How to increase attention span if you have a distracted mind

  • M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
  • B.A., History, Armstrong State University

Are you having trouble concentrating when you’re reading a book or listening to a lecture? You can take heart in the knowledge that you may be able to increase your attention span. Although there are some medical reasons for being easily distracted, this is not always the case.

Sometimes your attention span length can be improved by non-medical factors. This list of activities might make a big difference in improving your study habits.

Make a List

What does making a list have to do with concentrating? Easy.

We often have trouble paying attention to one thing because our brain wants to drift off to think about something else. When you’re supposed to be writing your history paper, for example, your brain may want to start think about playing a game or worrying about a math test that’s coming up.

You should get into the habit of making a daily task list, writing down all of the things you need to do (think about) in a particular day. Then prioritize your list, in the order that you prefer to tackle these tasks.

By writing down all the things you need to do (or think about), you gain a sense of control of your day. You don’t worry about whatever else you should be doing when you should be focusing on one particular task.

As simple as this exercise may sound, it is actually very effective in helping you to concentrate on one thing at a time.

Meditate

If you think about it, meditation might seem like the opposite of paying attention. One objective of meditation is to clear the mind, but another element of meditation is inward peace. This means that the act of meditating is actually the act of training the brain to avoid distractions.

While there are many definitions of meditation and much disagreement about what the goals of meditation may be, it is clear that meditation is an effective way to increase focus.

And remember, you don’t have to become an expert or obsessive meditator. Just take some time every day to go through a brief meditation exercise. You may start a new, healthy habit.

Sleep More

It seems logical that a lack of sleep affects our performance, but there is science that tells us exactly what happens to our brains when we deprive ourselves of sleep.

Studies show that people who sleep fewer than eight hours a night for a prolonged period of time have slower response systems and more difficulty recalling information. In fact, even minor restrictions in your sleep patterns can affect your academic performance in a bad way.

That is bad news for teens, who like to stay up late to study the night before a test. There is sound science to indicate that you may be doing more harm than good by cramming the night before an exam.

And, if you’re a typical teen when it comes to sleep, science also suggests that you should make it a habit to sleep longer hours than you normally do.

Eat Healthier Foods

Are you guilty of indulging a bit too much in tasty junk foods? Let’s face it: many people enjoy foods high in fats and sugars. But these foods can be bad news when it comes to staying focused on a single subject or task.

Foods that are high in fat and sugar might give you a temporary burst of energy, but that energy is soon followed by a crash. Once your body burns up the rush of nutrient-deprived, over-processed foods, you will start to feel groggy and lethargic.​

Reduce Screen Time

This may be the most unpopular suggestion of all time among young people, but the science is clear. Screen time – or time spent looking at cell phones, televisions, computer screens, and game consoles, has a clear impact on the attention span.

Scientists are just beginning to study the relationship between attention spans and screen times, but one thing is certain: many researchers and education specialists advise parents to limit screen time while they gain a fuller understanding of the effects of bright lights and electronic screens.

Join a Team

At least one study has shown that concentration and academic skills improve for students who participate in team sports. It could be that being active is helpful in the same way that meditation works. Participating in a sport trains your brain to concentrate on specific tasks, and shut out thoughts that interfere with your performance.

Just Be Active

There are also studies that show any amount of physical activity can improve concentration. Simply walking for twenty minutes before reading a book may boost your ability to pay attention longer. This may be a result of relaxing your brain in preparation for the task at hand.

Practice Paying Attention

For many people, a wandering mind is really an undisciplined mind. With practice, you can teach your mind a little discipline. One thing you should try to determine is what is really distracting you.

This exercise can help you determine why your mind wanders as you read, and what you can do to reduce your distractions.

  • First, follow the advice at the top of this page, and make a list of all the things that you have to do. Get the easy things out of the way first.
  • Next, grab a stopwatch. Most phones are equipped with one.
  • Now select a magazine, difficult book, or a newspaper and pick a passage to read that you normally would not read (unless forced).
  • Start the stopwatch and begin reading. Try to concentrate, but stop yourself as soon as you feel your mind beginning to wander.
  • Write down what it was that distracted you. What did you start to think about? Was it something fun that you could be doing instead, or was it something you are worried about?
  • Write down the topic or thought that led you astray. Do this five times and analyze the results. Do you see a pattern?

