How Can I Improve My Short Attention Span?
I find myself getting bored with even simple things. Sitting in a meeting or class, going to the movies and sitting in one place for three hours, even going to a concert-they all sound like fun but I hate the idea of doing one single thing for hours on end. I'm usually okay once I'm actually doing any of them though! How can I improve my fragmented attention span so getting into these things isn't so difficult?
Look Over There
Dear Look Over There,
Don't feel bad: Many of us have had our attention spans all but crushed under the heel of always-on smartphones, a compulsory need to stay on top of what others are doing online, a fast-paced world that doesn't stop for us to enjoy a movie or have dinner with a friend, and access to all of those things at our fingertips anytime, at home or on the go.
Still, it's not the tools to blame for the way we use them, and not all is lost! The world will get along just fine while you see a movie, or give your friend your full attention at dinner. Here are some tips to help you reassure yourself of that fact, and make the process a little less painful.
Embrace Single-Tasking Whenever Possible
Mastering any skill requires practice and patience, and boosting your attention span is no different. The absolute best thing you can do is embrace single-tasking whenever you can, and work hard to stay focused. We're not just saying ""focus harder"" here either, instead, think about the things you do at home and at work that really do require singular focus, and make those projects first on your to-do list. Your mind may wander, or you may start to reach for your phone or think about doing something else, but try to resist those thoughts and stick to the task at hand. If you do get distracted, don't admonish yourself, just catch it and renew your focus.
For example, If you're playing video games on the couch for example, leave your phone on a charger somewhere away from you so you're not tempted to check Twitter or Facebook while you play. If you're cleaning the house, turn on some music and work on a whole room or complete a whole task. Don't clean one countertop and then take a break. Give yourself the benefit of being fully immersed in whatever it is you choose to do.
Of course, this doesn't work for everything-you may only have a few minutes to clean, for example, or you might want your phone handy to look up walkthroughs for your game. Those things are fine, but make an occasion out of single-tasking, whether it's at home on your own time, or at work while you hammer out a report or work on a project. Don't forget to reward yourself for single-tasking, too. After all, reward is part of the habit loop
Push Yourself into Fun Situations that Also Require Focus
Here's a secret: I hate the idea of going to the movies. I love movies, mind you, but the thought of going to the theater unnerves me. Sitting in an uncomfortable seat with tons of people for two to three hours, only doing one thing-watching the movie-unnerves me. At home I can fire up a movie on Netflix and play with my phone or tablet to take the edge off doing one thing for three hours.Knowing this is about myself is why I force myself to go to the movies sometimes. I know I'll have a great time once I'm there (so it's not like I'm forcing myself to do something I hate), and that voice in my head that tells me to stay home-whether it's the movies or a social event-is almost always wrong. Every time I go, I feel better for having done it, even if I did just single-task and focus on one thing for three hours.
You can do the same thing. Just make sure you're pushing yourself into things you know you'll actually enjoy, but are only put off by because of their requirement of your full attention. Whether it's a hobby or pet project, a class you've always wanted to take, a social event, or-like me-the movies, kick yourself into doing those things that require singular attention, and then commit yourself to them.It definitely beats forcing yourself to turn your phone off in meetings to try and build your attention span. This way, you don't feel like you're punishing yourself. If you know you'll enjoy them once you're there, it's a great way to practice single-tasking in a safe, fun situation.
Meditating is another task that requires singular focus and concentration, and taking the time out to meditate can be a very effective way to help boost your attention span
The benefits of regular meditation have been proven time and time again
Use Technology to Help You
Speaking of using apps and websites to help strengthen your attention span, back in 2010 Clay Johnson shared some tips
Ditch the Distractions
If you're working on that project or writing code, give yourself room to work. Use a distraction-free writing application
Embrace a Productivity Method that Helps You Focus
The Pomodoro Technique is the perfect example of a prodcutivity method that encourages you to dive in and focus entirely on your work for short bursts, and then come up for air in between work sessions. You don't have to strictly use Pomodoro, but try something similar that rewards single-tasking with a break and time to soothe any fear you may have of missing something while you're heads-down. To get started, try a timer like previously mentioned
Don't Forget to Take Breaks
You can't (and shouldn't) work all the time. Taking breaks is good for you
There's definitely a place for turning off all of your notifications and shutting down your email client while you try to focus. You'll definitely have better success training yourself to single-task if you block out as many distractions as possible, but if you're not in a position to just turn everything off
The most important thing, regardless of the tools you use or the techniques you adopt, is to give yourself the room to single task when you can, encourage yourself to focus when you know it'll benefit you anyway, and take time out to train yourself every day. Even if it's a little bit, over the long haul, you'll find your attention span and focus improving.
We should note that we've been working under the assumption that your attention span is just fractured because you're busy or just can't put your phone down for a bit. If you think you may be suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, these tips may help a bit, but your best bet would be to seek professional guidance from our doctor and/or a mental health specialist, especially if you've tried tips like these and they just don't help you. Whatever you do, good luck!
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