8 Unexpected Ways To Increase Your Attention Span

Want to increase your attention span? Don't we all? These focus tips will help you get more done and stay on task! >> yesandyes.org
Welp, it’s official. I don’t have an attention span any more. It’s gone the way of Zubaz, Friendster, and the Dodo.

I don’t want to be the person who can’t sit still for more than ten minutes and won’t read things without bullet points!  I don’t want my instant reaction to a tough bit of code, an unpleasant email or some uneditable writing to be “Ugh. Has anything popped up in Google reader?  I’m going to see if anyone has responded to my latest hilarious facebook update!”  Puke.

8 ways to increase your attention span 

Meditate

Meditation has been scientifically proven to make you calmer, more focused and less likely to be depressed.  Simply set the timer on your phone for five minutes, sit with you back against the wall, close your eyes and actively empty your mind.  Ommmm-chanting and incense-burning not required!

Need a bit of help? Try the Calm app. Its free guided meditations are great for beginners!

Do a bit of physical activity

We’ve all heard it a million times – physical activity makes you happier, calmer, more focused and generally more awesome.  You don’t have to join a gym or do a Gillian Michael’s caliber workout to see the effects! A ten minute walk through the park, a few rounds of sun salutations or even just a dance break can do wonders.

Sometimes when I’m feeling listless, sleepy or unfocused, I’ll pull up the She Wolf video, put it on repeat, and dance around the kitchen for 10 minutes.  PROBLEM SOLVED.

Set a timer

Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique?  That ish will change your life.  The crux of it is this: set a timer for 25 minutes and then do one thing for those 25 minutes.

When the timer dings, you get a five-minute break to do whatever you want, then you set the timer again and keep going.  And no multitasking!  Here’s another variation on this technique that uses boredom as a motivator.

Do five more

Your attention span is like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the better it gets.  So if you hit a wall force yourself to do “five more.”  Read for five more minutes, do five more problems, write five more sentences.  You might catch a second wind and if you don’t?  At least, you’ve been slightly more productive and you’ve stretched your attention span muscle.

Limit your screen time

No surprise here, right? Close your laptop and physically put it away after 8 pm. Read a book, watch a movie in a theater, work on a home project. If you’re at a loss for screen-free ways to spend your evenings, here are 23 ways to unplug.

Have a snack

Kids aren’t the only ones who get cranky and shifty when their blood sugar is low.  I rarely produce anything worth reading after 3 pm but if I eat some nuts or fruit, I can usually string sentences together till at least 6:00!

Think of happy stuff

If you can’t concentrate because half of your brain is obsessing over your botched work presentation or that thing your frenemy said, take a break and think of good stuff.

Look at the sky for two minutes. Check out Pumpkin The Racoon’s Instagram feed.  Send a sweet email to a friend.  Write down all the different ways you can deal with that thing that’s bugging you and then imagine you’re pushing that problem out the door and turning your key in the lock.

Cheater methods

These won’t actually cure your jacked up attention span – but they will put a cute Hello Kitty bandaid on it.

StayFocusd

It’s a Chrome app, designed especially to block you from attention-span draining sites! It even allows you to set time limits for specific sites, so you can give yourself access to Facebook … but only for 15 minutes a day.

Wifi-free coffee shops

I’m fairly sure these still exist, somewhere in rural America. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you don’t have the option to access the internet! If you live in Minneapolis, the Melo Glaze bakery serves coffee, amazing pastries, and doesn’t have wifi.

Stick with good ol’ fashioned, non-wifi internet at home

I know a self-employed couple whose lives slowly devolved into working on their laptops from bed, 18 hours a day. So they reverted to a one-internet-cable household and now if they want to work together, they make an active choice to find a wifi coffee shop, set a time frame, and get to work. And if they want to use the internet at home, they can use it one-at-a-time, sitting at a desk. How novel!

Coffee

Seriously. I know that coffee makes some people jittery and insane, but for me it’s Liquid Ambition.

How’s your attention span? Any tricks to share?

P.S. The Art of Doing

photo credit: monica villar // cc

18 Comments

Maow

I'm a daydreamer, which means that most of my activities involve my brain being somewhere else entirely. It's annoying even now, but i'm starting university in september (after a 2 years break…) and i'm desperate to get some focus back! meditation is truly great! physical exercise can be dangerous for me though 😛 when i'm walking around my brain flyes more than ever! dancing like an idiot is more useful, at least i "follow" (as much as my non-existent sense of rhythm allows) the music!

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Paint Stains

I have ADD and hopefully these tips will help. As an artist i already have a temperment that is non conducive to concentrating on anything boring and non creative or fun. Ugh, i'm gonna try the meditation ( eye rolls) and the timer tip.

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Julia H.

The Pomodoro technique! Yes yes yes it works!

While applying to internships last semester, writing cover letters was the death of me. I would sit in Starbucks (or anywhere) for hours & hardly get them done. Then I discovered the idea to set a 25-minute timer, tried it out, and-BOOM- my cover letters were getting written. Magicccc.

(Great blog, btw!)

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EJ Hunter

I've found that the issue isn't so much wasting time as the issue of not being aware of wasting the time in the first place. The key for me was trying to become more mindful of what I was doing at any given time. I put up a sign for myself saying 'what are you doing RIGHT NOW?' — and if I can answer that with something that I like, then I keep doing it. If not, I find something productive'ish.

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The Dame

I am super frustrated today! Ive been spending so long looking at everyone else in my line of work wondering why they have business and I dont if Im doing exactly what theyre doing (imitation) that my brain is broken!

