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How to focus better and increase your attention span

Last Updated: June 2, 2021 References

This article was co-authored by George Sachs, PsyD. George Sachs is a Licensed Psychologist and the Owner of Sachs Center based in New York, New York. With over ten years of experience, Dr. Sachs specializes in treating ADD/ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders in children, teens, and adults. He holds a BS in Psychology from Emory University. Dr. Sachs earned his Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, Chicago. He completed his clinical training in Chicago at Cook County Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the Child Study Center. Dr. Sachs completed his internship and postdoctoral work at the Children’s Institute in Los Angeles, where he supervised and trained therapists in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT). He has been trained as a Gestalt Therapist and certified by the Gestalt Associates Training Program of Los Angeles. Dr. Sachs is the author of The Adult ADD Solution, Helping the Traumatized Child, and Helping Your Husband with Adult ADD. He has appeared on the Huffington Post, NBC Nightly News, CBS, and WPIX discussing his holistic approach to ADD/ADHD treatment.

There are 14 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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If you have trouble focusing, it might be because you have a short attention span. Switching from one thing to another might be fun in your off hours, but it’s not very helpful when you’re trying to be productive. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can increase your attention span both in the moment and over time.

Dear Lifehacker,
I find myself getting bored with even simple things. Sitting in a meeting or class, going to the movies and sitting in one place for three hours, even going to a concert—they all sound like fun but I hate the idea of doing one single thing for hours on end. I’m usually okay once I’m actually doing any of them though! How can I improve my fragmented attention span so getting into these things isn’t so difficult?

Sincerely,
Look Over There

Dear Look Over There,
Don’t feel bad: Many of us have had our attention spans all but crushed under the heel of always-on smartphones, a compulsory need to stay on top of what others are doing online, a fast-paced world that doesn’t stop for us to enjoy a movie or have dinner with a friend, and access to all of those things at our fingertips anytime, at home or on the go.

Still, it’s not the tools to blame for the way we use them, and not all is lost! The world will get along just fine while you see a movie, or give your friend your full attention at dinner. Here are some tips to help you reassure yourself of that fact, and make the process a little less painful.

Embrace Single-Tasking Whenever Possible

Mastering any skill requires practice and patience, and boosting your attention span is no different. The absolute best thing you can do is embrace single-tasking whenever you can, and work hard to stay focused. We’re not just saying “focus harder” here either, instead, think about the things you do at home and at work that really do require singular focus, and make those projects first on your to-do list. Your mind may wander, or you may start to reach for your phone or think about doing something else, but try to resist those thoughts and stick to the task at hand. If you do get distracted, don’t admonish yourself, just catch it and renew your focus.

For example, If you’re playing video games on the couch for example, leave your phone on a charger somewhere away from you so you’re not tempted to check Twitter or Facebook while you play. If you’re cleaning the house, turn on some music and work on a whole room or complete a whole task. Don’t clean one countertop and then take a break. Give yourself the benefit of being fully immersed in whatever it is you choose to do.

Of course, this doesn’t work for everything—you may only have a few minutes to clean, for example, or you might want your phone handy to look up walkthroughs for your game. Those things are fine, but make an occasion out of single-tasking, whether it’s at home on your own time, or at work while you hammer out a report or work on a project. Don’t forget to reward yourself for single-tasking, too. After all, reward is part of the habit loop , and we’re trying to make single-tasking and singular focus a habit whenever we can.

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Push Yourself into Fun Situations that Also Require Focus

Here’s a secret: I hate the idea of going to the movies. I love movies, mind you, but the thought of going to the theater unnerves me. Sitting in an uncomfortable seat with tons of people for two to three hours, only doing one thing—watching the movie—unnerves me. At home I can fire up a movie on Netflix and play with my phone or tablet to take the edge off doing one thing for three hours.Knowing this is about myself is why I force myself to go to the movies sometimes. I know I’ll have a great time once I’m there (so it’s not like I’m forcing myself to do something I hate), and that voice in my head that tells me to stay home—whether it’s the movies or a social event—is almost always wrong. Every time I go, I feel better for having done it, even if I did just single-task and focus on one thing for three hours.

You can do the same thing. Just make sure you’re pushing yourself into things you know you’ll actually enjoy, but are only put off by because of their requirement of your full attention. Whether it’s a hobby or pet project, a class you’ve always wanted to take, a social event, or—like me—the movies, kick yourself into doing those things that require singular attention, and then commit yourself to them. It definitely beats forcing yourself to turn your phone off in meetings to try and build your attention span. This way, you don’t feel like you’re punishing yourself. If you know you’ll enjoy them once you’re there, it’s a great way to practice single-tasking in a safe, fun situation.

