Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Unexpected trick

Do you think you need to be smart to achieve great things in life? Do you think your success depends on your intelligence? Most of us do, but we’re wrong. Anyone can achieve what he or she wants with a small trick.

“I did not succeed in life by intelligence. I succeeded because I have a long attention span.” (Charles Munger)

The trick is your attention span.

A few years ago, Microsoft published a study which concluded our attention span decreased to an average of 8 seconds, which is smaller than that of a goldfish. Throughout the news, people attributed the cause to our increasingly digital habits which gradually consume more and more of our attention, and we’re losing the ability to focus.

How much time can you read a book without stopping? If it’s not more than 10 minutes, your brain is likely to be already affected by excessive consumption of digital content.

If you search for “Microsoft report attention span,” you’ll find a significant number of articles with suggestions to face this problem. But there is one worth considering and it came to me when I read about Darwin’s habits.

“It was Darwin’s habits of completeness, diligence, accuracy, and habitual objectivity which ultimately led him to make his greatest breakthroughs. It was tedious. There was no spark of divine insight that gave him his edge. He just started with the right basic ideas and the right heroes, and then worked for a long time and with extreme focus and objectivity, always keeping his eye on reality.” (Shane Parrish)

Boredom. Darwin’s habits required a particular ability to deal with tedious tasks. We all suffer from boring periods and we turn immediately toward technology to fill the void of time we feel being wasted. But being able to experience mind-wandering moments can be the first step to enlarge our attention span and recover focus.

“Boredom, like silence, is not just the absence of noise — it invites the presence of focus.” (Gustavo Razzetti)

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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