No matter your line of work, a short attention span can be deeply problematic.
Imagine a situation in which your boss is outlining expectations for a new project, and your mind is wandering the whole time, causing you to miss key information and potentially underperform. Or, imagine a meeting with a client or customer in which you have a hard time focusing on the conversation at hand, preventing you from delivering personalized results. Such episodes are far from unlikely, especially with studies showing us that the human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to eight seconds just since the year 2000.
Even if your job is mostly solitary and involves solo work at a computer, a short attention span may prevent you from being as efficient, as productive or as judicious with your time as you could be.
Short attention spans are often associated with children, but the reality is that many working professionals suffer from attention deficits. A number of physical and mental health issues can contribute to abbreviated attention spans, including poor diet, lack of exercise and conditions such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The good news is that there are a number of resources and solutions available to those whose attention spans aren’t what they could or should be. In this guide, we’ll outline a few options for how to increase attention span.
Practicing meditation can yield many mental health benefits. One such benefit is an increased attention span. For those who are inexperienced in meditation, it’s important to familiarize yourself with a few key concepts and strategies.
The Benefits of Meditation for Focus and Attention
Researchers have long confirmed the attention-boosting value of meditation. A study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience notes that meditation training “improves executive attention,” even without a long-term commitment. Brief meditation sessions can have a demonstrable effect on improving attention spans.
Just as a session with free weights can help develop and tone muscles, a brief meditation session trains the mind to stay at attention by building resilience and discipline.
Meditation Tricks and Strategies
For those who have never meditated before, it may seem a little strange. Where to begin? A good place to start is with taking a moment for meditation before tackling any new task. Close your eyes, slow your breathing and count your breaths. Simply concentrate on your breath going in and out, your lungs contracting and expanding. Even three or four minutes of this can prepare your attention for the task at hand.
An alternative is to let your senses guide you. Take a few moments to be still and to focus on sensory input all around you. What do you hear? What do you feel?
Finally, look for ways to fold small acts of meditative awareness into your day. This is a form of meditation you can practice almost anywhere. For example, at your lunch hour, take just a few seconds to actively consider the texture of your food, the air around you, and the taste of what’s in your mouth.
Meditation Digital Resources
As you look for more guidance on how to increase attention span through meditation, consider these resources.
Inc, “7 Simple Meditation Techniques to Practice at Work (to Boost Productivity).” Get simple meditation tricks you can incorporate into your work life, such as conscious eating during a lunch break or taking a meditation walk.
Wirecutter, “The Best Meditation Apps.” Discover some professional recommendations for free and affordable meditation apps, such as Headspace and Calm.
Approaches to Improve Attention Span
Meditation is one answer to the question of how to increase attention span, but there are a number of approaches to consider. Here, the important thing to remember is that there isn’t necessarily one answer for everyone. Rather, it’s important to find the daily routines, including both mental and physical exercises, that work for you.
Practicing Attentive Listening
One way you can stretch and hone your attention span is to practice active, attentive listening. This helps focus the mind’s ability to receive and absorb information. The results may be evident in your improved ability to listen to your boss, clients or coworkers.
Some tips to practice attentive listening include:
- Practice “whole body listening.” The next time you’re in a meeting or a conversation, make an effort to keep your body language still and controlled.
- Challenge yourself to listen without interrupting. Focus on what the other person is saying, not just on what you’re going to reply.
- Spend time just listening to something. Devote half an hour to sitting and absorbing either a piece of music or a podcast, without a TV, tablet or phone anywhere nearby.
Devoting More Time to Reading
Another way to hone your mind’s ability to concentrate is by attentive reading. There aren’t necessarily any “tricks” to it beyond carving out time every day to read. Develop a routine of 20 to 30 minutes of reading during your lunch break, before work or before bed.
As you read, block out distractions such as phone notifications. Consider rereading a book with which you’re already familiar. Or, try reading the same paragraph a few times in a row, searching for nuances or new observations.
Muscle Relaxation Techniques
One other way to increase your attention span is to get moderate levels of exercise. Physical activity has been proven to improve cognitive control, and there are a number of ways to pursue this kind of exercise:
- Go jogging
- Ride your bicycle
- Take a brisk walk around your neighborhood
Additional Tricks and Techniques
As you seek additional avenues for improving your attention span, consider these digital resources.
Healthline, “13 Brain Exercises to Help Keep You Mentally Sharp.” This article lists some activities that promote concentration and memory, from jigsaw puzzles to vocabulary games.
