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Squirrel! How to increase attention span so you get stuff done

October 4, 2022 - 14 min read

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What is your attention span?

Here’s how to increase your attention span

Do you have a short attention span? Here are some potential causes

Some benefits of increasing attention span

Start focusing on what matters

Your best performance depends on many factors. Among them are a clear understanding of expectations, a positive working environment, and the tools you need to complete the job. But more than anything, your ability to concentrate on the task at hand drives your work performance. 

And in today’s world, with the popularity of social media apps and smartphones, employees have more distractions than ever before. Constant notifications compete for our attention throughout the day — work-related or not.

No matter how devoted to an assignment we are, a text message from a family member or an email from a colleague reduces concentration and distracts us from projects. 

Major apps and social media platforms target our dopamine response, or our reward center, driving our device dependence. As many as 47% of Americans are addicted to their phones — with 70% saying they check their phones within five minutes of receiving a notification. That’s an intense interruption. 

When you want to produce your best work and stay focused, what are some strategies for increasing your attention span? Moving your phone to somewhere out of sight and out of mind is one strategy.

But that’s a short-term solution. Have you wondered how to increase your attention span and focus on your demanding tasks? We’ll explain you how to increase your attention span so you can keep concentrating.

 

What is your attention span?

Your attention span refers to your ability to focus without letting unnecessary distractions interrupt your work. It also affects your conversations and interactions, with some people unable to concentrate on the person in front of them without losing interest or becoming anxious. These attributes vary from person to person, with some having longer attention spans than others. 

Your attention span may depend on the work you’re doing or your surroundings. A noisy office can further decrease your ability to concentrate. And if you’re hungry or underslept, you might have extra trouble focusing. 

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Here’s how to increase your attention span

An increased attention span could be your key to unlocking further efficiency at work. When that happens, apply yourself to demanding tasks without letting outside distractions hinder your performance and keep working for longer periods. If you’re curious about how to increase attention span in adults, below is a list of some proven methods.

  1. Stop multitasking. Concentrating on a single task ensures all your mental resources stay focused on one thing instead of several competing for your energy.

    While
    multitasking makes it feel like you’re staying ahead of the game, it actually increases strain levels, demands extra energy to switch between tasks, and can lead to more mistakes. Adding in short breaks with the Pomodoro technique lets your brain rest while staying focused on one task. 
  2. Use active listening. Practicing attentive listening can help you tune in to what your coworkers say and interpret their feedback. Some ways to work on active listening include concentrating only on what someone’s saying and not your response, maintaining calm body language, or focusing on a single source — like a podcast — and devoting all your attention to it.

    No scrolling through Twitter while you’re watching a show at the end of the day.
  3. Exercise. Not only does physical activity strengthen your muscles and relieve stress, but it also improves cognitive performance and mental health while improving self-control. Studies involving middle-aged adults have shown benefits to cognitive control from both isolated and repeated workouts. Even a brisk walk has benefits. 
  4. Drink water or chew gum. Drinking water and staying hydrated enhances reasoning and overall cognition and can leave you feeling refreshed. And research demonstrates that chewing gum raises concentration levels during visual and audio memory tasks. Beyond that, you can also improve concentration with specific foods
  5. Do some meditation and relaxation exercises. Meditation teaches you to focus your attention on one thing at a time and avoid letting your mind wander. Practicing meditation and mindfulness points to increased selective attention, processing speed, and working memory.

    Begin with only a minute and a day, then slowly build to experience meditation’s helpful cognitive benefits. Various other
    relaxation techniques force you to focus on one subject, increasing your attention span while lowering your stress levels.
  6. Reduce interference and distractions. Removing anything that might interfere with your concentration is another excellent way to increase your attention span.

    You could try a digital detox, where you intentionally reduce screen time or make your office as boring as possible. Limit notifications during working hours. And if you have children, try to do work that requires your deepest focus when they’re at school or with friends.  

