Articles that cover topics like improving your attention span often come in list form, as the authors – rightly – assume that readers suffering from attention problems would prefer a list they can skim. Short, bold points that can be quickly assimilated (and then forgotten) are more appealing than a block of text one must truly concentrate to understand. The latter requires too much attention.
Reading a quick list is easy.
Actually making the changes?
Not so much.
Trouble concentrating is no longer an affliction of only adults who suffer from adult ADHD. In a world that prizes multi-tasking, 24-hour news cycles, and information as a form of currency, many of us have too many tabs open (both on our internet browsers and in our brains) to fully focus.
So how do you improve your attention span?
The answer lies in training. Much like our bodies, our brains require training to function optimally. You wouldn’t attempt a marathon without months of physical training and the correct diet. Likewise, an improved attention span will not be achieved overnight.
You have to train your brain to focus on one task for longer periods of time.
Gradually, you will begin to find focusing easier and little by little you will steadily increase your attention span. Just like training for a marathon, you can’t skip the hard (daily) work if you want to make improvements and cross the finish line.
Many of us have work that requires daily use of a computer, which makes the Internet a large source of our distraction. Social media websites like Twitter emphasize short, 140 character messages but users send out 100, 000 of them per minute. Adding to the noise, Facebook users share 684,488 pieces of content per minute. The takeaway for users is to keep messages short but sharing should be constant. No wonder so many of us struggle with focusing on anything for long periods of time, when there is such a sheer amount of content to be viewed on an average day.
The first step:
Limit the number of tabs you have open in your web browser at one time and shut your computer off at night.
While working on a specific task, keep only the tabs and programs open that are relevant to the project. This way, you will be less likely to constantly jump from task to task before completion or become involved with irrelevant reading.
If you find you accumulate open tabs without noticing, install applications like No More Tabs to prevent you from having more than 5 tabs open at once.
Think of open tabs like having a cluttered workspace; they take away from your attention.
To ensure a new start to each day, shutdown your computer before bed so you don’t wake up with lingering articles from the day before. The world will not end if you don’t read every article ever published.
To make progress, you have to commit to finishing one task before moving on to another.
At the beginning of your day, make a list of to-do’s and the estimated time it will take you to complete each task.
When you begin a task, tell yourself the exact amount of time you will work until taking a timed break. It’s easier if you keep consistent times for working and breaking – say 35 minutes for work and 2 minute breaks.
Use your 2 minute break to do anything you need to do to set up for the next task – open tabs or programs, exit out of the ones your currently have open, or fetch notes etc.
If 35 minutes of uninterrupted work seems impossible to you right now, then start with smaller increments of time and work up to longer periods. If you set a timer for ten minutes, then you may find that you’re motivated to keep working when your 2-minute break arrives. Keep building on the time until you reach a number that’s realistic for you to apply to every task. Of course, some tasks will take longer to complete but you can break it down into a series of concentrated blocks.
The myth of multi-tasking:
Multi-tasking is just a fancy way of saying, “unfocused.”
Humans are not good at multitasking, no matter how convenient modern computers and the Internet make it to juggle multiple tasks at once.
The best ways to improve your attention span are to:
- Focus on only one task at a time for a specified period of time
- Eliminate distractions – clean your work area, use noise canceling headphones, turn off Wi-Fi, and limit open tabs
- Start small. Gradually grow your ability to focus by minute increments.
Consume more deliberately:
Another great way to increase your attention span is to increase your daily reading of long form texts.
Too often our reading consists of Buzzfeed lists or tweets. This steady diet of sound-bytes, tweets and status updates can condition our brains to continually crave novelty, superficial thinking and instant rewards at all the wrong times – when we’re trying our best to focus – and that’s not exactly ideal for accomplishing our goals. Instead, dedicate a portion of your day to reading longer pieces. You have already started with this article! Take it one step further by reading a book. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a rather good one.
A final thought:
Improving attention span will take daily work, but by implementing some of the above techniques, you’ll be one step closer to removing distractions and increasing your focus. What about you? Have you discovered techniques different from those listed above that have helped you or someone you know increase in ability to focus? Tell us about it in the comments below.