If you’re struggling to complete a project report without daydreaming about lunch or to make it through a 500-word news article without checking your email, you’re hardly alone.
According to one Microsoft report, the average human attention span was 12 seconds in the year 2000 — but it decreased to eight seconds by 2013. That’s one second shorter than a goldfish’s.
To help you improve your ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, we consulted the Quora thread, “How can I increase my focus?” and highlighted the best advice.
1. Schedule downtime, when you don’t have to be productive.
“Make sure your daily schedule involves breaks where you deliberately don’t do anything productive,” writes Quora user Yishan Wong.
Science backs him up: Research suggests that taking breaks — instead of plodding through your work — can restore your focus and energy when they’re depleted.
2. Organise your schedule around your energy levels.
“Grab an Excel sheet and measure your energy levels for a week or so to find out when your body most focused,” says Michal Ugor.
Aim to work on tasks that require a lot of concentration during the times when you’re typically highly focused. During those periods when you’re recharging, Ugor suggests checking your email.
This strategy works even if you don’t have such a flexible schedule. If you can predict your energy level at any given point throughout the day, you can also plan ways to boost your energy level when it’s necessary
3. Practice listening carefully to music.”
Most of us have tried listening to different types of background music to help us focus while we’re working.
But Achintya Prakash recommends listening to music without doing anything else:
Listening to music helps in improving your concentration and focus, but only when you really listen. …
A lot of people still don’t have the ability to focus only on a single instrument and figure out what’s happening. Try it, it adds a new dimension to the music you listen to and expands your tastes. (When you clear your mind out and let it be filled only with music, it’s also another form of meditation, where you are essentially clearing the ‘clutter’ of your thoughts and focusing on one thing.)
4. Develop an interest in the task you’re working on.
“Invent an engaging backstory if you have to, but being truly interested in what you are doing helps tremendously in focusing on something,” says Frederick Javalera. “Convince yourself that it is truly interesting or imagine how it will have some practical application in your life somewhere down the road sometime.”
5. Pinpoint your triggers.
According to Bill Hall, distraction is usually a result of a thought or feeling that you’re trying to escape. For example, maybe you’re overwhelmed, or conversely, bored.
“When this happens, stop what you are doing and pay attention to your body,” he says. “Did your neck tense up, are your legs restless, do you feel stressed, what is going on? It is different for everyone, but we all have physical triggers we react to that can cause us to run from what we are trying to focus on towards some thing else.”
Once you’ve figured out the inner experiences that cause you to lose focus, you can work on addressing them directly.
6. Start a “distraction” list.
“While working, keep a list of all the things that pop up in your mind other than what you are working on,” writes Stefano Merlo. “This will free your mind and keep your focus on the actual task.”
7. Find a work or study buddy.
Javalera also suggests choosing a work or study partner who motivates you to stay focused with her extreme diligence.
“You look up and see that they’re being productive and that in turn makes you feel that you should be being productive, too,” he says.
If you work in an office, it might even be a question of glancing over at your most conscientious coworker whenever you’ve got the urge to start scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed.
8. Work out.
Charlie Cheever recommends running, yoga, or another extended period of aerobic exercise to boost your focus.
In fact, research on children, teens, and young adults has found that 10- to 40-minute bouts of physical exercise can improve cognitive functioning immediately afterward.
9. Stand up.
Vlad Gorenshteyn has a fairly unconventional focus-boosting practice:
“When unable to focus, set-up a ‘standing station’; in other words, do whatever it is that you’re doing but standing up.”
Bonus: If you stand up, you’ll probably get through phone calls faster, too.
10. Pick up a technical sport.
Alexandra Dubosc says she used to have problems focusing — until she picked up technical sports like rowing and golf.
“It helped me a lot because when I begin to train, I can think about nothing but the sport itself and what I have to do to make a technically correct movement.”
11. Learn to meditate.”
Research suggests that people who attended a three-month meditation retreat showed improvements in their attention span afterward, compared to a group of people who hadn’t attended.
But Prakash says it’s not necessary to shell out for an extended period of silence in the mountains:
At any point when you are breathing, you have the opportunity to practice meditation. One of the easiest ways of doing this is by focusing on your breathing, really focusing on the air, how it touches your nostrils and upper lips as it enters, how it feels on the back of your throat, how it feels as it escapes. Just focus on this for some time.
You’ll find that you feel restless, that your mind wanders and there’s an endless and (sometimes absurd) chain of thoughts that will follow. Whenever you notice yourself drifting to other thoughts, gently bring your mind back to focusing on the breathing.
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