So, I read a post over at Illuminatedmind.net that also talked about unplugging from the interweb!

I have since shut down my Tweetdeck and removed it from my toolbar. Ive also unsubscribed from blogs of people in my line of work to stop being distracted and ultimately frustrated!

I am now going to meditate while burning sage to get back to myself and find out where my joy lies and what *I* want to do next, not what I think I need to do.

The only time I go on Facebook is to post rad links to my fan page and even then I never actually enter Facebook!

I spend too long in front of this damn screen and not long enough inside myself.

Thanks for the great tips! Id take my friend's dog for a walk but its pouring with rain!

xoxoxo
Big love!

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CindyRex

Honestly, when this post popped up in my reader and I saw it's length, my first thought was "I'm not going to read all this. Skip." Pretty terrible for the girl who used to pick up a 500 page book, read for 5 hours straight, and finish the book with only begrudged breaks for the necessities. Now I spend those 5 hours straight sitting at my computer, not finishing articles I start reading (finished this one!), flipping between pages waiting for something to update. I love the internet, but I'm thinking taking some of these words of advice and putting them to use will be most beneficial to my attention span and my work ethic. Thank you so much for posting this!

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Anonymous

Ugh, this is so me. I miss when I used to be able to read for hours at a time. Now after a few pages I'm just itching for a fix and stringing myself along to the end of each chapter and most of the time I'm thinking, "Oh, just a little break for a few minutes to check up on things, then another," but usually I just end up not reading again at all until the next day.

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Rachel

SUCH a timely post on a topic that's geniunely becoming a serious issue for us & our cohort. I'm like the previous poster: total lifelong book nerd who now can barely read in a straight line (OK, let's also blame the 12-hour days at work for removing books from my life… one of the main reasons I'm job hunting). I look at my 18-year-old baby sister and marvel at her ability to do homework while watching TV, talking on the phone AND Facebooking, but I also recoil in horror about What That Means For The Future!!!11!

Yeesh. In any case, super helpful tips and I raise a cup of Liquid Ambition to you.

-Rachel

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Amy

Wow. This really hits home. I can be the worlds biggest procrastinator. Esp when I'm doing that "day job" thing- you know where you have to go sit at a desk for 8 hours staring a computer doing work for someone else that you don't really care about…

Of course that being said, I can find many ways of getting easily distracted from things I really want to do as well. For instance I've been meaning to move my current blog on WordPress onto its very own URL that I've now had for 6 months. It's something I really want to do and am interested in yet I've just started moving on it.

My biggest prob here is that I create monsters of projects in my head. I get overwhelmed by all the little details that need to be done and turn a project into something so huge I get serious analysis paralysis. Currently working on this issue w/ the good ol' therapist 🙂

Of course I can sit down and spend huge chunks of time on one thing when I want to as well. I spend one night a week at a writing group where I focus on some piece of writing for a full hour and a half. But it takes going to this group and "allowing" that time to be for that task to make it happen.

Maybe that's a good tip? Divide up your day or week into pieces of time and "allow" yourself that time for one project.

I also think this works when you have a conducive environment. So leave the house if you're like me and get distracted by the laundry or other chores. Work in a group if the social support helps. But most importantly, cheer yourself on when you do succeed and don't chastise yourself for those days when you can't help but be distracted. Sometimes daydreaming and time wasting are the best ways to clear your head and focus!

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Fajr | Stylish Thought

My attention span is shot to hell. I think working in digital makes it a thousand times worse. I could be reading something I find engrossing and still click on another tab. I am trying to get better with my "nat attention span". I find that only opening exactly what you are working on helps.

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Sri

I can tell you from first and experience that meditation and the Pomodoro technique rocks and how!!
I've been meditating on and off for quite a long time now and trying the Pomodoro technique for maybe a couple of months. And it makes a BIG difference. The thing to remember in the Pomodoro technique though is in the 5 min break after a 25 min block of time- AVOID internet breaks and do somethign totally non-internet(y). 🙂 Thanks Sarah! Love this article! A keeper!

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George D

Green tea works brilliantly for me. And I had ice-cream and pastries for breakfast today, just to put me into the right mood.

Being in the right mental space is important, and it's nice to know that there are things you can do to make it real.

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Ailsa

Oh man Sarah, this is a good and timely post! I have been wondering if there's something like Leechblock around for a while, and now I've found it! Thanks! 😀

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Pooja

The simplest of it all is… sleep! Yes, just sleep for a little while. It helps the tired brain focus (at least for me) with some rest. But if on waking the first reaction is "wonder who said what in facebook/twitter", then your other techniques sound right on spot! Great post!

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Sanjaya@Benefits of Meditation

Meditation – even just 5 minutes a day can dramatically improve your attention span. It has the biggest return on investment out of any self improvement practice.

Most people think they need to meditate along the same intensity as Zen Masters, but that's not true. Practice what you feel is right and gradually improve as you get better. You will be glad you did.

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En Bouton

The example of the video interested me, because I have always found it easier to concentrate whilst reading than watching a video (given the same subject matter). Reading lets me take in information at my own pace, rather than being restricted by the pace of the video, so I can read or study for hours whereas videos often make me restless and fidgety. Trouble concentrating on a particular activity doesn't always mean your overall attention span is lacking – it could be that you're stronger in some areas than others.

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Avalokite

I liked the Pomodoro technique you mentioned. I am a teacher I am always looking around for different ways or activities to instill into my students. With society's instant gratification at epic proportions and distraction everywhere it's so very hard to get students at high school to focus and learn… thanks for the tips, and please if anybody has any other techniques post them!!!

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