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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

7 Tips To Improve Your Attention Span And Focus Instantly

7 Tips To Improve Your Attention Span And Focus Instantly

Your attention span is the amount of time you can concentrate on a task without becoming distracted. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals. It’s no surprise attention spans have been decreasing over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation. The average focused attention span in 2013 was 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000, and one second shorter than the average attention span of—a goldfish (9s). Some of you have already lost focus reading this article, and many of you won’t make it to the end (17% of all page views last four seconds or less).

But for those of you who do continue reading, you will find seven tips to help you improve your focus and attention, hopefully becoming a more efficient and productive individual at home and at work.

1. Get some exercise.

Physical activity can help improve your attention and focus, as it releases chemicals in the brain that affect learning and memory. Even better than a cup of coffee, exercise can provide a short-term boost to your mental and cognitive performance, making you smarter and making it easier to focus. Who wouldn’t want to be smarter?

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2. Drink more fluids.

A 2012 study in The Journal of Nutrition found that mild dehydration—which can be so slight that you don’t notice or feel thirsty—can lead to inattention. The age old adage or recommendation of 8 glasses of water has been debunked (although drinking water is very important), with the Institute of Medicine now believing that for most of us, the recommended amount of beverages, including water, would be approximately 9 cups for women and 12.5 cups for men. So drink up!

3. Take stock of the important things in your life.

Take some time to think. What tasks or assignments cause you the most worry and stress? These are most likely the most important things in your life. Once you do this and determine where you will dedicate your focus, you can break these important things down into smaller tasks which are easier to accomplish and will add up, moving you forward to the larger overall objective.

4. Get rid of obvious distractions.

Today’s society is built on a foundation of technology and the ability to be connected to everyone everywhere all of the time. However, that saturation with “connection” is one of the root causes of inattention and lack of focus. On average, an office worker checks their email THIRTY times in ONE hour. So, when sitting down to focus on a task, you can close all irrelevant tabs, stay away from checking email, and settle in a quiet environment. If you are constantly getting text messages and Facebook/Twitter notifications, set your phone aside for a predetermined amount of time.

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5. Work on one set objective at a time.

Multitasking is the enemy of focus. While most people will profess to have the ability to do multiple things at once, the scientific truth is that when attempting to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously, none of the attempted tasks are completed at the highest level. Constant switching between tasks takes away from getting the other done.

So take a singular objective, and let that be your sole focus until the work you have planned is completed. You will find yourself making more significant progress and feeling less stressed.

6. Take numerous small steps.

A popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, or make going to the gym a part of their daily routine. While these are important and admirable goals, these large tasks cannot be accomplished without the completion of several smaller steps. So in any instance when you feel like your attention span is waning and your focus is slipping away, determine what small steps you can take to move towards that overall goal.

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If you need to go grocery shopping, you:

  • Plan a time to go to the store.
  • Make a list.
  • Get dressed.
  • Get your keys.
  • Get in the car.
  • Go to the store.

Accomplishing each step on this list, no matter how small, brings you closer to completing your overall objective. Making this type of thinking a habit will improve your focus in the future.

7. Focus—and REfocus.

The key to improving your attention span is what you do when you reach your limit. Sustained attention is the level of attention that produces the consistent results on a task over time. If the task is handling fragile objects, such as hand-washing delicate crystal glasses, then a person showing sustained attention will stay on task and will not break any dishes. A person who loses focus may break a glass or may stop washing the dishes to do something else.

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Most people are unable to sustain attention on one thing for more than about 40 minutes at a time, so sooner or later, you will lose focus. But people who have great focus realize when they get off track and choose repeatedly to re-focus on the same task. This ability to renew attention permits people to “pay attention” to things that last for more than a few minutes, such as long movies. So improving your attention span becomes a cycle of focus, distraction, and REfocus.

What are some other tips that you have used to personally improve your attention span and focus? Share and leave a comment below.

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CJ Goulding

CJ Goulding is the Lead Organizer at Natural Leaders Network, building leaders and connections in and between humans.

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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How to Increase Attention Span If You Have a Distracted Mind

How to Increase Attention Span If You Have a Distracted Mind

For many of us, it’s not natural or easy to pay attention to one thing for a long period. Thanks to technology, exciting information has never been more available—and with more of us working from home than ever, it’s not hard to find a (sometimes welcome) distraction.

Even if you feel focused, your brain isn’t engaged with the present task all the time. According to a Harvard study, people spend 47% of their waking hours zoned out or distracted.[1]

While a wandering mind can boost your creativity, it’s not all that helpful for focus. When you can’t pay attention, you’ll end up with a growing to-do list and more mistakes on the work you do manage to get done. Fortunately, with a bit of strategy, you can rebuild your attention span for increased productivity and effectiveness in work and life.

Wondering how to increase your attention span? Start with these five science-backed tips for heightened focus and productivity.

1. Stop Multitasking

If you’re anything like me, then it’s hard not to multitask. Whether you’re switching between email and drafting a presentation or reading a work-related article with your Zoom tab open, you’re neither fully “here” nor “there.”