The more you run through the exercise above, the more you train your brain to stay on track. You are actually being very intentional about giving your brain some good old fashioned discipline!

Another hour, another Instagram notification

This article is part of InHerSight’s Working During Coronavirus series . As the coronavirus pandemic continues, find helpful advice here on working remotely, job hunting remotely, dealing with anxiety and stress, and staying safe at work if you have to be on-site.

It seems that the world collectively suffers from a short attention span. Movies and songs are getting shorter, and headlines are the most important part of an article. We are more discerning than ever when deciding what is worthy of our concentration, and even then, it’s hard to keep.

But, there are still signs that your attention span is shrinking from what it once was (say, when you could study for eight hours in your college library). A short attention span is characterized as an inability to stay focused on one thing without becoming distracted by another thing.

Many of us have been working from home, so let’s start there. How often are you taking a break from work to look at your phone? Is it hard to complete one task at a time? Do you find yourself completely exhausted after completing a morning of work? Are you easily distracted by other things in your home, like pets, children, or TV?

These could all be signs of a short attention span and may be especially prevalent during the pandemic. When boundaries between work and home life are blurred, it makes it harder and harder to stay focused for very long.

The good news is that once your attention span gets lost, it’s not gone forever. As Dr. Julie Schwartzbard, a neurologist, says, instead of trying to force yourself to work harder, you can take action “to promote improvements in the specific brain functions that drive concentration and awareness.”

Here are 6 ways to improve your attention span

1. Cut out whatever is distracting you

Let’s start with the most obvious but potentially most effective step to take. Pay attention to where your mind or energy goes when you get distracted from the task at hand. Is it always Instagram? The news? Your Zillow app? A group text message?

Whatever it is, take note. Make a dedicated effort to avoid that thing during work hours. Allow yourself 30 minutes on your lunch break or after work to focus on that distraction.

If you know you don’t have this kind of vigilance and worry you’re still be tempted, delete the app from your devices, or put your phone in a room across the house. Tell your friends you’re not available and may be slow to respond. Take every step you can to remove the distraction while you’re trying to focus.

2. Take care of your body and mind

Next, think about how you prioritize wellness. When you get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise, your focus will probably improve significantly. Beware of some diets that can actually cause you to lose focus. Dr. Schwartzbard points out that “low-fat diets can ruin focus because the brain needs certain essential fatty acids. But not getting enough protein is bad too.”

It’s all about balance. Eat healthily but make sure you have enough protein, carbs, and vegetables. More processed foods or those high in sugar can give you a boost but will quickly lead to a crash. Always make sure to drink lots of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

The right exercise routine doesn’t have to be intense to improve your wellness. Going for a walk, stretching, doing yoga, or going for a run can all have beneficial impacts on your health. And taking the time to show your body some love will help you stay focused when the time comes to sit down and work.

Dr. John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, offers advice to boost memory, concentration, and mental sharpness: “When you exercise and move around, you are using more brain cells,” which in turn make more brain-derived neurotrophic factor (DBNF) that supports brain health. Exercising regularly (30 minutes a day, ideally five days a week) is key to get all these brain benefits.

3. Improve your work environment

If you find yourself overly distracted or impatient, try improving your physical space. Clean up your desk and office. Organize those stacks of forms that have been sitting around for months. Move your paper files to an online format to minimize clutter.

You also may need to consider the noise in your environment. Can you always hear your neighbors fighting or playing music? Is construction loud next door? What about the heating and cooling systems in your home? Is there always a cat scratching at your door?

Pay attention to sounds that distract you throughout the day. Consider wearing noise-canceling headphones or playing relaxing music or ambient noise while you work. A noisy, messy workspace will usually impact your attention span for the worse.

4. Reexamine your work life

Sometimes your attention span dwindles because you’re simply not engaged by the work you’re doing. We all get bored sometimes, and that’s normal. But if you’re consistently disengaged, unhappy, and unmotivated with your job, this could be why your attention span is so poor.

You may feel lucky to have the job you have, especially during the pandemic. But consider looking for work elsewhere if you can find something more exciting or challenging. Or, you may be able to talk to your manager about taking on new tasks so that you have something new to focus on.

