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15 Ways to Improve Short Attention Span and Stay Focused

Written by John Hall
John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.
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Technology has done wonders for society. Healthcare, transportation, and communication have also improved dramatically in recent years. However, it’s undeniable that the fast-paced, convenience-oriented mindset of modern society has given rise to more people with a short attention span.

Short attention span means that your attention span is how long you’re able to retain focus on anything from listening to work without breaking concentration or focus. A short attention span means that you are easily distracted or have trouble focusing on tasks or discussions.

According to a 2015 study, the human attention span has fallen from 12 to 8 seconds in less than two decades as a result of the digitalized lifestyle. We’ve become as inattentive as a goldfish. This astonishing discovery has been covered by Time magazine[1], the Telegraph[2] and the New York Times.[3] If it sounds absurd, that’s because it is.

Fortunately, you can regain your attention span and boost your productivity by developing a few habits and retrining your brain.

What Causes a Short Attention Span?

Most commonly, the cause of a short attention span is a lack of focus derived from the modern world trying to pry our attention away at every waking moment. It can be due to upbringing as well; for example, a study from Microsoft Corp revealed how the influx of information and our behavior on social media affect our attention spans.[4]

In some rarer cases, short attention spans are caused by mental or medical conditions such as ADHD[5] or anxiety. Others are things like depression, learning disorders, trauma (or PTSD in worse cases), or a sensory processing disorder.


Some signs of a short attention span include:

  • Missing important details
  • Difficulty communicating with others
  • Not listening during meetings and lectures
  • Getting easily distracted
  • Inability to follow through with tasks

How to Increase Your Attention Span

There are several ways to be improving one’s short attention span. It’s a matter of developing habits and learning self-discipline and focus. What can also help significantly is to be able to enter into a flow state when performing work or a specific task. Training yourself in that manner can increase the speed of the work and the focus against distractions.

1. Curb Your Screen Time

Electronics are a huge source of most people’s distractions. The easy access to social media sites, online videos, and endless web pages can spin our minds in constant circles and distract us from what we should be doing. There is also too much information and entertainment for us to handle from these sources too.

So one good method to improve short attention spans is to reduce screen time. Delete social media apps and games from your phone, and stick to texting and calling.

2. Remove Distractions

Your mobile device won’t be the only thing calling for your attention. There are several other distractions that you can run into over the course of the day. Figure out what they are, and you can work on removing them little by little, improving your ability to concentrate.

Even minor distractions, such as background noise or a room that’s too hot or cold, can make you fidgety and cause you to lose focus. Items cluttering your desk and workspace can cause anxiety and divert your attention even for just a second, which is just enough to break your rhythm.


For more on how to get into deep work and focus, read What Is Deep Work and How To Practice It (Complete Guide).

3. Take Notes

If you find yourself in a particularly boring meeting or classroom environment, you may as well be begging for something to distract you. This attitude is bad because it can be transferred to more important meetings or discussions.

To change this mindset, start taking notes. This activity demands your focus, which will help with that short attention span. Taking notes also improves memory, helps your brain recall specifics, and provides physical reminders for those important details you need to keep handy.

Furthermore, research has shown that “students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand,” so when taking notes, use a pen and paper instead of your device.[6]

4. Drink More Water

How to fix a short attention span? Staying hydrated is of utmost importance to your physical health, but also to short attention spans. Studies have shown that intense exercise for two hours in the heat, without water, can result in loss of attention and cognitive decline.[7]

Make sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. The key is drinking consistently, not just guzzling an entire bottle right before you need to focus. Develop a habit and you’ll never have to worry about dehydration getting in your way.


5. Get Some Exercise

Exercise is beneficial in so many ways. First, it will improve your focus and short attention span.[8] Second, exercising provides a tonne of other benefits on an emotional, physical, and mental level.

There’s no need to add hours of rigorous activity to your schedule. If you’re just getting into the exercise game, an e-bike might be just the boost you need. Even a short walk of 30 minutes can get your blood moving, and your brain activated. Outdoor exercise is especially beneficial, as the sunshine and sights of nature do wonders for your brain and psyche.

6. Try Meditating

Meditation isn’t sitting there idly by and doing nothing. It’s an alternate way to regain your focus and for you to be paying attention to the present. It involves a series of short steps to calm you down, increasing your attention span.

Most forms of meditation require a calm atmosphere coupled with breathing exercises. The extra oxygen stimulates your brain, and the cadence of breaths helps you to relax and reclaim your mind in the process.

