Wanna Increase Your Attention Span? Here Are 10 Ideas.

Nowadays when the average human attention span almost equals to that of a goldfish, the question about how to sustain focus becomes a crucial one. Having attention span of 30ish minutes will give you a huge advantage over many. Here are my 10 ideas on how to increase focus:

1. Kill distractions.

We are often too quick to accept whatever new gadget or social network comes up (our fear of missing out) and we expect our mind to adapt. The distraction is our mind’s response to the endless stream of shiny stimuli.

Killing the distractions as much as possible is the key step towards the better focus. Create your environment carefully and deliberately. Don’t try to study with the TV on. Stop working with your phone on the desk right next to you, with all sorts of notifications popping up. Close your email after you check it so that upcoming emails do not distract you. Be ruthless with the distractions and you’ll see the benefits in no time.

2. Be aware of your monkey mind.

There are external distractions: emails, notifications, other people in your surrounding etc. The catch is that even when you minimize the external distractions (idea #1), a whole new range of INTERNAL distractions will emerge.

Here’s an example: you start working and all of a sudden, you remember that you need to pay your electricity bill. Or you would start wondering if there are any Kindle books on sale right now. Or what is the capital of Tajikistan? Or whatever. You were just sitting, doing your stuff, nothing changed, no one has distracted you, however, you have managed to distract yourself. How come? That is your monkey mind, my friend. (Read more about it below.)

Monkey mind is an innate part of our psyche. However, our habits of frantic email and social network checking every 5 seconds make it absolutely insane. Monkey mind wants to jump from one thing to another and to be entertained all the time.

Solutions: be aware of it, don’t do what it tells you to do. Or keep a piece of paper next to your workstation and write down the things that pop up into your mind to deal with them later (you’d better not forget about that electricity bill). Or try the idea #3.

3. Go back to present moment.

You will get distracted eleventy million times. For sure. Either due to external or internal distractions. When that happens, simply acknowledge that you strayed and say: “I’m back.” Always go back. Don’t give yourself crap, don’t pull your hair out, don’t bitch, just go back to the present moment and task at hand.

I have opened and closed Facebook app within a nanosecond countless times. My monkey mind clicks it before I know it and then I say: “Ups, I am back,” and close it, without even seeing a single post. A lot of people think: “Oh well, now when I clicked I might as well see a couple of posts.” But that is a trap. It is essential to go back to the present moment as quickly as possible. Correcting the mistake early on is the key to correcting the behavior.

(Btw, if you are struggling with obsessive Facebook checking, see the post below.)

4. Do one thing at the time.

Multitasking is a fancy word for doing two things in a sloppy manner at the same time. Yet we all love it and do it daily because it gives us a false sense of productivity (it’s actually a busyness).

And while I still think it’s more efficient to cook 3 meals at once or to run and listen to a podcast, I am doing my best to eradicate multitasking from my work and creative process. It is very simple (but not easy). Choose one important task, work on it until it’s done and then move on. Practice on small tasks and gradually increase. And when your mind strays, go back to the present moment and task at hand.

5. Embrace boredom.

Boredom is our good friend, indicating that things got a bit uncomfortable. Giving up and jumping onto something else may seem like a seductive option, and that’s what most people will do. But behind the boredom, the great work is hiding. Pushing through boredom makes us more creative because we are forced to dig deeper.

Truly good and hard work requires our willingness to be disciplined and persistent even when we are bored. (Especially when we are bored.)

However, most of the toys and gadgets of today are created to cure our boredom the very second we feel it. Because we are tempted to kill every boring moment with email/Facebook /Instagram/Snapchat/insert your favorite, we compromise our ability to embrace boredom in our work.

Practice boredom. Stand in the line and wait for your coffee. Stand at the party and observe what is happening. Wait. Breathe. Don’t grab your phone immediately. Practice boredom and you’ll be rewarded.

6. Increase slowly.

We would all love to be able to sit for hours and write novels about parallel universes. The sad truth is that we hardly even read a short newspaper article without skimming. Our attention spans are really low and we have to make an effort to rebuild them gradually.

Start with 5 or 10 minutes of undivided attention and then increase. Pomodoro technique, working in 25-minute sessions with 5-minute breaks, can be a great starting tool. Based on my experience, I noticed that the hardest part is to get started, which Pomodoro can really help me with. Once I am on the right track, it’s easy to merge two or three 25-minute sessions.

7. Meditate.

Meditation is hands down the best tool for mindfulness, awareness, focus and emotional stability. Meditation includes most of the tools discussed above: dealing with monkey mind, letting go of thoughts, embracing boredom, going back to present moment after being distracted. Having meditation practice will be of tremendous help with the ability to focus.

8. Choose intensity.

Working in short bursts of crazy high attention can help you train your brain and make big leaps. Sometimes you can accomplish more in 30 minutes of laser-focused work than in a whole afternoon of whining, complaining and jumping from one task to the next. As in idea #6, the hardest part is to get started.

9. Create cycles of focus and rest.

Traditional workplace is built around the assumption that humans can sustain focus for 8 hours, which is simply not true. The natural rhythm of our mind is based on cycles of activity (focused state) and rest. Try to build your work schedule around this idea.

Work focused and then let your mind rest and recover. Come back and repeat.

It seems like the Western work culture glorifies only the periods of activity and pushing, while the rest is considered a necessary evil that only weak people need. That is the surefire recipe for burnout and I don’t want anyone to buy into that story. Rest, sleep, downtime, having fun, all of these are important components of life. Prioritizing them will help you be happier, healthier and also be more focused and do better work.

10. Schedule distracted time.

This is a big idea from Deep Work. Instead of scheduling one hour every day when we are focused, let’s schedule the time when we are distracted. Let’s try to be focused by default and then let’s occasionally indulge in web surfing and other rambling activities.

These breaks should be scheduled and not random; otherwise, we would be tempted to declare a distracted hour as soon as we get bored (see idea #6).

I operate on the following schedule: I open Facebook at 8 am, after my 1-hour long writing session and I post my 10 ideas in my Facebook group. Next time when I open Facebook is after 7 pm when I am done with my meditation and dinner. This regime helped me reduce my Facebook checking obsession completely and made me more focused and productive. This idea can also work well with checking and responding to your email, anything that quick, easy and seductive.

Want more?

Here are some of my favorite books on the topic:

Cal Newport- Deep Work

Greg McKeown- Essentialism

David Allen- Getting things done

David Lynch- Catching the Big Fish

I hope these ideas and resources will serve you on your quest for better focus. If you have your own favorite strategies for increasing attention span, please share them in the comments.

Before you go

If you are on Medium you are probably obsessed with creativity, just like me. I made a FREE ebook “100 ways to be creative today”, with 100 creative prompts, most of which require 5 minutes or less, $0 and no special skills. Go HERE to learn more and grab it.


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