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. 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”.
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”.
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.
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. 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.
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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.
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.
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
- 7 Simple Habits to Improve Your Attention to Detail
- How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)
- How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity
Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com
|||^||BBC: Busting the attention span myth|
|||^||Harvard Health Publishing: Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills|
|||^||Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Dehydration Impairs Cognitive Performance: A Meta-analysis|
|||^||CNBC: Here’s how many hours American workers spend on email each day|