On a particularly difficult day, give meditation a try. Find a private place, turn on some calming sounds, and enjoy the peace your brain deserves.

7. Take a Break

One of the causes of a short attention span is failing to take short breaks regularly. When it all gets to be too much, give yourself 30 minutes of break time. While meditation is a conscious effort to regain focus, stepping back to just get away for some time also has its uses.

If your focus keeps getting drawn elsewhere, a break can help you to pay attention to what you are trying to focus on. Whether it be a short five-minute break or a weekend away, giving yourself a break can help you regroup and improve your ability to concentrate on what matters most.


8. Chew Gum

Studies show that chewing gum can help you focus.[9] While it doesn’t have any magical properties, this simple activity can keep you engaged long enough to carry out an activity without getting too distracted.

By no means is it the greatest strategy out there. However, similar to jotting notes, it’s a way to regain your focus during crucial moments. Situations like when your mind is wandering, or you’re struggling to pay attention at the end of a long workday.

When you find yourself in those situations, a piece of gum could be a lifesaver for your focus and short attention span.

9. Stop Multitasking

Multitasking is a myth, even though there are people who claim they’re masters of this ability. In the end, it’s not a skill you want to rely on for several reasons. The big one is that your attention is divided among several tasks, and that’ll distract you.

When you feel yourself starting to slip, stop multitasking for a moment. Better yet, remove that skill from your repertoire of skills. Force yourself to slow down and focus on a single task at a time. By doing this, you’ll find you’ll complete the task much faster and improve your ability to concentrate.


10. Get Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep comes with a whole host of problems. From a focus standpoint, studies showing lack of sleep leads to memory loss, difficulty learning, and dwindling attention span are numerous.[10]

The best solution here is to be getting enough sleep every night. Developing a consistent sleep schedule that helps you get to bed at a decent time each night will be a good first step.

Learn more about the importance of sleep and its effects on productivity in The Importance of Sleep Cycles (and Tips to Improve Yours).

11. Turn the Music Up

There are many studies showing how music can improve people’s focus,[11] among other things. A good playlist can act as a pair of blinders, filling your mind so that distractions can’t get in your way.

The only catch with this is that the music should be instrumental preferably or contain lyrics that you don’t understand. The reason for that is lyrics can crowd your thoughts and compete for your attention span.

Beyond that, the genre can also make an impact too. Calm genres, such as classical, are better than upbeat ones that can work you up too much when you need to buckle down and focus.


12. Practice Attentive Listening

While this is more of a soft skill than the others on this list, being able to listen is an underrated practice. Too often, people think about what they’re going to be saying next rather than listening to what the person is saying.

Failing to listen is a sign of a short attention span. The next time you engage in a conversation, practice listening intently to every word that’s said. This will lead to healthier dialogue and help you improve that attention span by keeping you grounded in the present.

This method also leads to a lot of pausing, too since you’re more focused on what’s being said and formulating a response later.

13. Experiment With Timeboxing

Timeboxing is a time management method used by many business professionals.[12] It involves blocking off a section of time to dedicate to a specific activity.

When the block starts, all you worry about is what you have scheduled for that time. When the block ends, you move on to the next time block. You can even set a timer if that helps. This method can help you maintain focus throughout your day. Use it wisely, and you’ll be able to control your attention span and maximize your productivity.

Similarly, you can look at the Pomodoro Technique, which consists of 30 minutes of deep focus on a task followed by a 10-15 minute break.


14. Try Intermittent Fasting

Fasting has been demonstrated in studies[13] to help clear the mind and awaken the senses while also improving brain function.

Keep in mind don’t go without food for too long or too often, as you still need vitamins and minerals to function properly. Balance your intermittent fasting, and those periods of time can help you clear your mind and take hold of your attention span.

For beginners, check out Intermittent Fasting Diet for Beginners (The Complete Guide).

15. Play Some Brain Games

Your brain is a muscle, so like the rest of the muscles in your body, train it. If your goal is to improve your attention span, one technique is to be playing some brain games.

Video games immediately spring to mind. Tactics, strategy, and puzzle games can be extremely beneficial to concentration. In fact, a study showed that expert video gamers were noticeably more attentive than non-expert gamers.[14]

In addition to video games, puzzles and easy exercises such as memorization, crossword puzzles, and sudoku can help improve your concentration too.[15]

Final Thoughts

If having a short attention span is negatively affecting your work, mental health, and personal life, it’s time to change it. Following these 15 tips will help you improve your focus and attention span.

Tackle your focus issues one day at a time for the short term. Patience and practice are all it takes to build a longer, more durable attention span.


Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com


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