Sometimes the reason you can’t focus is that you need a change.

5. Understand potential psychological and medical causes

It’s also important to recognize that there may be medical reasons why you can’t focus. Hormonal changes during pregnancy or menopause can impact concentration, Dr. Schwartzbard says, as well as excessive stress.

Underlying conditions like ADHD, depression, anxiety, sleep apnea, and others can all impact your attention span. If you take steps to improve your concentration but are still struggling, it may be worth discussing your issue with your doctor in case there’s something else going on that should be addressed.

6. Practice grace and acceptance

Finally, try to show yourself grace. Recognize when you’re having trouble focusing, and tell yourself it’s okay, that it won’t last forever. Get up and move around, go for a walk, or do another task. Come back to work when you feel more relaxed. When you’re already feeling impatient, forcing yourself to focus may actually make things worse.

Be kind to yourself, especially when you’re making these changes or going through a transition. With the right information and the right lifestyle alterations, you’ll be able to manage your concentration and get things done.

Last Updated: April 8, 2021 References

This article was co-authored by George Sachs, PsyD. George Sachs is a Licensed Psychologist and the Owner of Sachs Center based in New York, New York. With over ten years of experience, Dr. Sachs specializes in treating ADD/ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders in children, teens, and adults. He holds a BS in Psychology from Emory University. Dr. Sachs earned his Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, Chicago. He completed his clinical training in Chicago at Cook County Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the Child Study Center. Dr. Sachs completed his internship and postdoctoral work at the Children’s Institute in Los Angeles, where he supervised and trained therapists in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT). He has been trained as a Gestalt Therapist and certified by the Gestalt Associates Training Program of Los Angeles. Dr. Sachs is the author of The Adult ADD Solution, Helping the Traumatized Child, and Helping Your Husband with Adult ADD. He has appeared on the Huffington Post, NBC Nightly News, CBS, and WPIX discussing his holistic approach to ADD/ADHD treatment.

There are 19 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 347,434 times.

Increasing your attention span can benefit you greatly, especially in the work place. Improving your overall attention span takes some dedication, but some fairly simple tricks can help. Work on engaging in certain activities, such as meditation, that are shown to boost attention span. Take initiative to better manage your time. Make sure you’re using your time wisely and take breaks as needed. You should also adjust your overall lifestyle. Cutting back on stress and improving your sleep can greatly improve attention span.

How to increase attention span if you have a distracted mind

Children often struggle to pay attention, but when they are given a task they view as challenging or hard, they are even more likely to give up before truly trying. If you notice a child that is regularly losing focus during challenging tasks, here are some strategies that might help increase that attention span and improve the overall outcome of tasks.

1. Include Physical Activity

Kids who struggle with attention often do better if they are given brief breaks for active play. Taking a break to bounce on an exercise ball, breaking up learning into chunks, and outdoor play times, or providing a quick stretching or jumping jacks break in the classroom, can all help the attention-challenged student stay focused. Starting with 15 minutes of active play before a challenging task can also help a child stay more engaged.

2. Have “Attention Breaks”

Teach the child or children what “paying attention” means and how it looks. Practice attentive behavior in non-threatening, non-crucial times during the school day. Then, at periodic intervals, have practice attention breaks. Using a timer or an app on the phone, have a signal go off during the work period, and have the child mark whether he/she was paying attention. This can help train a student’s brain to understand what attention looks like, and how often he/she is tempted to disengage.

3. Adjust Time Frames

If you find that, no matter what you do, the kids just can’t seem to stay on task, it may be time to break content into smaller time intervals. Remember, children can concentrate on one task for two to five minutes per year old. For example, if you have a classroom of 6 year olds, expect 12 to 30 minutes of attention for your students.

If you need to adjust time frames for all or some of your students, do so. Using timers, have the student who is struggling with attention show his/her work after a short period of time. This breaks up the task and allows the child to keep working without feeling completely overwhelmed. Consider calling the child to your desk for these checks. This provides the physical movement that the child needs in order to stay engaged, and also gives you the opportunity to monitor his/her progress.