When you are involved in too many projects at a go, it is possible for some details to fall through the cracks. Forgetting important information can affect your work, family, and social life. If you find it hard to remember details about things, then you might need to work on your attention to detail. It is possible for you to improve your mind’s ability to remember things. This will entail the use of organizational tools, working under the right setting, and also limiting distractions. You can go further and take up attention improving exercises. Here are some tips on how to improve attention to detail.

Tips for Improving Attention to Detail

Get Organized

You need to have some sort of organization in your life to be able to develop the skill of paying attention to detail. You need to find a system that works for you in terms of keeping appointments, tracking tasks, and meeting deadlines. Having a task board can go a long way in helping you get organized.

Use Lists

Making lists is one of the ways to improve attention to detail. You will know how and when things are supposed to be done. This way, you are less likely to lose track of all the things you need to do as you have then written down. Make sure to place the list where you can see it as you go about your tasks for the day.

Keep a long-term list as well as a short-term list. This helps you to make plans for different activities in advance. When items in your long-term list are almost due, place them as short-term goals as you place new long-term goals to your long-term list. This ensures a good rotation of the things you need to get done. This way, you will be able to meet deadlines in good time.

Check off items that are accomplished. This prevents you from getting confused as to whether or not you accomplished a task.

Stick to a Schedule

Wondering how to improve attention to detail? You can do it by learning how to work around a schedule. Not having a schedule only means that you do things without organization. This, in turn, leaves a lot of things undone and can get frustrating. To ensure you always get things done in good order, go to bed the same time each day and get up the same day each day. This trains your body to a specific routine and helps you to get enough sleep for your body and mind.

Limit Your Distractions

Distractions can come in different forms. It can be from family, friends and even your spouse. The internet and social media can also be distractions. It is very difficult to pay attention when you are constantly being interrupted. Distractions cause you to forget things.

  • Ensure you work in a space that allows you to focus. It should have fewer people coming and going, should be well lit, and conducive for work.
  • Your mobile devices should be on silent whenever you’re trying to focus on something.

    Avoid Multitasking

    When you try to multitask, your attention is split amongst all the things you’re doing. This is counterproductive when you’re trying to learn how to pay attention to detail. Ensure you handle one task at a time. This way, you are able to give your undivided attention and get everything done faster. Avoid using your phone or the internet when you’re trying to get tasks done. If you find yourself worrying about another task while trying to complete a task in your list, add the task you’re worried about to your list. This way, you will eventually address it at the appointed time.

    Exercise

    Exercising is another way to improve your attention to detail and ability to concentrate. Engaging in exercise at least for half an hour each day will help to improve your memory and attention to detail. Exercise routines can entail taking walks, jogging or running. Biking or hiking are also ideal exercises for your mind. Yoga and meditation are also good for your mind, body, and soul.

    Attention Improving Exercises to Practice

    Use Memory Cards

    Wondering how to improve attention to detail using memory cards? Memory cards help you to stay focused and remember details. To use memory cards for memory improvement, start by gathering a group of cards and split them into 8 to 10 pairs. Place the cards face down, flip them over to look and place them back face down.

    Try and remember where similar cards are placed and match them up. Eliminate the cards by selecting pairs. This helps you to remember details about the different cards on the table as you try to match them up. This is a good way to improve your memory and attention to detail.

    Using Picture Puzzles

    Use the ‘what is wrong with this picture’ puzzles. These can be gotten in children books and magazines. With time, you can advance to more complicated picture puzzles. These are said to beneficial when learning you want to improve attention to detail since they help to improve concentration and attention span.

    Improve Your Math Skills

    Mathematics requires a lot of skill and attention to be able to solve. Solving math quizzes can be a good way to sharpen your concentration skills. Try balancing your budgets by hand. This helps you to pay attention to the numbers. This also improves your accuracy since you need to get the numbers right.

    How to focus better and increase your attention span

    Learn Meditation

    Meditation is regarded as an important way to improve attention to detail. It helps to improve physical health, mental health and can also improve your memory. Meditation calms your mind thus reducing stress. It also helps to improve your concentration levels since you are required to focus to be able to meditate. Find a quiet place to sit every day for at least 15 minutes. Block away every distractive thought and focus on breathing deep and exhaling. This is how to improve attention to detail.