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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

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.

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

In some rarer cases, short attention spans are caused by medical conditions such as ADHD.[1] More commonly, it’s a lack of focus derived from the modern world trying to pry our attention away at every waking moment.

If any of these signs are a common occurrence in your life, you might need to tighten that attention span of yours in the long term. These 15 ways can help you improve your focus so you can better seize every moment.

1. Curb Your Screen Time

It’s already been determined that electronics are causing many to lose focus. The easy access to social media sites, online videos, and endless web pages can spin our minds in constant circles. There is almost too much information and entertainment for us to handle.

Have you ever been sidetracked by a simple Facebook notification? To get your screen time under control, take your cue from kids’ phones.[2] 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. Any number of distractions can squeeze your attention. Figure out what they are, and you can work on removing them.

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:

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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 carries over to even the most important of meetings, where you could miss vital information.

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[3]

4. Drink More Water

Staying hydrated is of utmost importance to your physical health. It also helps you combat a short attention span. Dehydration eats away at your focus and ability to think. Even the slightest amount of dehydration can make a significant difference.

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. Taking care of your body helps you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Helping improve your focus and short attention span are some of the many benefits of regular physical activity[4].

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 can get your blood moving and brain activated. Outdoor exercise is especially beneficial, as the sunshine and sights of nature do wonders for your brain and psyche.

6. Try Meditating

The complete opposite of exercise is doing nothing. Meditation isn’t sitting there idle—it’s an alternate way to try and regain your focus and spend time focusing on 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.

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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 a much-deserved break. While meditation is a conscious effort to regain focus, stepping back to just get away for a few moments can also work wonders.

If your focus keeps getting drawn elsewhere, take some time to address it before returning to your original task. Whether it be a five-minute break for fresh air or a three-day weekend in the woods, giving yourself a “brain break” can help you regroup and buckle down on your goals.

8. Chew Gum

It’s odd but it’s true: Chewing gum can help you focus.[5] 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.

Ever popped in a piece of gum to stay awake on the road? The same goes for focusing at work. If you find your mind slipping during the workday, try a piece of gum. This could be the push you need to dig in and complete a difficult task or make it to the end of the day.

9. Stop Multitasking

A lot of people pride themselves in their ability to multitask. While this is a valuable skill, constantly dividing your attention between several tasks can worsen a short attention span.

When you feel yourself starting to slip, stop multitasking for a moment. Force yourself to slow down and focus. Some days, you’re just not going to have the attention span to tackle multiple projects effectively at the same time. It’s OK in those moments to take one task at a time.

10. Get Enough Sleep

When you’re sleep-deprived, your brain is at its wit’s end. It’s incredibly hard to focus on something when all your mind and body want to do is sleep. To improve your attention span, make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep every night.

Develop a consistent sleep schedule that helps you get to bed at a decent time each night. This will help you stay well-rested each day. Too little sleep stretches you thin, while too much can make you feel groggy and sluggish. Both are extremes that you’ll want to avoid.

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

11. Turn the Music Up

Music can be distracting for some, but for others, it allows them to focus better. A good playlist can act as a pair of blinders, filling your mind so that distractions can’t get in your way.

The best kind of music for your attention span is instrumental. Lyrics can crowd your thoughts and compete for your attention span. 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 to say next instead of listening to what is being said to them.

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.

13. Experiment With Timeboxing

Timeboxing is a time management method used by many business professionals.[6] 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[7]. 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.

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    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 weight loss, cleansing, and yes—increased focus.

    Fasting should be done smartly. Don’t go without food for too long or too often—you still need that energy 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—if you want to strengthen it, you need to use it in different ways. If your goal is to improve your attention span, you can play some brain games that are built to help with that.

    Rather than mind-numbing video games, look for puzzles and activities that help improve your focus and attention[8]. Simple exercises, such as math, patterns, and memorization, don’t take much time, but repetition can really make a difference.

    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.

    More on Improving Your Focus

    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.

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    Last Updated on September 9, 2021

    The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work

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    The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work

    Everyone has their favorite habits for boosting productivity. Your desk setup, morning routine, and diet all play a role. But there’s one thing that everyone agrees can make a difference: focus music.

    Soothing beats can keep distractions at bay, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Whether you’re trying to drown out mowers or simply get into a groove, put on a pair of headphones. Music can make all the difference in your focus.

    With that said, not all music is equally conducive to productivity. You need to be careful about what you listen to. Getting work done calls for very different sounds than getting a workout in.

    If you need a little more help to get rid of distractions, check out Lifehack’s free guide End Distraction And Find Your Focus. In this guide you’ll learn the simple techniques to stay focused and boost productivity. Grab your free guide here.

    This article will walk you through selecting the best music for productivity, as well as a list of tunes to help you get started.

    How to Pick the Best Focus Music For Yourself

    With so many genres and artists out there, there’s a lot of music to choose from. Before you press play, keep the following guidelines in mind:

    1. Stick With Instrumental

    Songs without words in them make it easier to focus. Lyrics can distract you from what you’re trying to accomplish because you might get the words mixed up with what you’re trying to read. If you’re writing something, you might find yourself typing the lyrics instead.

    Intelligence and instrumental music are correlated, perhaps because instrumental music is less intrusive.[1] Instrumental music tends to fade into the background, giving you a rhythm without pulling your mind away from the task at hand.

    Stay away from instrumental versions of songs you recognize. It’s easy to fill in the blanks with the lyrics if you’ve already committed them to memory.

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    However, some exceptions can be made. Creatives who produce videos or audio might prefer tracks that get their creative juices going, lyrics and all. However, if you find lyrics to be distracting, switch back to instrumental tunes.

