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Last Updated on February 3, 2021

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 length of time you can concentrate on a task without becoming easily distracted. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals.

Maintaining focused attention has become more difficult over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation. However, it is very task-dependent, according to most psychologists[1]. The way we apply our attention depends on the importance of the task, how interested we are, what stimuli we have around us, etc. Some of you have likely already lost focus while reading this article and have begun scrolling through Facebook, checking messages, or answering a question your kids are asking.

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

1. Get Some Exercise

Physical activity can help improve your attention span and focus, as it releases chemicals in the brain that affect learning and memory. Even better than a cup of coffee, just 30 minutes of exercise can provide a short-term boost to your mental and cognitive performance, making you smarter and making it easier to focus.

One article points out that “The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells”[2].

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Beyond improving focus and short attention spans, exercise can improve your memory, prevent depression, and help you avoid cognitive decline that can lead to dementia or other similar diseases.

2. Drink More Fluids

Studies have shown that if you’re struggling to focus, you may be mildly dehydrated. One particular review of 33 studies discovered that dehydration “impairs cognitive performance, particularly for tasks involving attention, executive function, and motor coordination when water deficits exceed 2% BML”[3].

Fortunately, our bodies are good at telling us when to drink water. When you begin to feel even slightly thirsty, it’s time to go grab a glass of water. Keep in mind that drinking small amounts of water throughout the day will help your body continuously absorb the fluids compared to quickly chugging a glass.

3. Take Stock of the Important Things in Life

Take some time to think about which tasks cause you the most worry and stress. These are likely the most important things in your life and the things you need to give more attention to in order to improve your mental health.

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.

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4. Get Rid of Obvious Distractions

Today’s society is built on a foundation of technology and the ability to be connected to everyone all of the time, which can get in the way of maintaining a high attention span. However, that saturation with “connection” is one of the root causes of inattention and lack of focus.

One survey found that, on average, people reported spending 352 minutes (about five hours and 52 minutes) on their emails each day[4]. So, when sitting down to focus on a task, you can close all irrelevant tabs, stay away from checking email, and settle into a quiet environment. If you are constantly getting text messages and social media notifications, set your phone aside for predetermined periods of time.

5. Work on One 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.

Instead, 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 Many 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.

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.

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.

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7. Focus and Re-Focus

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.

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. However, 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 re-focus.

Final Thoughts

Improving your attention span could be as simple as altering some small daily habits to make sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating the right foods. If that doesn’t work, try setting smaller goals and eliminating distractions. Altering your perspective to increase your interest in what you’re doing in the moment can help you feel that your attention is exactly where it needs to be.

More Tips on Increasing Your Attention Span

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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Reference

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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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Published on April 8, 2021

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

10 Simple Ways To Refocus a Wandering Mind

Want to know what Steve Jobs thought was the ultimate key in achieving success?

“Focus and simplicity… once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs

And this belief is even more important today than it was years ago. At your fingertips is a literal world of information and entertainment. So, it’s no wonder we all have such wandering minds nowadays.

Thanks to the internet and smartphones, attention is practically a currency we should be more budget-minded about. In fact, a person who can stay focused is not only more likely to get more done but also be more satisfied at the end of the day because of it.

Going further, a person who’s focused will more easily achieve their goals—anything from losing 20 pounds to getting a promotion at work is within the reach of this type of person.

So, in the spirit of that idea, here are 10 ways to tame that wandering mind of yours and turn it into a laser-focused brain that gets things done.

1. Find Your Totem

Remember the totem in the movie, Inception? It’s an item that reminded people they weren’t in a dream when they touched it, and it was able to keep them grounded in reality.

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You can replicate this idea when it comes to staying focused as well. All you’ve to got to do is find something to be your “focus totem,” and it’ll remind you that you should stop daydreaming and get back to work. Ideally, it’s something you can see and touch.

In the movie, a chess piece and a spinning top were used—both are good ideas. You could also use a picture of your family, a mini trophy, or even wear a ring to focus your mind as well. (In fact, a green lantern ring might be kind of cool for this.)

2. Promise a Reward

Incentives are an obvious way to go. Having gold at the end of any journey makes you want to press forward just for the sweet results. In general, rewards should correlate to the difficulty/length of the work.

For example:

  • Finish a quick house chore = a piece of chocolate
  • Complete an annoying administrative task = 10 minutes of Youtube
  • A successful day of work = a whole movie on Netflix

Pretty simple stuff, right? But you’d be surprised how often you forget to reward yourself for doing solid work on the regular.

3. Make It Stupid Easy for Your Wandering Mind

I don’t know about you, but if I perceive my work to require more effort than I care to use, I’m instantly turned off. This then leads to distraction and procrastination. But you can offset this by breaking a difficult task into a bite-sized piece.