Also, be cautious about lengthy lectures with kids with short attention spans. These children need to be kept involved with the material, so ask for responses regularly on the subject matter you are discussing. Even a simple question, asking for a raise of hands, can be what is necessary to keep students on task.

4. Remove Visual Distractions

When a child is struggling with a difficult task, clutter in the classroom or on the desk can make it impossible to keep his/her brain where it needs to be. Remove unnecessary clutter and visual experiences from the workspace. This gives the child fewer excuses for not focusing on the task at hand.

5. Play Memory Games

Memory isn’t really a muscle, but it can help improve focus. Memory games help hone that focus for kids in a fun way, so that they are able to concentrate when something challenging is presented. Have regular times in the normal school day where the class plays memory games, or work with the attention-challenged students outside of normal class time to play concentration games. Add memory games to classroom electronics to encourage this type of play during free time.

Memory games do not have to be complicated. Even a simple game of red-light-green-light, I-Spy or Simon Says forces a child to concentrate. Memory matching cards or the game Concentration can also be used to increase attention.

6. Rate (and Change) Tasks

If you notice a child is constantly avoiding work or seems overly distracted, ask that child to rate the level of challenge found in the activity on a scale of 1 to 10. If the child indicates the activity is an eight or higher, ask what could be done to make the task a two or three. Sometimes, you will get excellent insight into what you can do to help the student decrease his/her level of frustration.

7. Break Tasks into Pieces

If these strategies don’t work, look at the task itself. Can you break it into smaller chunks? Have the child focus long enough to perform part of the task, then take a break, coming back to the project to finish. Children with attention struggles may actually perform the requested task faster with this strategy than if they simply tried to finish it all in one sitting.

Some kids are going to struggle with attention more than others. As a teacher, you can take measures to help improve concentration for your students. All it takes is a little extra thought and work on your part to bring significant change for your students.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

Is it possible to increase your working memory?

Posted Mar 14, 2012

THE BASICS

  • Understanding Attention
  • Find a therapist to help with ADHD

How to increase attention span if you have a distracted mind

Can focus and attention span be trained? Recent research reported in American Psychologist suggests you may be able to increase your focus, working memory, and even your intelligence through a free computer game—do try this at home. This game has also been suggested as a treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder.

What’s the point of paying attention?

The ability to control your focus of attention is very valuable in a range of areas of life. At school, students need to focus to learn. Working memory, the ability to keep several relevant pieces of information in mind at once, is closely related to the ability to control your attentional focus and is key to effective performance in many jobs. Computer programmers need to hold several subroutines in mind to understand how the new software they are developing will fit together. Interviewers need to hold together the different things that a job candidate says to detect themes and inconsistencies. Scientists need to keep the different components of a new theory in mind to see how they interact to make predictions. Research has closely linked working memory to fluid intelligence.

Getting smarter and more focused

Recent research has suggested that working memory can be trained using a special computer game. In addition to the direct effects on working memory, some recent research has suggested that regular attentional training has other benefits.

Reducing symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

One study showed that children who regularly played an attentional training game for twenty days showed reduced symptoms of ADD, as rated by their parents.

Increasing fluid intelligence

Several studies have found that regular attentional training can increase performance on Raven’s Progressive Matrices and similar tests of fluid intelligence, or g(F). This is important because g(F) is a strong predictor of many life outcomes including job performance.

Do try this at home

The best established attentional training game is called dual n-back, and you can download and use the software free. You can probably tell from the name alone that dual n-back isn’t exactly the instantly addictive ‘Bejewelled Blitz’, but it has its charms in an oddly meditative way. The game requires you to simultaneously remember letters (spoken aloud by the computer) and locations of squares on a tic-tac-toe style grid (presented visually, obviously). At the easiest difficulty level, you need only remember the letters or locations from the previous round. At harder difficulty levels, you need to remember letters or locations from longer ago (the round-before-last, and so on). Harder difficulty levels quickly become fiendishly difficult and demanding, but you can always ease off and practice at the easier levels.

On the PC, you can play the dual n-back game by downloading the open-source software Brain Workshop. On the iPad, you can download the IQ boost app (also free). Both of these versions of the game come with full instructions.

It should be noted that research in this area is at an early stage, and your results may vary. Anecdotal comments on various internet sites report a range of benefits, from significant to none at all. Still, it never hurts to try. A common theme is that it takes dedicated practice to achieve significant results.

