A Microsoft study found that, on average, humans have an 8-second concentration span. And that number is probably shrinking as we speak because we’ve gotten used to everything being fleeting and prompt.
But no matter how much you try to shrug it off, there really is no substitute for paying attention. No matter what your environment is, your ability to get things done depends on your ability to pay attention.
The good news is that you can learn to focus more and focus better. All you need is to alter your mindset, take charge and apply these simple tools to boost your attention span.
1. Warm-up your brain
You’re at work; you have deadlines, meetings, projects, tasks - all things that need to get done within the span of a few hours. What to do? You make a list, of course. Many successful people swear by their lists because it has everything on it, from the most important to the things that can wait until later.
Another great tip? Write your list the night before so you’re not bombarded with many things at the start of the day. This is like stretching before a work out - it doesn’t take a lot of time, but you can’t start without it.
2. Get scheduled breaks
Francesco Cirillo, owner of the Cirillo Consulting firm in Berlin, devised an ingenious system that manages time by breaking it down into intervals. For example, once you’ve started on a task, set the timer to, say, 30 minutes.
During that time, focus completely on that task. Once the timer rings, you take a 10-minute break to get some coffee or just walk around your desk for some quick exercise. Then, every 4 30-minute work intervals, you can take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.
The way this technique works is that you have to refrain from picking up your phone to check your email or social media every 5 minutes. Research has proven that it takes us nearly 25 minutes to get back to our original task once we’ve been distracted, which means you’re spending the entire day just on trying to regain your focus but not really achieving it.
A smart way to avoid this when it comes to your phone is to put it on silent or stick it in a drawer to ward off temptation. An even better way to do this is to carve out half an hour at the start of the day, or in the afternoon, to get all that out of your system so that you’re not constantly thinking about it.
While it may seem pretty straightforward to everyone that working in a calm, organized environment boosts concentration and, hence, productivity, it may not be as easy as it sounds. Even if your choices are limited or can’t get away with changing too much of your work space, you can do wonders with a few add-ons here and there.
But all you need is a few basic items:
- a desk organizer to store away whatever you’re not working on at the moment
- a plant or two because it’s been proven that being surrounded by nature peak concentration levels and extend your attention span
- a good source of lighting
- a calming piece of artwork or photo
- soft background music or sounds of nature to put you in the mood to concentrate
4. Stay healthy
Most people don’t make the connection between eating right and having strong concentration and memory skills. Studies show that foods high in trans fats and processed sugars have a negative effect on your cognitive abilities.
Enjoying a balanced diet rich in minerals and vitamins, on the other hand, boosts energy levels and gives you the mental stamina you need to concentrate on the task at hand. Water is also very important to prevent dehydration. Staying hydrated throughout the day prevents your mind from slowing down. Exercising regularly also boosts cognitive powers and mental stamina.
5. Play games
There has been extensive research that shows just how much how solving crossword puzzles, problem-solving exercises and other types of mental games can improve cognitive abilities, reasoning, memory and attention spans. It also boosts your skill and speed on tasks which have to do with memory and reasoning.