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Last Updated on November 5, 2021

Have a Short Attention Span? 15 Ways to Improve It

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Have a Short Attention Span? 15 Ways to Improve It

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.

What does a short attention span mean? 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.

A study conducted in 2008 that looked at how our attention span has shifted found our average attention span to be about 12 seconds.[1] In 2000 though, they found that our attention span was reduced to 8 seconds. In case you didn’t know, the attention span of a goldfish is about 9 seconds!

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

What causes a short attention span? Most commonly, it’s 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 behaviour on social media have an effect on our attention spans.[2]

In some rarer cases, short attention spans are caused by mental or medical conditions such as ADHD[3] or anxiety. Others are things like depression, learning disorders, trauma (or PTSD in worse cases) or a sensory processing disorder.

So, how do you improve your attention span?

There are several ways to be improving one’s 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 solve this issue is to reduce screen time. To get your screen time under control, take your cue from kids’ phones.[4] Delete social media apps and games from your phone, and stick to texting and calling.

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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, check out the following video:

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.[5]

4. Drink More Water

Staying hydrated is of utmost importance to your physical health, but also to short attention spans. There are studies showing how vigorous exercise for two hours without water and in the heat can lead to loss of focus and cognitive decline.

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.[6] 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.

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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

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 showing that chewing gum can help you focus are out there.[7] 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 amongst 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.

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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.

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.

You can read more about the importance of sleep and its effects on productivity here.

11. Turn the Music Up

There are many studies showing how music can improve people’s focus amongst 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 Active 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.

Failure to listen is a classic 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 to 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.[8] It involves blocking off a section of time to dedicate to a specific activity.

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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.[9] You can even set a timer if that helps.

Try timeboxing to help a short attention span

    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

    Periodic fasting is a practice embraced by many world religions. While it has its spiritual connotations, it’s also a recognized method to help with increased focus.

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

    15. Play Some Brain Games

    Your brain is a muscle too 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.

    Immediately video games come to mind and in some cases those do work. However, violent video games could cause a negative impact on your short-term focus. Instead, games that revolve around tactics, strategies and puzzles can be a huge boost.

    Beyond video games, looking for traditional puzzles and activities will help improve your focus and attention.[10] Simple exercises like memorization, crosswords, sudokus, or other math puzzles don’t take up much of your time and can boost your focus.

    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.

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    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

    Reference

    More by this author

    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.

    How to Be a Successful Entrepreneur: 6 Practical Tips 10 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions) How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better Have a Short Attention Span? 15 Ways to Improve It What Is Deep Work And How It Helps You to Stay Focused

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    1 The 5 Fundamental Rules Of Working From Home 2 How to Increase Attention Span If You Have a Distracted Mind 3 10 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions) 4 How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1 5 How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus

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    Last Updated on January 5, 2022

    The 5 Fundamental Rules Of Working From Home

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    The 5 Fundamental Rules Of Working From Home

    Suppose you finally took the plunge: resigned your corporate job, decided to follow the passion of your life and (by lack of a new office space, of course), you started to work from home. Welcome to the club! Been there for a few years now and, guess what, it turned out that working from home is not as simple as I thought it would be.

    It certainly has a tons of advantages, but those advantages won’t come in a sugary, care free, or all pinky and happy-go-lucky package. On the contrary. When you work from home, maintaining a constant productivity flow may be a real challenge. And there are many reasons for that.

    For instance, you may still unconsciously assimilate your home with your relaxation space, hence a little nap on the couch, in the middle of the day, with still a ton of unfinished tasks, may seem like a viable option. Well, not! Or, because you’re working from home now, you think you can endlessly postpone some of your projects for ever, since nobody is on your back anymore. You’re your own boss and decided to be a gentle one. Fatal mistake. Or…

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    OK, let’s stop with the reasons right here and move on to the practical part. So, what can you do to squeeze each and every inch of usefulness and productivity from your new working space and schedule (namely, your home)? What follows is a short list of what I found to be fundamentally necessary when you walk on this path.

    1. Set Up A Specific Workplace

    And stay there. That specific workspace may be a specific room (your home office), or a part of a room. Whatever it is, it must be clearly designed as a work area, with as little interference from your home space as possible. The coexistence of your home and work space is just a happy accident. But just because of that, those two spaces don’t necessarily have to blend together.

    If you move your work space constantly around various parts of your house, instead of a single “anchor space”, something awkward will happen. Your home won’t feel like home anymore. That’s one of the most popular reasons for quitting working form home: “My home didn’t feel like home anymore”. Of course it didn’t if you mixed all its parts with your work space.

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    2. Split Work Into Edible Chunks

    Don’t aim too high. Don’t expect to do big chunks of work in a single step. That was one of the most surprising situations I encountered when I first started to work from home. Instead of a steady, constant flow of sustained activity, all I could do were short, compact sessions on various projects. It took a while to understand why.

    When you work in a populated workspace, you behave differently. There is a subtle field of energy created by humans when they’re in their own proximity, and that field alone can be enough of an incentive to do much more than you normally do. Well, when you’re at home, alone, this ain’t gonna happen. That’s why you should use whatever productivity technique you’re comfortable with to split your work in small, edible chunks: GTD, pomodoro.

    3. Work Outside Home

    In coffee shops or other places, like shared offices. It may sound a little bit counterintuitive, to work outside your home when you’re working from home. But only in the beginning. You’ll soon realize that working from home doesn’t mean you have to stay there all the time. It basically means your home is also your office and you’re free to go outside if you want to.

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    I know this may not apply to all of the “work from home” situations, but for those related to information processing, when all you need is a laptop an internet connection, that usually works beautifully. It adds a very necessary element of diversity and freshness. It can also be the source of some very interesting social interactions, especially when you have to solve all sort of digital nomad situations.

    4. Go Out!

    Working from home may be socially alienating. After almost 3 years of doing it, I finally accepted this as a fact. So, apart from balancing your home time with consistent sessions of working outside of your home, you should definitely go out more often. Our normal work routine, the one that is performed in an office, that is, makes for an important slice of our social interaction needs. Once you’re working from home, that slice won’t be there anymore. But your need for social contacts will remain constant.

    So, my solution to this was to grow my social interaction significantly over what I was having when I was working in my own office. Going out to movies, running in the park, meeting for drinks or just chat, whatever it takes to get me out of my home/working space. On a one to ten scale, my social life before was around 3 and now is at a steady 7.

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    5. Thoroughly Log Each And Every Day

    It goes hand in hand with keeping a personal journal, but this time it’s about work, not personal feelings and experiences. Keep a detailed log of each project and be always ready to pick up from where you left one day or one week ago in just a matter of minutes. It’s not only a productivity enhancer, although it will help you be more productive, but it’s more on the accountability area.

    When you work from home you’re your own boss. And, for any of you who are (or have been) bosses, this is not an easy position. You gotta keep track of all the information about your team and of every advancement in your projects. That’s what a boss is supposed to do, after all. When you work from home you have to perform this bossy role too, otherwise you will be lost in your own unfinished ideas and endless project stubs faster than you think.

    Featured photo credit: Ian Harber via unsplash.com

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