Tried the dual n-back game? Share your experiences by leaving a comment.

Another hour, another Instagram notification

This article is part of InHerSight’s Working During Coronavirus series . As the coronavirus pandemic continues, find helpful advice here on working remotely, job hunting remotely, dealing with anxiety and stress, and staying safe at work if you have to be on-site.

It seems that the world collectively suffers from a short attention span. Movies and songs are getting shorter, and headlines are the most important part of an article. We are more discerning than ever when deciding what is worthy of our concentration, and even then, it’s hard to keep.

But, there are still signs that your attention span is shrinking from what it once was (say, when you could study for eight hours in your college library). A short attention span is characterized as an inability to stay focused on one thing without becoming distracted by another thing.

Many of us have been working from home, so let’s start there. How often are you taking a break from work to look at your phone? Is it hard to complete one task at a time? Do you find yourself completely exhausted after completing a morning of work? Are you easily distracted by other things in your home, like pets, children, or TV?

These could all be signs of a short attention span and may be especially prevalent during the pandemic. When boundaries between work and home life are blurred, it makes it harder and harder to stay focused for very long.

The good news is that once your attention span gets lost, it’s not gone forever. As Dr. Julie Schwartzbard, a neurologist, says, instead of trying to force yourself to work harder, you can take action “to promote improvements in the specific brain functions that drive concentration and awareness.”

Here are 6 ways to improve your attention span

1. Cut out whatever is distracting you

Let’s start with the most obvious but potentially most effective step to take. Pay attention to where your mind or energy goes when you get distracted from the task at hand. Is it always Instagram? The news? Your Zillow app? A group text message?

Whatever it is, take note. Make a dedicated effort to avoid that thing during work hours. Allow yourself 30 minutes on your lunch break or after work to focus on that distraction.

If you know you don’t have this kind of vigilance and worry you’re still be tempted, delete the app from your devices, or put your phone in a room across the house. Tell your friends you’re not available and may be slow to respond. Take every step you can to remove the distraction while you’re trying to focus.

2. Take care of your body and mind

Next, think about how you prioritize wellness. When you get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise, your focus will probably improve significantly. Beware of some diets that can actually cause you to lose focus. Dr. Schwartzbard points out that “low-fat diets can ruin focus because the brain needs certain essential fatty acids. But not getting enough protein is bad too.”

It’s all about balance. Eat healthily but make sure you have enough protein, carbs, and vegetables. More processed foods or those high in sugar can give you a boost but will quickly lead to a crash. Always make sure to drink lots of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

The right exercise routine doesn’t have to be intense to improve your wellness. Going for a walk, stretching, doing yoga, or going for a run can all have beneficial impacts on your health. And taking the time to show your body some love will help you stay focused when the time comes to sit down and work.

Dr. John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, offers advice to boost memory, concentration, and mental sharpness: “When you exercise and move around, you are using more brain cells,” which in turn make more brain-derived neurotrophic factor (DBNF) that supports brain health. Exercising regularly (30 minutes a day, ideally five days a week) is key to get all these brain benefits.

3. Improve your work environment

If you find yourself overly distracted or impatient, try improving your physical space. Clean up your desk and office. Organize those stacks of forms that have been sitting around for months. Move your paper files to an online format to minimize clutter.

You also may need to consider the noise in your environment. Can you always hear your neighbors fighting or playing music? Is construction loud next door? What about the heating and cooling systems in your home? Is there always a cat scratching at your door?

Pay attention to sounds that distract you throughout the day. Consider wearing noise-canceling headphones or playing relaxing music or ambient noise while you work. A noisy, messy workspace will usually impact your attention span for the worse.

4. Reexamine your work life

Sometimes your attention span dwindles because you’re simply not engaged by the work you’re doing. We all get bored sometimes, and that’s normal. But if you’re consistently disengaged, unhappy, and unmotivated with your job, this could be why your attention span is so poor.

You may feel lucky to have the job you have, especially during the pandemic. But consider looking for work elsewhere if you can find something more exciting or challenging. Or, you may be able to talk to your manager about taking on new tasks so that you have something new to focus on.

Sometimes the reason you can’t focus is that you need a change.