Case in point, what seems easier: 30 pushups or 3 pushups?

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It’s obvious, but sometimes our brains need to be “convinced” we’re only doing a small amount of work to get things going.

But here’s something cool about this tactic: You can (and most likely will) keep going past your stupid easy benchmark. You don’t have to, but my experience tells me once you get going like this, it’s easy to go beyond your bare minimum goal.

4. Empty Your Mind With Journaling

Sometimes, there’s too much stuff floating around in your brain that is making your mind wander. In that case, it can help to spill everything in your head onto a journal to free up some space. You can use a pen and pad for this or something digital like Evernote.

There are two basic ways to go about it:

  1. Freestyle – where you just write whatever randomly flows through your brain without thinking or pausing. This is great if you’ve got a million different ideas racing through your brain.
  2. Focused – where you create prompts or an outline to streamline your thinking and you just respond to the questions or format. This is best when you want to grasp a certain topic.

5. Use the “Just 5 Minutes” Method

Try telling yourself that you’ll work for “just 5 minutes” and then you can stop. You’ll find that the task feels far easier to handle. And like the “stupid easy” method, this tricks your brain into thinking the task is lower effort than it really is. After all, 5 minutes for even the worst task is psychologically manageable for any person out there.

The key is to honestly allow yourself to stop at 5 minutes—no matter what. That’s what allows your brain to accept the method as legit and also lets it overcome the mental hurdle that makes your brain want to wander around and focus on anything but your task.

6. Recite a Focus Mantra

I like to think of mantras as a totem you can take with you anywhere you go. They serve the same purpose—reminding you to stay focused—but can be done anywhere and anytime.

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I find the most powerful type of mantra to be based on reality. I learned this approach from Dr. Jon Fader—a performance coach who was on “Good Morning America”—and his book Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You about How to Win in Life. He calls this “objective optimism.”

Basically, you create a mantra that’s based on personal success in your life. That way, the mantra isn’t just a fluffy positivity statement, there’s also the weight of real-life success giving it power

Some examples:

  • If you’re struggling to make yourself go to the gym but have technically been there many times already, you could say, “just another day of heading to the gym—easy.”
  • If you’re suffering from impostor-syndrome after accepting a promotion, just say, “I’m here for a reason” to remind yourself that your efforts were recognized by others and are the real deal.
  • If you’re nervous about an upcoming sports competition but have trained diligently for it, you could say, “I’ve done all the work possible” to remind yourself that your earlier efforts have created the best version of you for the event.

As you can see, the most powerful mantras are evidence-based and positive. So, just find proof of relevant success in your life and transform it into a motivating mantra.

7. Use the “Multi-Yawn” Approach

One of the best ways to be distracted is to be tired. And sometimes, you’ll be tired in such a way that you’re “sort of” working but not realize that you’re actually constantly distracted.

If you can notice when you do this, one thing I like to do is crank out as many big, satisfying yawns as possible. Olympic athletes sometimes do this before their big events. It calms them down and helps them perform better in the process. And it works just as well for us regular folks. I find it has a similar effect to taking a good nap (and actually works best in unison), so you can imagine how effective this can be.

8. Find an Easy Win

Nothing feels good like winning. So, it can help to find a few simple tasks you can do with little effort and just get them done immediately. This will create momentum and propel your productivity forward. The feeling of success will lock your focus in on the task at hand and refocus your wandering mind. Use this when you feel “resistance” to getting your work started.

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9. Create a “Wins” List

Feeling like a capable person who can win at life is motivating in and of itself. In light of this fact, it can help to have an ongoing “wins” list to prove you’re an able person.

Just keep track of all your daily wins—big and small. And whenever your focus starts to wane, give that list a peek and remind yourself that you’re more capable than you realize.

10. Add Stakes to the Mix

If you were to lose $20 if you failed to complete a task, would you be more focused on completing it? Of course!

Try and find ways to put something on the line when it comes to completing your tasks, and you’ll find your focus, motivation, and ability to things done to be higher than ever before.

For example, if you’re at work, you could involve a co-worker by saying you’ll buy their food if you don’t complete a task before lunchtime rolls around. At home, you could say you’ll also mow the lawn if you don’t remember to wash the dishes before the day is over. Or you could just use something like Beeminder or TaskRatchet, which actually charges you cash for failing to complete a task or goal on time. (It’s scary but effective)

All are viable methods, so just give one of them a shot.

Who Else Wants More Success?

Of the many methods of winning at life out there, focusing is definitely a top-three contender. You can’t get anything you want in life if you don’t buckle down and get your work done—a wandering mind won’t create success.

But with these 10 focus tips, you’ll be ahead of the competition and be closer to a fitter body, higher income, and a flat-out better life than before.

More Tips on Sharpening Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Clay Banks via unsplash.com

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