbox at the end of the workday, you might find that a lot of problems have already been solved.
I always view my tasks in terms of their emotional value. Does doing something make me feel positive or negative?
My research shows that people are happiest when they do easy things, such as making a quick call or writing a grocery list.
Unfortunately, we can't do positive tasks all day. But you can limit the negative emotional effect of a meeting to discuss an assignment you're dreading by timing it, say, right before lunch, when you can take a break.
Design your day with the goal of ending it with net positive emotion. I know that jogging makes me happy, so I fit it in when I need a mental high.
Gloria Mark, PhD, is Chancellor's Professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine and author of "Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity." She studies how our minds and behavior have changed with the rise of digital media use. Gloria has published over 200 articles, and in 2017 was inducted into the ACM SIGCHI Academy, which recognizes leaders in the field of human-computer interaction. Follow her on Twitter.
*Adapted from "Attention Span" @ 2023 by Gloria Mark, with permission by Hanover Square Press.