Get your focus back like it’s 1999
A group of friends sitting on a beach

Technology is taking over our lives – for better and for worse. The pinging, ringing, and buzzing that comes with a smartphone are also negatively impacting our attention span. 

Remember when you were in high school, or university or college during the 1990s and the early aughts? You likely didn’t have much tech in your life. Yes, there would have been some computer work, and it would have taken over your life when it came to school, but there was a greater sense of freedom in your day to day because you weren’t tethered to your smartphone - and therefore you had far fewer distractions.

Let’s take a moment to go back in time and pick up a few tech-free habits that you could definitely use now.

Keep your eyes up

There were lectures, study groups, and workshops when you were in university and college back in the late 1990s, but none of them involved dropping your eyes down to check your phone every 15 seconds. You’d focus on the task at hand and the people you were physically in a room with. Your neck was also likely in better alignment and your eyesight was probably better too.

So, what should you take away from those good old days? Whether at work, at home, or out for dinner, put the phone away. Hard stop. Better yet, turn it off and put it away – assuming you can. Even if you only put your phone away for an hour, the freedom and ability to focus on those around you will undoubtedly bring you a sense of nostalgia for past times. Time flies for all of us adults, and if you’re lucky enough to watch your child play sports or have dinner with an old friend, give them what you’d expect them to give you – full undivided attention.

Establish shut-down time

It’s become almost impossible to concentrate on one specific thing these days. Back in college or university years during the early aughts, there were far less distractions. Roommates were far and above the most distracting of all, and when you had to study, you’d simply shut your bedroom door or head to the library and get it done. Exam and essay prep were no laughing matter, and if you’d had to do it with a phone pinging beside you, it’s easy to imagine how much harder that would have been.

Digital devices can (and should) be shut down from time to time - not only to charge, but also for you to recharge and have time without your favourite device. There was a time in our younger lives that we cherished, and it didn’t involve checking social media constantly - it involved spending time with friends, listening to music, or perhaps even reading a book. Set aside “shut-down time” on a daily or weekly basis, or establish something like screen-free Sunday nights with your family. These little rules can help keep you present and focused.

Get back on a paper trail

Remember reading? We mean actual reading - books, newspapers, magazines, all of it. Reading print material was likely a huge part of your academic world during your high school, university or college years, but how about now? Has reading itself become a chore? It’s time to get back to focusing on the printed word, not social media scrolling by on your phone screen. 

First, start small by setting a goal for yourself – something like one book a month or one book a week, whatever’s doable for you and not too overwhelming. Second, find a genre you enjoy – consider what TV shows you like watching and check out what books are in a similar vein. Ask your friends and colleagues for recommendations and go from there. It’s also a fun idea to visit libraries and bookstores (yes, we mean offline) - you’ll find reading inspiration all over the place. Third, there are groups that specifically focus on a reading a book – book clubs. These don’t have to be the same kind of boring group assignments that you did in school – instead, seek out friends to start your own if there isn’t one you already know about. You’ll be sure to experience books in a whole new way, while having fun.

There’s no such thing as a time machine (and to be honest, not many of us would really want one) but if we could all take a moment and remember how much easier it was with less tech, the world would be a more authentic place. Whether it’s picking up reading books again or putting down your phone when you’re with those you care about, there are always small ways to take a trip back to a simpler time.

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