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Do you have a short attention span? Here are some potential causes

If you have immense trouble concentrating or a declining attention span, it might indicate a more serious underlying cause. You might consider investigating the root cause if you struggle to keep alert during meetings or become easily distracted while working on a challenging task. Below are some common causes of a short attention span and how they affect concentration. 

1. ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

People typically receive an ADHD diagnosis during childhood and experience symptoms after becoming adults. Symptoms of ADHD include difficulty paying attention, issues with time management, agitation, and more. Adults with ADHD may frequently switch employers or have recurring communication issues.

2. Depression 

Not only does depression negatively impact your sense of well-being, but it hinders your ability to concentrate. People experiencing depression might feel sad or hopeless, lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, or have trouble falling asleep. Speaking to a doctor or mental health professional can help you manage these symptoms and feel like yourself again. 

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3. Head injury

When someone experiences a head injury, one of the most familiar symptoms is a decreased ability to pay attention. Head injuries consist of all categories of injuries to the skull, scalp, head, or brain. They could result from trauma, seizures, and more and cause headaches, nausea, brain fog, or memory loss, among other symptoms. 

4. Learning disabilities 

A learning disability is a neurodevelopmental condition affecting learning abilities in areas like math or reading. Though many types of learning disabilities exist, the most common are dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.

People experiencing these disorders may have symptoms like decreased skills in reading and writing, an inability to follow instructions, or a tendency to become distracted, in that order.

5. Dehydration 

Being dehydrated for only two hours leads to trouble focusing and processing information. Dehydration especially impacts activities requiring high levels of attention and concentration, so drinking plenty of water ensures you’re at your best throughout the day. 

6. Autism 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a class of neurodevelopmental disorders that lead to social, communication, and behavioral difficulties. Typically diagnosed during childhood, ASD also affects someone’s attention span and ability to focus when working.

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Those diagnosed with ASD may struggle to convey feelings, relate to others, repeat certain behaviors, or have a fear of people touching them. 

There’s a chance that your diminished attention span is just the side effect of a lack of sleep hygiene and an unbalanced diet. But if no amount of physical wellness improves your focus, it might be time to check for a deeper cause. 

Some benefits of increasing attention span

Increasing your attention span isn’t simply a way to work for longer durations. It also improves your overall performance and effectiveness in the workplace. Here are some additional benefits of increasing attention span. 

Increases productivity 

Being able to focus for extended periods of time helps you work smarter, not harder. Like a car covers more mileage without being in traffic or making stops, you’re more productive when concentrating for extended chunks of time. Sustained attention during working hours helps you cover more ground and stay ahead of the curve. 

Boosts your performance 

Following strategies to increase focus and improve your attention span helps you devote your mental resources to the task at hand and improves your performance.

When you learn how to increase your attention span for reading or how to increase your attention span while studying, you’ll absorb more information throughout the day, learning new things faster. That benefits both you and your company because you’ll have higher productivity, and the work you’re producing will be of higher quality.

Helps you further engage with activities

No matter the activity, concentration and attention are key to effectiveness. Finding ways to mentally hone in on what you’re trying to accomplish can increase your effectiveness and help you reach new heights.

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Part of that means achieving a flow state, referring to the ability to fully immerse yourself in a task. It demands that the difficulty of your task only slightly exceeds your ability. If your job isn’t challenging enough, you might simply be bored.

And if your job is too hard, motivating yourself to do the impossible makes it hard to focus. A greater attention span will help you find the right level of difficulty to best focus.

Improves work interactions 

When you have an increased attention span, you have an increased capacity to listen, allowing you to better hear people out and make an informed response. That can be especially important at work, where coworkers or customers may have significant concerns or issues that need addressing.

With an improved attention span, not only can you focus on what someone says, but you can deliver what they need. You might even make more friends at work

Start focusing on what matters

Increasing your attention span brings many benefits, for you and your employer. If you aren’t sure why you have a short attention span, finding the root cause will increase your understanding and make finding a solution easier. 

And by implementing the above-listed strategies, you can hone your focus and concentration levels, perform your best, and help your company reach its goals.

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Published October 4, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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