3 Things You Can Do Right Now To Improve Your Attention Span

"Pay attention to your attention."

From work obligations to familial responsibilities, it's almost impossible to focus on one thing at a time these days. Everyone's conditioned to multitask in an effort to maximize time. However, when we allow our brains to pursue various goals simultaneously, we rob ourselves of the capacity to devote the appropriate amount of attention each task deserves. Thankfully, there are easy methods to improve your attention span and tame your wandering mind.

"We land in this mental time travel mode of the past or the future very frequently, and we land there often without our awareness, even if we want to be paying attention.," Amishi Jha, associate professor of psychology and director of contemplative neuroscience, mindfulness research & practice initiative at the University of Miami, told the audience during her March 2017 TED Talk. "Think of the last time you were trying to read a book, and you got to the bottom of the page with no idea what the words were saying."

"When this happens, when we let our mind wander without an awareness that we're doing it, there are consequences," she adds. "We make errors. We miss critical information sometimes, and we have difficulty making decisions. What's worse is when we experience stress, when we're in a moment of overwhelm, we don't just reflect on the past when we rewind, we end up being in the past ruminating, reliving, or regretting events that have already happened."

In essence, we must be mindful so we don't miss what's happening around us. We cannot physically split in two, but we act as if our brains can, which can detract from our experiences and satisfaction.

"Mindfulness has to do with paying attention to our present moment experience with awareness and with without any kind of emotional reactivity of what's happening. It's about keeping that button right on play to experience the moment to moment unfolding of our lives," Jha explains.

Yet, while Jha's TED Talk on enhancing mindfulness might require more attention than you're willing to spare at this moment, these three quick tips will help you regain control of your attention span with minimal effort:

1. Stay hydrated.

According to Stephanie Vozza of Fast Company, being dehydrated isn't just bad for your body — it's bad for your attention span. 

"A study done at the University of Barcelona, found that mild dehydration — as little as two percent — can negatively impact your ability to concentrate," she writes. "In fact, a two percent drop in dehydration isn't enough to trigger thirst. So before you go into a situation where you need to focus, make sure you bring along plenty of water."

2. Break away from technology.

Bruna Martinuzzi, columnist for AMEX OPEN, references Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brainswhen highlighting that the Internet has turned everyone into "chronic scatterbrains." She recommends that everyone should take a "digital sabbath" to recalibrate their attention span and eliminate the desire to multitask.

"To develop your ability for deep attention, periodically take breaks from technology," she writes. "Try taking an entire day on the weekend away from all digital devices. Or set some limits in the evening. For example, refrain from sending just one more email before going to bed and don't check your email if you wake up at night. Go analog for some tasks: Take a pen and paper, and move away from your computer for a while. People who do this report that they feel a deeper sense of calm and an enhanced ability to focus, think more deeply and be more creative."

3. Optimize your time.

Traditional working hours are 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. But not everyone can force themselves to operate at maximum capacity during the hours society assigns. To reclaim your attention span, you might be better off marching to your own drummer.

As Eric Barker, blogger and author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, writes: "Do you accomplish more in three hours when you're sleep-deprived or in one hour when you feel energetic, optimistic and engaged? This may sound fluffy but it's an important perspective to take: 10 hours of work when you're exhausted, cranky and distracted might be far less productive than three hours when you're "in the zone." So why not focus less on hours and more on doing what it takes to make sure you're at your best?"

Cover image via Pixabay / Pexels

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