If you grew up without the internet, you might remember a time when you had an easier time concentrating. Maybe you spent hours getting lost in a book, and when you finally looked up, you had to blink to remember where you were. Or maybe you had a big project at home that you could work on for hours without stopping as you (happily) lost yourself in the task.
Thanks to the constant buzz of notifications and the feeling that we’re constantly missing something in our email inboxes or social media feeds, our attention spans are shrinking. In fact, one study found that people now generally lose their concentration after just eight seconds. For perspective, a goldfish has a nine-second attention span.
Are those statistics bleak? Sure — but luckily, all hope is not lost. There’s actually a lot you can do to improve your concentration and attention span. Get started with these tips.
Get enough sleep
According to the Sleep Foundation, most adults should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Sleep is critical to mental and physical health, and it’s also crucial to concentration — it’s hard to stay focused when you’re exhausted. Beyond that, it can be hard to perform even basic tasks. So if you’re fed up with your attention span, start by practicing better sleep hygiene and prioritizing more time in bed.
While there’s something to be said for getting into the rare “flow state,” or that feeling when you’re completely lost in what you're doing, it’s not always easy to get there. That’s where breaks come in. If you’re thinking “I don’t have time to take a break,” think about how many times you check your phone when you’re supposed to be (or want to be) doing something else. Then think about how many minutes — or even hours! — that adds up to.
If you take real breaks, you might be less tempted to spend time on your phone, which can help you get more done is less time. In fact, the popular Pomodoro Technique suggests only working in 25-minute chunks, with five-minute breaks in between.
Turn off your notifications
How can we be expected to concentrate when notifications are going off, constantly alerting us to something exciting (but in reality, probably not that exciting) on our phones? One of the easiest ways to improve your concentration is to silence all notifications. You may find that you forget your phone even exists, at least for a little while.
Notifications can be destructive to concentration and focus.
Put your phone in another room
If you find that you do indeed still remember that your phone exists even with your notifications turned off — or that you even end up checking it more since you know you won’t be alerted to something new with a sound — try separating yourself from your phone completely. If you work from home, put your phone in another room. If you work in an office, put your phone in a desk drawer.
Get exercise — preferably outside
Research shows that spending time in nature increases productivity and concentration, and further research shows that regular exercise actually releases the brain chemicals we need for our memories and concentration. So if you exercise in nature, you’ll get tons of attention span-improving benefits at once.
When we talk about meditation, we often talk about using it to tame the “monkey mind,” or the many thoughts that swirl through our brains at all times. Regular meditation can help you gain control over your thoughts, helping you observe them rather than immediately engage with them. In this same way, meditation can really help with concentration, helping our minds stay focused on the task at hand. And there’s plenty of research to back up the idea that meditation can improve memory and attention span.
Meditation can help improve concentration
Like most things in life, concentrating (or not concentrating) is a habit. For example, if every time we open a book we’re in the habit of half-reading a few pages before getting up to do something else, that’s what we’ll continue to do until we proactively make a change. So, using this example, try reading in a 20 or 30-minute chunk. Practice carefully reading each word, and not stopping until the allotted time has passed. Over time, you may find that you become a closer, more careful reader naturally, and that this level of attention translates to other areas of your life as well.
Multitasking is considered a good skill to have, but it really shouldn’t be — studies show that multitasking actually reduces efficiency because our brains are only built to focus on one thing at a time. So if you find that you’re having a hard time focusing, try single-tasking. You may be blown away by how much faster you get a task done, and how much better you are at it.
If you find that no matter how hard you try you can’t improve your concentration, it might be useful to talk to a doctor to try to identify any underlying conditions, like ADHD.Want more tips for living a happier, more meaningful life? Start by diving into these winter self-care ideas.