Is our attention span less than a goldfish? Tips to stay focused
Today, our average attention span is about eight seconds. That’s 4 seconds less than it was in 2008. And it’s one second less than a goldfish’s!
You might not mind the constant distractions. But focus is important at all stages of life. It’s critical for learning new things, achieving your goals and performing in a variety of situations. Whether you want to complete an important assignment, learn a new language, deliver a presentation or run a marathon, it will require you to focus and concentrate on the task at hand.
By definition, concentration requires you to ignore other things. Not forever. But in that present moment. Focus can be the key to productivity, since it unlocks your ability to accomplish the one thing you have chosen to say ‘yes’ to in that moment.
The first step to concentrating requires choosing where to focus your attention, which can be hard in itself. While you may think you are a pro multitasker, technically the human brain can only truly concentrate on one thing at any single moment. So while you can text while watching the TV, at any single instant your mind is either on the TV or your smartphone.
While a bit of TV texting isn’t a big deal, when it comes to important tasks it can be detrimental to keep switching from one task to another. For example, one study found that the typical person checks their email every five minutes and that it takes, on average, 64 seconds to resume the previous task after doing so. That’s a whole minute wasted every 5 minutes!
Once you’ve decided on what it is that needs your attention, give these tips a try to help improve your focus and help you concentrate for longer.
How to Improve Concentration
Five steps to help you better concentrate on studies or focus on work
1. One thing at a time
Like we just discussed above. The first step to concentrating is to choose your task, say ‘yes’ to it, and commit to putting all your other tasks out of your mind while you are completing it. By doing so, you’ll be able to focus more clearly on the task at hand, without your other jobs clouding your mind, or stressing you out.
2. Manage your energy
If you know that you concentrate better at a certain time of the day, schedule the tasks that require the most attention for then. Some of us work better in the morning, while others need a little more time to wake up before they’re ready to focus. Plan your tasks according to you.
3. Eliminate distractions
This one is an obvious one. But it’s an effective one. Put your phone out of sight, turn off the TV, find somewhere quiet to concentrate. Give yourself a target to help you commit to avoiding these external distractions for a set period of time. If you can, try not checking your emails until later on in the day. Emails can distract your attention and divide your focus.
4. Be present
Eliminating external distractions is one thing. And that’s hard enough. But distractions can also come in the form of thoughts or worries. To be truly ‘mentally engaged’ in your task, you need to be mentally engaged in the present moment. That involves putting away your psychological distractions too. One thing that can help with that is mindfulness, a form of meditation which encourages you to put aside distractions and helps to guide your mind back to the moment when it wanders. It can be as simple as some deep breathing, in which you focus your attention on each and every breath. There also lots of apps you can find to help you with this.
5. Take a break
Focusing for a long time can be hard work. And the longer you try to stay focused the harder it can become. Sometimes this can result in reduced performance too. Researchers have found that taking even very short breaks, and shifting your attention elsewhere can help to improve mental focus. That doesn’t mean checking your phone every 5 minutes! But stopping and taking five every so often, will help you reset, and enable you to keep your focus sharp and your performance high.
References available on request