7 Simple Ways to Increase Your Attention Span

We spend half of our waking hours with our brains roaming. Here are eight simple things you may do to refocus your attention.

Jul 24, 2023 - 17:50
Jul 24, 2023 - 20:18
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7 Simple Ways to Increase Your Attention Span

You are not alone if your mind wanders. According to Harvard University research, our minds remain in the moment for only over half of our waking hours--a dismal 53%. We're thinking about something else 47% of the time. Unfortunately, mind wandering can occur at inconvenient times, such as when your boss is delivering a presentation and asks you a question. 

There are seven simple things you may do to boost your attention span and focus for more than half of your day: 

1. MEDITATION

Meditation, which is the mental training of your attention, is one of the finest techniques to increase your focus. Meditation helps your brain to stay focused for extended periods of time, just like weight lifting does for your muscles. Undergraduate students who took a mindfulness class and meditated for 10 to 20 minutes four times a week for two weeks outperformed students who changed their nutrition and focused on healthy eating as a way to boost brain power in a study at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

2. EXERCISE 

Exercise not only improves your physical condition; it also improves your concentration, and a short brisk stroll will suffice. A University of Illinois research discovered that physical activity improves cognitive regulation. Students with ADHD who engaged in 20 minutes of moderate exercise were able to focus attention for longer periods of time and performed better on scholastic achievement assessments, particularly in the area of reading comprehension.

3. MAINTAIN YOUR HYDRATION

Dehydration is not just harmful to your body; it is also bad for your attention span. Research at the University of Barcelona discovered that minor dehydration--as little as 2%--can impair your capacity to concentrate. In fact, a 2% decline in dehydration is insufficient to cause thirst. So, before you walk into a position where you need to concentrate, bring lots of water with you.

“Mild dehydration–as little as 2%–can negatively impact your ability to concentrate, but it’s not enough to make you feel thirsty.”

4. ASK QUESTIONS

Meetings are one location where it might be difficult to concentrate. According to the National Statistics Council, over half of employees regard too many meetings to be the worst waste of time in their workday. Jon Acuff, author of Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck, advises staying attentive by planning to ask at least one smart question.

In addition to keeping you interested, asking questions helps you to contribute to the conversation and learn something new: "Good questions give you information that helps you improve your job performance," Acuff explains. "Bad questions are those where you already know the answer or just want to look smart."

 

5. PLAY MUSIC

Bring out Beethoven; classical music helps you focus. Research at Stanford University School of Medicine discovered that listening to short symphonies involves the parts of the brain involved in paying attention, formulating predictions, and updating the experience in memory. While music is beneficial, it is the brief periods of quiet between musical movements that stimulate brain activity.

"In a concert setting, for example, different individuals listen to a piece of music with wandering attention, but at the transition point between movements, their attention is arrested," says Vinod Menon, senior author of the research and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

 

6. DRINK TEA

While coffee might wake you up, tea can help you focus. L-theanine, an amino acid found in black tea, has been demonstrated to directly alter parts of the brain that govern attention. In Dutch research, tea drinkers were able to pay attention and accomplish tasks better than those who drank a placebo.

 

7. TAKE HAND NOTES

If you're attempting to concentrate in a meeting or conference, leave your laptop at home and take notes on paper. Princeton and UCLA researchers discovered that when students took handwritten notes, they listened more actively and were able to identify crucial themes. Laptops also provide a convenient diversion, such as checking email or accessing social media. Using a laptop to take notes also leads to mindless transcribing.

“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes,” writes Pam Mueller, coauthor of the study.

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