5. Understand potential psychological and medical causes

It’s also important to recognize that there may be medical reasons why you can’t focus. Hormonal changes during pregnancy or menopause can impact concentration, Dr. Schwartzbard says, as well as excessive stress.

Underlying conditions like ADHD, depression, anxiety, sleep apnea, and others can all impact your attention span. If you take steps to improve your concentration but are still struggling, it may be worth discussing your issue with your doctor in case there’s something else going on that should be addressed.

6. Practice grace and acceptance

Finally, try to show yourself grace. Recognize when you’re having trouble focusing, and tell yourself it’s okay, that it won’t last forever. Get up and move around, go for a walk, or do another task. Come back to work when you feel more relaxed. When you’re already feeling impatient, forcing yourself to focus may actually make things worse.

Be kind to yourself, especially when you’re making these changes or going through a transition. With the right information and the right lifestyle alterations, you’ll be able to manage your concentration and get things done.

How to increase attention span if you have a distracted mind

With knowledge workers–software engineers, writers, entrepreneurs, and most people with a “white-collar” job–currently outnumbering all other workers in the U.S. four to one, it’s clear that the thinkers will inherit the Earth.

Yet with longer days, higher expectations, and the constant pinging of notifications and messages, our ability to focus has dropped to an all-time low. In fact, many reports show that healthy adults aren’t able to focus on a task for longer than 20 minutes at a time.

Yet our jobs and careers depend on our ability to think for long periods of time.

Luckily, scientific research has identified some fantastic ways to fight distraction and boost our natural ability to focus for longer periods of time.

These aren’t hacks, but rather ways to slowly rebuild your attention muscle and become more focused in your work and your life.

1. Use workday structure to increase your focus slowly

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Your focus isn’t as terrible as it could be. However, the path to regaining control of your attention is a long one. Studies have shown that to rebuild your attention muscle it’s better to break your workday into manageable chunks, with regular breaks in between them.

After analyzing 5.5 million daily records of how office workers are using their computers (based on what the users self-identified as “productive” work), the team at DeskTime found that the top 10 percent of productive workers worked for an average of 52 minutes before taking a 17-minute break.

If 52 minutes sounds like a marathon for you, start small with 20 minutes on, five minutes off, and work your way up.

2. Create a “not-to-do” list

Distractions are everywhere in our modern working world. Researchers have found it takes up to 25 minutes to regain your focus after being distracted. One easy fix is to create a “not-to-do” list: Whenever you feel the pull to check Facebook or Twitter or follow any other random thought that comes into your head, write it down instead. The act of simply transferring that thought from mind to paper allows you to stay focused on the task at hand.

3. Read long books slowly

According to research from the Pew Research Center, reading of online content has increased nearly 40 percent. Yet 26 percent of Americans didn’t read a single book last year. Reading only short content is killing our ability to focus and training our minds to only look for quick answers rather than explore complex concepts. Start by researching proper ways to read a book and then pick up a classic and give it a shot.

4. Try these turn-of-the-century concentration exercises

Don’t think declining attention spans are solely a modern-day issue. In the early 1900s, author Theron Q. Dumont published a book called The Power of Concentration that highlighted a number of practices for building your attention span. Here are a few:

Sit still in a chair for 15 minutes

Concentrate on slowly opening and closing your fists for five minutes

Follow the second hand of a clock for five minutes

They might seem a little crazy, but you’d be surprised how hard these exercises are to do.

5. Bring more mindfulness into your day

Mindfulness is having a moment, with everyone from director David Lynch to Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington practicing daily meditation. And for good reason: Researchers from the University of Washington have shown that just 10 to 20 minutes of meditation a day can help improve your focus and extend your attention span. What’s more, you’ll even see improvements in your attention after just four days.

6. Add physical exercise to your attention exercise routine

Working out isn’t just good for your body. Researchers have found that adding physical exercise to your routine helps build the brain’s ability to ignore distractions. In one study, students who engaged in just moderate physical exercise before taking a test that measured their attention spans performed better than those students who didn’t exercise.

