Here’s a challenge for you: I bet you can’t read this whole article without getting distracted....
Not because it’s boring (hopefully) but because recent studies have shown that on 5% of readers who start reading an online article finish it, and 38% of readers fail to get beyond the first couple of paragraphs! In an age of continuous distractions, many find it hard to maintain focus, with the average attention span just 8 seconds long (shorter than a goldfish)! This can have serious impacts on our performance in both work and personal lives.
So if you’re still with me, here are 10 techniques to help you develop a longer attention span and maintain focus:
Meditation: focus is like a muscle, it must be trained regularly to build its strength. Regular meditation has been proven to dramatically increase the length of the attention span. Using your preferred type of meditation (read our earlier article on the different types of meditation) aim to steadily increase time you aim to hold concentration for;
Be mindful: while often regarded as a type of meditation in its own right, mindfulness has taken off in recent years due to its ability to be practised throughout the day, allowing you to be ‘in the moment’. This has been shown to increase focus, happiness and even improve relationships through more active listening;
Exercise: a large body of research has proven the link between exercise and an increased attention span, so try to squeeze in some exercise a few times a week whether it’s HIIT, LISS, yoga or any other time, building this into a regular routine can has an impressive effect on focus.
Prepare the brain: before you set off, think about what needs to be done today and the steps you need to take to achieve this;
Segment time: methods such as the pomodoro technique are really easy and can greatly improve the total time spent focused in a day. Set a timer for 25 minutes (or whatever your current maximum attention span is); aim to focus solidly during this time followed by a 5 minute break where you get up and do something completely different. Rinse and repeat as many times in a day as required;
Remove distractions: shortly before beginning a period of (hopefully) efficient focus and productivity: go to toilet, make any drinks / snacks you may want in next hour, get any equipment you will need ready. By doing this you are removing as many things as possible that may give you a reason to get up and distract yourself;
Hide your phone: did you know having your phone in your field of vision has been proven to temporarily lower IQ! Remove your phone from eyesight and put it on silent to reduce the urge to check it every few minutes, breaking your focus. Only allow checking of your phone during the 5-minute pomodoro breaks.
Find your ‘productive time’: are you an early bird who gets tonnes done first thing or a slow riser who has most energy and productivity towards the afternoon and end of the day? Work out when you are most productive and organise your day so the more difficult, mentally demanding work is done during this period; use the less productive periods of the day to do the smaller, ‘bitty’ tasks that are more tedious than demanding;
Make a distraction to-do list: instead of doing those little actions that pop into your head while working such as searching online for something you’d like to know, write them down and come back to them in your 5 minute break;
Unplug: do you need a screen for all of the task you're about to complete? If not, give yourself a break from screens for a while, shut your laptop or even better, work somewhere else while completing the task at hand.
Following these steps will get easier over time as you build that 'focus' muscle.
You made it this far? Congratulations!