10 In-Depth Strategies to Improve Your Focus and Produce High-Quality Work

Jennifer Chan
The Startup
Published in
7 min readAug 6, 2018


Work plans, strengthening creative cognition, and more.

A photo of my work plan for one Sunday

Back in 2015, Microsoft Canada published a report infamously concluding that humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish.

According to the study, the average human attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds compared to an average of 8 seconds in 2013 (the average attention span of goldfish is 9 seconds).

While Microsoft concedes that digital lifestyles have had a negative impact on sustained focus, it argues that the ‘good’ news is that “tech adoption and social media usage are training consumers to become better at processing and encoding information through short bursts of high attention.”

In other words, this may not be a plus for us — the consumers — but it’s certainly something to be leveraged by marketers who vie for our attention. Marketers need only to create a short, but immediate, impact in order for consumers to take notice.

The study also concludes that selective attention, i.e. the ability to focus on one thing/task in the face of distracting stimuli, significantly decreases for multi-screen users. Those who are able to filter out distractions are more likely to actively choose to have fewer distractions and multi-screen. Our ability to be selective with our attention is not due to demographics, media consumption, or social media use, but rather it’s the intentional environment that we make for ourselves for when we focus on a task/activity.

The takeaway:

  • 1) Our attention spans are shortening;
  • 2) What is good for marketers is not necessarily good for us as knowledge workers;
  • 3) Our surroundings, which is largely within our control, influences our ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

With that in mind, there are 10 highly-specific strategies that I incorporate into my work life that have helped me produce high-quality work amidst both digital (i.e. social media) and analog (i.e. meetings) distractions.

[1] — Single-Task.

Unless my task specifically involves legal research, I only have one or two browser windows open at the…



Jennifer Chan
The Startup

Productivity, craftsmanship, and the pursuit of excellence at work. Writing now at jennifertchan.substack.com.