And unfortunately, while you may feel you’re accomplishing more when you furiously pivot activities, you’re risking getting less done. Here’s why: Toggling tasks divides your attention, so you’re contributing less to each task. You’re also more likely to commit errors when you’re not fully focused on one thing at a time.

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Just as importantly, you pay a cognitive “penalty,” wasting time and energy each time you switch modes.[2] Think of your cognitive energy—your thinking mind—as a resource. Each time you change your focus, you deplete the resource, which means you’re paying less attention to your projects and tasks in both the short- and long-term.

So, if you’re struggling to increase your attention span, close all unnecessary tabs—whether on your browser or in your brain—while you focus on just one task. Your work and mind will be better for it.

2. Remove Distractions

Your environment affects your attention span more than you think. So, if you’re struggling to hunker down and pay attention to what’s in front of you, try removing whatever’s distracting you. You’ll not only be able to focus more on the task at hand, but you’ll also be less likely to multitask when you don’t have the option to.

That could mean putting on headphones while you work to drown out other noise or committing to keep your email browser closed until the job is complete. It might also mean deleting social media apps and turning off notifications on your phone while you’re attempting to get something important done. Or better yet, put your phone in another room altogether. Studies show having a phone nearby in the same room can be distracting.[3]

3. Take Care of Your Body

Have you ever noticed it’s far tougher to pay attention to something for a long time when you physically aren’t at your peak? Personally, during busy or intense times at work, I aim to prioritize a good night’s sleep, regular exercise, meditation, and nutrition. I’ve found all these things make my brain feel sharper, which in turn allows me to pay better attention to people, tasks, and projects.

There’s plenty of scientific evidence that taking care of our bodies directly impacts our brains. For example, one study shows even short bursts of moderate exercise can improve cognitive control (in other words, one’s ability to focus).[4]

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A restful night of sleep also makes a huge difference. Scientists have found that sleep deprivation can impact an individual’s memory, ability to perform simple daily tasks, and yes, their attention span.[5]

Moral of the story: If your mind doesn’t seem on par, start by nurturing your body. You’ll not only feel better, but you’ll also work better.

4. Play a Game

You can also have a bit of fun building up your “brain muscles” to increase your attention span over time. Evidence shows games that work your memory and require focus, such as sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, word searches, or memory games, can improve concentration skills.[6]

As with exercise, you can reap the benefits of concentrating on a game in a short period of time. The study suggests simply spending 15 minutes a day, five days a week on brain-training activities (like the above games) is enough to make a difference. Plus, you’ll gain problem-solving skills along the way, which will also serve you at work!

And good news for video gamers: One 2018 study found evidence that an hour of gaming can help people pay attention to specific tasks while ignoring distractions.[7]

5. Play the Right Music

Sometimes, noise can be distracting when you’re trying to do deep work. But the right noise — specifically, music — can pack a big punch in your ability to pay attention to the things that matter. Prime example: classical symphonies.

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One study at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that listening to short symphonies engages parts of the brain involved with paying attention and memory. Interestingly, your brain benefits most from the short breaks between music, so try to listen to a playlist or radio station on your favorite streaming app to build your attention span.[8]

6. Practice Meditation

Meditation doesn’t only benefit your mental health, but it also helps to improve your focus. As you meditate on something, you’re training your attention span and, over time, it will expand. Think of meditation like weight training for your brain. The more you do, the more you’ll be able to focus!

One study showed that while healthy practices like a nutritious diet may help improve focus, meditation has even more power to increase attention span. In the study, students at the University of California-Santa Barbara who practiced mindfulness and meditation for just 10 to 20 minutes, four times a week ended up scoring higher on memory tests and activities requiring attention.[9]

Not used to meditation? I wasn’t either until recently. Try downloading an app like Headspace or Calm to build meditation and brain exercise into your routine. Just make sure to keep your phone out of sight when you’re working.

7. Restructure Your Work Day

I’ve found that the longer and more boring my workday is, the more tempted I am to veer off into another headspace (or, honestly, log onto social media). That’s why I’m intentional about breaking up my work time into smaller chunks. When I have breaks to look forward to, I can give my undivided attention to whatever it is I need to. It’s like telling my brain “Just thirty more minutes.”

The evidence isn’t just anecdotal. Studies are showing that if you want to improve your ability to pay attention, you should divide your workday into less intimidating, more manageable chunks while taking regular breaks.[10]

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There seems to be a sweet spot for productivity. According to one study, the top 10 percent of workers focused intensely on average for 52 minutes before taking a 17-minute break. So, if you’re having a difficult time paying attention, try working for 45-60 minutes at a time, then building in a 15-20 minute break between each work slot. [11]

As you minimize distractions and get into a routine that keeps you focused, you’ll not only accomplish more (and better) work—chances are, you’ll also find yourself enjoying what you do.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to increase your attention span requires great effort at first, especially since you’re already struggling to pay attention in the first place. However, with the right mindset and discipline, and by following these 7 steps, you will improve and eventually master your focus and increase your attention span.

More Tips on Incrasing Your Attention Span

Featured photo credit: Muhammad Raufan Yusup via unsplash.com

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