7. Practice attentive listening

If there’s one place our limited attention span is incredibly noticeable, it’s when we’re talking to others. Instead of grasping at straws during a conversation, practice attentive listening by not interrupting, recapping what the other person has said regularly, and using connecting words like “OK,” “I get it,” and “Yes” to stay engaged and show that you’re listening.

These skills not only help us come across as nicer, more interesting people, they also help train our minds to focus on the person in front of us.

How to increase attention span if you have a distracted mind

I’ve noticed lately that my mind has been wandering a lot so I wanted to see how attention works and how to manage it better.

It turns out a lot of us have wandering minds and struggle to stay focused. In fact, when we’re reading, our minds typically wander anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the time. Voluntarily keeping our attention on one thing continuously can take a lot of effort, so it’s not surprising that I struggle with this sometimes.

Luckily, there are ways to keep our attention spans from burning out, once we understand how they work.

The two brain systems that control your attention

Our brain is split into two systems, according to Daniel Kahneman. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, he calls these System 1 and System 2 (to get a full understanding of how these work, I’d highly recommend reading his book. I can only explain them briefly here, and there’s a lot more that goes into how our brains do the things they do!).

How to increase attention span if you have a distracted mind

System 1 is the involuntary, always-on network in our brains that takes in stimuli and process it. It’s the system that makes automatic decisions for us, like turning our heads when we hear our names called or freezing when we see a spider.

System 2 runs the voluntary parts of our brains. It processes suggestions offered by System 1, makes final decisions and chooses where to allocate our attention. The funny thing about how these system work is that we assume a lot of the things we do are purely conscious decisions made by System 2. In fact, almost everything we consciously decide on is based on automatic reactions and suggestions fed to us by System 1. Here is another great illustration of both systems at work:

How to increase attention span if you have a distracted mind

System 2 is in charge of anything that takes willpower and self-control, and anything that’s too difficult for System 1.

How we get distracted every day

Although System 2 is running our attention and our concentration, there’s only so much to go around, and it takes a lot of effort to stay focused on something. We’re bombarded all the time by distractions, which the System 2 part of our brains has to fight against.

Distractions come in two main kinds, which Daniel Goleman explains in Focus: The Hidden Power of Excellence: sensory distractions (things happening around you) and emotional distractions (your inner dialogue, thoughts about things happening in your life).

If you’ve ever had something emotional weighing on your mind, you’ll know how hard it is to block out that kind of distraction. Goleman explains that this happens for a reason: if something is upsetting us, our brains want us to find a solution so we won’t keep worrying about it. Putting it off doesn’t help us concentrate, because we can’t truly let go of those worrying thoughts until we have a plan to work through it.

These kind of emotional distractions are the ones that plague us most, according to Goleman:

It’s not the chatter of people around us that is the most powerful distractor, but rather the chatter of our own minds.

Even worse is that on average, when our minds wander they tend to skew towards negative thoughts, and focus on self-centered thoughts more than anything else.

So what’s the answer? Well, staying focused takes a lot of work. Just like our physical muscles, our attention “muscle” gets fatigued when we overwork it. Pushing ourselves to cognitive exhaustion means we end up mentally fatigued: less effective at our work, more easily distracted and more irritable.

Bringing focus back

I’ve definitely felt this myself, when I struggle to write a new post for Buffer every single day. I always wondered why I was still feeling drained by the next day, but it makes sense when you think about how our brains relax. Just because we spend time on something else doesn’t mean our brains are recovering. They need full rest periods.

There are a few ways to achieve this, which are worth working into your routine to keep your mind fresh and your ability to focus refreshed.

1. Meditate

I’ve written about the benefits of mediation before, which can help us to improve our attention spans.
Because meditation is a practice in focusing our attention and being aware of when it drifts, this actually improves our focus when we’re not meditating, as well. It’s a lasting effect that comes from regular bouts of meditation.

Focused attention is very much like a muscle, one that needs to be strengthened through exercise.

2. Spend time in nature

One of Goleman’s suggestions for improving our ability to focus is to spend time in nature. This is to help our brains switch off—an experiment found that even going for a walk on a city street didn’t let the brain switch off enough to fully recover its focus, whereas walking in a park offered far fewer things for the brain to pay attention and respond to.

3. Lose yourself in something you enjoy

I love this last suggestion from Goleman and I think I’ll try to incorporate all three of these into my routine.