    2. Take It Easy

    Not all instrumental music is calm and relaxing. Focus music should be, however. So, beware of instrumental songs that are too loud and stimulating. High volumes and tempos can work you up when you need to stay calm.

    Again, some roles can make exceptions. Physical laborers can use more rambunctious tunes to keep them energized. While calm tunes work best for those in desk-based roles, don’t go too extreme. Something that’s too soothing might make you feel tired, and yawning all day isn’t exactly the path to productivity.

    3. Pick Music You Enjoy

    At the end of the day, the best focus music is what you enjoy. If you hate classical music, don’t put together a classical playlist just because you stumbled on a study about its benefits.[2] Your dislike of the music will take away the productivity you’d otherwise get out of listening to it.

    Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’ve never worked while listening to jazz before, why not? Save songs you like for later listening. Over time, you’ll build a playlist of tried-and-true focus music.

    4. Update Your Setup

    Before jamming out to your productivity tunes, make sure you have the right equipment. Invest in a music streaming service so you don’t have to listen to ads. Purchase noise-canceling headphones to avoid distracting your co-workers.

    Focus music is all about ambience. Anything that interrupts your flow—whether that’s poor sound quality or glitchy streaming—needs to go.

    Expect to spend at least $100 on headphones or speakers. For the streaming service itself, Spotify Premium is the standard at $9.99 per month. Slacker, Apple Music, and YouTube Music are also popular.

    Building Your Perfect Playlist of Focus Music (With Recommendations)

    Now that you know what to look for in focus music and how to listen, it’s time to build your playlist. Get started with these smooth, instrumental genres, artists, and songs.

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    1. Chillhop Music

    This YouTube channel has almost 3 million subscribers. Its music videos run 24/7 and feature driving yet relaxing beats.

    Most songs on this channel fall into a category called “lofi hip hop,” a type of electronic R&B. Unlike traditional hip hop, lofi hip hop songs follow a slow, steady pattern that induces focus and relaxation.

    Chillhop playlists can also be streamed on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp. Popular artists include nymano, No Signal, and Sleepy Fish.

    2. Andy McKee

    Andy McKee is an acoustic guitarist who became famous after “Drifting,” one of his early songs, went viral on YouTube. “Drifting” exemplifies the creative, quiet guitar techniques found in the rest of McKee’s music.

    Today, McKee has six albums of primarily acoustic guitar. One of McKee’s most popular pieces, “Rylynn,” is a perfect example of his soothing yet upbeat sound.

    3. John Butler Trio

    The band John Butler Trio became popular after releasing “Ocean,” a 2012 hit with more than 50 million listens on YouTube.[3] Heavy on acoustic guitar, “Ocean” is an intricate ballad that ebbs and flows like the ocean itself.

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    Known for flowing changes in key and mood, the John Butler Trio proves that fast songs can stand in as great focus music. The group’s long songs—“Ocean” is 12 minutes long—are less disruptive for long projects. Two other favorites by John Butler Trio are “Betterman” and “Spring to Come.”

    4. Classical Radio on Pandora

    Classical music has long been a staple for music lovers looking to get work done. Pandora’s classical station features a great mix, from Beethoven to modern artists like Maria Callas and Jorge Bolet.

    Pandora has radio stations for every genre imaginable. You can generate playlists based on genre, artist, or even a specific song.

    Other music apps offer similar playlists and radio stations you can turn to for your classical music fix. From piano-heavy tunes to violin concertos, you’ll find plenty to perk up your ears.

    5. Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack

    Movie soundtracks are full of amazing focus music. One of my favorites is the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which is lively and adventurous but not in your face.

    If you like what you hear, Hans Zimmer, the mastermind behind the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, has worked on a huge array of films. Zimmer also put together the soundtracks for The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Inception.

    One thing to watch out for with cinematic music is associations. As iconic as the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack is, if you’re thinking about Jack Sparrow instead of balancing spreadsheets, you should probably switch to a new song.

    6. Legend of Zelda Soundtrack

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    Another hotspot for instrumental music is video games. If you’re not sure where to start, check out selections from The Legend of Zelda.

    Anyone who’s played The Legend of Zelda games will immediately recognize what they hear. The soundtrack is light, airy, and full of awe. Keyboards, harps, and flutes feature prominently.

    Although you could spend hours listening to The Legend of Zelda music, don’t forget about fan-produced songs in this genre. The video-gaming community is robust, and instrumental re-creations of your favorite games’ soundtracks can be found all over the internet.

    7. Nature Sounds and White Noise

    This genre may be too relaxing for some, but others prefer less structured focus music. Sounds like thunder, wind, and rushing water can transport you to a quiet, idyllic place to get work done.

    One type of white noise to avoid is city-related sounds. Even without lyrics, honking horns or chattering crowds can be distracting.

    An advantage of this type of focus music is that it can be set on a loop. If you find a track you like, go ahead and put it on repeat. When it starts over, you won’t even notice.

    Ready, Set, Play

    The best part about focus music is that nothing is off-limits. Some people work better listening to Tom Petty tunes than instrumental music, and that’s okay. What’s important is that it’s motivating without being distracting.

    To unlock your next tier of productivity, spend a couple of hours clicking around on your favorite streaming music site. You’ll get more done, and best of all, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

    More Tips to Improve Your Focus

    Featured photo credit: Lala Azizli via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] New York Post: Smarter people listen to instrumental music: study
    [2] Forbes: Does Classical Music Help Our Productivity?
    [3] YouTube: Ocean – John Butler – 2012 Studio Version

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