For many of us, it is not natural or easy to focus on one thing for long periods. Thanks to technology, exciting information has never been available – and with more of us working from home, it’s not hard to find a (sometimes welcome) distraction.
Even if you feel centered, your brain does not engage with current work all the time. According to a Harvard study, people spend 47% of their waking hours zone out or distract.
While a wandering mind can increase your creativity, it is not helpful to concentrate all. When you cannot pay attention, you will end up with a growing to-do list and more mistakes on the management you make. Fortunately, with a bit of strategy, you can get your attention to increase productivity and effectiveness in work and life.
Wondering how to extend your attention span? Start by focusing on these five science-backed tips and increasing productivity.
1. Stop multitasking
If you are anything like me, it is not difficult to multitask. Whether you are switching between emails or preparing presentations or reading work-related articles with your zoom tab, you are neither completely “here” nor “there”.
And unfortunately, when you may feel that you are accomplishing more work, when you are furiously doing axis activities, you are doing less work. Here’s why: Toggling tasks divide your attention, so you’re contributing less to each task. When you are not fully focused on one thing at a time, you are also prone to errors.
Just as importantly, you pay a cognitive “penalty”, wasting time and energy every time you switch modes. Think of your cognitive energy — your thinking — as a resource. Every time you turn your attention, you exhaust the resource, meaning that you are paying less attention to your projects and tasks, both in the short and long term.
So, if you’re struggling to increase your focus, close all unnecessary tabs – whether on your browser or in your brain – when you focus on a single task. Your work and mind will be better for this.
2. Remove Distractions
Your environment affects your attention span more than you think. So, if you are struggling to hunk down and pay attention to what is in front of you, then try to overcome whatever is distracting you. You will not only be able to focus more on the task at hand, but you will also be less likely to multitask if you do not have the option.
When you work to minimize or commit other noise to keep your email browser closed until the job is done, it may mean putting on headphones. It can also mean that while trying to delete the social media app and turn off notifications on your phone, you are trying to do some important work. Or better yet, keep your phone completely in another room. Studies show that having a phone nearby in the same room can be distracting.
3. Take care of your body
Have you ever noticed that when you are not physically at your peak, it is very difficult to concentrate on something for a long time. Personally, during busy or intense times during work, I aim to prioritize a good night’s sleep, regular exercise, meditation and nutrition. I have found that all these things sharpen my mind, which allows me to pay better attention to people, tasks and projects.
There is a lot of scientific evidence that takes care of our body and directly impacts our mind. For example, one study suggests that short bursts of moderate exercise can improve cognitive control (in other words, one’s ability to focus).
A restful night of sleep also makes a big difference. Scientists have found that lack of sleep can attract a person’s memory, ability to perform simple daily tasks and, yes, their attention.
Moral of the story: If your mind does not seem to be up to par, start by nourishing your body. You will not only feel better, but you will do better.
4. play a game
You can also build your “brain muscles” to increase your focus over time. Evidence shows games that work your memory and require focus, such as Sudoku, puzzles, word search, or memory games, can improve concentration skills.
With exercise, you can reap the benefits of focusing on sports in a short period of time. The study suggested that five days a week on brain training activities, five days a week (such as sports above) are enough to make a difference. In addition, you will gain problem solving skills along the way, who will also serve you at work!
And there is good news for video gamers: A 2018 study found evidence that one-hour gaming can help people focus on specific tasks while distracting.
5. Play the right music
Sometimes, when you are trying to do deep work, it can be distracting. But the right noise – especially, music – can pack a big punch in your ability to pay attention to what you say. Key example: classical symphony.
A study at Stanford University School of Medicine has found that hearing fewer symphonies are associated with parts of the brain with attention and memory. Interestingly, your brain benefits the most from short breaks between music, so try listening to a playlist or radio station on your favorite streaming app to get your attention.
6. Practice meditation
Meditation not only benefits your mental health, but it also helps to improve your focus. When you focus on something, you are attracting your attention and it will expand over time. Think about meditation like weight training for your brain. The more you do this, the more you will be able to concentrate!
One study has shown that healthy exercises such as nutritious diets can help focus, meditation to increase the duration of meditation and even more power. In the study, students at the University of California-Santa Barbara practiced meditation and meditation for just 10 to 20 minutes, four times a week requiring more attention to memory tests and activities.
Not used to meditation? I wasn’t till late either. Try to download an app like Headspace or Quiet to build meditation and brain exercises into your routine. Just make sure to keep your phone out of sight while you are working.
7. Restore your work day
I have found that the longer and more boring my workday is, the more enticing I am to veer into another headspace (or, honestly, logged on to social media). That is why I am intentionally breaking my work time into small things. When I break down to look forward, I can give my undivided attention to what I need. It’s like telling my mind “just thirty minutes.”
The evidence is not just anecdote. 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.
There seems to be a sweet spot for productivity. According to one study, the top 10 percent of workers focused on average for 52 minutes before taking a 17-minute break. So, if you are paying attention to a difficult time, try to work 45-60 minutes at a time, then build in a 15-20 minute break between each work slot.
When you reduce deflection and join a routine that keeps you focused, you will not only accomplish more (and better) work – chances are, you’ll also find yourself enjoying what you do.
Learning to increase your attention span requires a lot of effort at first, especially since you are already struggling to pay attention. However, with the right mindset and discipline, and following these 7 steps, you will improve and eventually focus and increase your attention span.
More tips on increasing your attention span
Featured Photo Credit: Muhammad Raufan Yusup via unsplash.com