Goleman pointed out that when you’re completely wrapped up in doing something easy that you enjoy, your inner dialogue switches off. This lets your mind rest and recoup the ability to focus on difficult tasks again later:

The key is an immersive experience, one where attention can be total but largely passive.

This one’s easier said than done, but the benefits to our work could be enormous so I think it’s worth trying.

Do you have a great way of switching off and letting your brain rest? Let us know in the comments.

How to increase attention span if you have a distracted mind

By Thomas Griffin, co-founder and president of OptinMonster. Entrepreneur, investor and software expert. Helping you be a better leader in your organization.

How to increase attention span if you have a distracted mind

The human mind is extremely fluttery. It has a high tendency to wander away at the very first opportunity that presents itself. But you can’t really blame the mind for its unsettled nature.

What you can do instead is to train it to be more composed and attentive for better focus. This will boost your productivity and help you accomplish your tasks more efficiently.

But how do you do that? Here are a few ways that you can try out.

Get rid of obvious distractions.

The first thing you need to practice is to get rid of distractions. The human mind, by nature, is a frivolous one. This decreases its capacity to focus on one task for a very long time. Digital connectedness has made things even worse. It’s one of the main reasons you’re constantly distracted.

So why not turn this distraction away? The best way to do that is to take a digital break. To make this task easier, you can create a distraction-free zone. Keep all digital devices, including television, mobile phone and computers, away from this area and spend at least one hour in this zone every day. You don’t have to lock yourself in a room for that. It can be in the open too.

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Try going for a walk or doing some yoga. You can even read a book, engage in some outdoor activities or spend time in nature. This will keep your mind occupied, and you’ll not feel overwhelmed by the absence of your phone or laptop.

It can be a difficult exercise, but once you start practicing, you can easily master it. Getting rid of distractions is a great way to boost your attention span and increase your focus.

Stop multitasking.

If you’re someone who likes multitasking, you should stop doing that now. Instead, try accomplishing one goal at a time.

Although you might feel like multitasking helps you get more work done, it does just the opposite. When you’re constantly switching between tasks, you have to spend a little extra time repeating some of your work to find out where you left off. This shifts your attention and dilutes your focus.

So instead of doing things faster, you end up spending more time getting things done. This causes unnecessary stress and anxiety. Concentrating on one goal helps you achieve laser-like focus and makes it easier to reach your goals faster.

Take a break.

Another very efficient way of increasing your attention span is to take breaks between your work. Studies have shown that the brain is designed to detect and respond to change. This means that it stops responding when you’re constantly doing something for a very long time.

That’s why when you work for long hours at a stretch, you feel exhausted, even if you haven’t engaged in any physical activity. This creates a mental block and results in decision fatigue.

Taking a quick break can help stimulate your brain and regain your focus. You can either take short breaks at quick intervals or take a longer one after working continuously for some time. That way, your mind gets a chance to recharge itself and be more focused and productive.

Meditate.

One of the most powerful ways of increasing your focus is to meditate. It’s a great way of training your mind to be more aware of where you are and what you’re doing.

This helps you bring back your focus the moment you realize that your mind is drifting away. Meditation is just like an exercise, where you train your brain to stay focused without letting it wander away.

Many people think that meditation can be done only by sitting down with closed eyes. But there are other techniques of meditating too. You can try doing it through practices like deep breathing and yoga and see how effectively it helps you regain your attention.

Sleep well.

Proper sleep is extremely important for you to stay focused. But nowadays, many of us stay up late for various reasons. This results in different problems like stress, anxiety and lower concentration levels. It also slows down your reaction time, making it extremely dangerous to continue engaging in focus-oriented activities like driving. If you don’t want that to happen, make sure to get at least seven hours of sleep every day.

With proper sleep, your brain gets to reinforce the connections between its cells, reactivate old memories and pass on different information from the short to long-term memory. As a result, you wake up with a fresh mind and a better attention span.

Staying focused at all times may not be possible. But the problem is that without proper focus, even the simplest task appears to be more complicated. This can directly affect your productivity and cause stress.

If you want to stop that, train your mind to be more focused, and learn how to boost your attention span. This will quickly help you gain clarity of thought, work with more efficiency and make better decisions.