The Cleveland Clinic, “Why Exercise Protects Your Brain’s Health (and What Kind Is Best).” Get more information about the connection between physical activity and cognitive performance, and how exercise can keep you focused.
Using Relaxation to Boost Focus
Regular activity and physical exertion can help boost your attention span, but so can periods of focused rest. In this section, we outline how to increase attention span through mindfulness, visualization and breaks.
Mindful Walking and Breathing
Mindfulness refers to basic, intentional focus on the present moment. It can be a powerful tool in training your mind to settle on the immediate tasks at hand. You might consider incorporating mindfulness into your workday through walking and/or breathing:
- Take a walk around the building or a nearby park, without being distracted by your phone, and simply focus your observational powers on what you see, hear or smell around you.
- Sit in your office chair, close your eyes and take deep breaths. Focus on counting these breaths, or on paying attention to each one.
Visualizing and Guided Imagery
Visualization, also called guided imagery, applies mindfulness principles in a slightly different context. Instead of focusing on your actual surroundings, spend time thinking about an imagined environment. For example, sit and imagine the sights, sounds and sensations of an isolated beach, a favorite spot in the mountains or your childhood home.
Setting Aside Time to Take Breaks
Again, you might think about these attention-boosting exercises just as you would physical exercise. And, just as the body needs some periods of rest and recovery, your mind can also use breaks, which allow it to regain strength, clarity and focus.
Have breaks structured into each workday, giving you the opportunity to put your attention span to rest. There are a number of ways you can schedule breaks, such as using the 50-10 rule (for each hour of your workday, be diligent for 50 minutes, then give yourself a 10-minute break). Or, simply allow yourself a break after you finish each project or task.
More Resources to Help You Relax
As you think about how to increase attention span through mindfulness and rest, make use of these resources.
Psych Central, “7 Easy Ways to Be Mindful Every Day.” Learn some additional ways to fold mindfulness into your normal life, including strategies to be mindful during daily activities.
The Muse, “Take Five: 51 Things to Do When You Need a Break at Work.” Read this post for some ideas on what to do to maximize your break time, including short activities to boost energy or stimulate brain power.
Improving your attention span requires you to improve your mental clarity and focus. It’s also important to remove any needless distractions. Create a work environment in which you don’t have a million things competing for your attention.
Focus on Single Tasks
While there are many who think they can capably multitask, this is actually a cognitive impossibility. The brain can’t handle multiple tasks at once, but rather it switches rapidly between them. Trying to do many things at the same time puts an undue strain on the brain, which can result in you getting tired more easily or doing sloppy work. Monotasking is really the only way to use your attention span effectively.
Maintain a Planner and Work Calendar
Similarly, avoid forcing your mind to strain in an effort to remember appointments or other priorities. Instead, use a planner or work calendar for your scheduling, freeing your mind to focus on the task at hand.
Limit Social Media Usage and Discussions
Give yourself at least a few hours each day where you turn off notifications, minimize your social media windows and place your phone on silent mode. Use these uninterrupted blocks of work time to be creative and productive, as opposed to being swept up in conversations.
More Resources to Help You Relax
Also take note of these additional resources.
TechRadar, “Best Calendar Apps of 2020.” Take a look at some of the top-rated calendar and scheduling apps, ranging from Any.do to Google Calendar.
Social Media Today, “How to Manage Social Media Without It Taking Up All Your Time.” Discover some tips on regulating your social media activity, such as imposing limits and embracing automation.
Seeking Mental Health Services
A final consideration is that your attention deficit may be the result of an underlying mental health issue, such as ADHD, depression or anxiety. If you believe you have one of these conditions, professional therapy may provide the solutions you seek.
The Benefit of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one option. Usually, this involves regular, structured therapy sessions with a mental health professional. According to the Mayo Clinic, this therapy “helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.”
Resources for Maintaining and Improving Mental Health
If you need mental health care, there are many avenues for finding it.
National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Finding a Mental Health Professional.” Consider this guide for seeking a mental health provider.
MentalHealth.gov, “How to Get Mental Health Help.” Consult government resources for finding a mental health practitioner.
Develop Your Attention Span
A robust attention span can be a boon to your professional life, helping you be more productive, more collaborative and more effective. Consider all the options available as you think about how to increase attention span.
Digital Information World, “The Human Attention Span”
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, “Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence from ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism”
Healthline, “What Are the Causes of a Short Attention Span, and How Can I Improve It?”Mayo Clinic, “Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress”Medical News Today, “Five of the Best Apps to Train Your Brain”
Science Daily, “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Particularly Efficient in Treating ADHD in Adults”The Week, “5 Ways to Boost Your Attention Span”