how to increase focus and attention span

Having a short attention span or struggling to stay focused is more common than you’d think. With so many distractions and responsibilities to juggle these days, focus and attention can easily slip. Whether you’re trying to get work done, study for school, or just get through your everyday tasks, poor focus and a wandering mind can seriously derail your productivity. Don’t worry though – with some simple tips and lifestyle tweaks, you can train your brain to have stronger focus and a longer attention span.

Be Mindful of Distractions

One of the biggest barriers to focus is distractions. With phones buzzing, emails popping up, and conversations happening around you, it’s no wonder focus is hard to maintain. Start by being mindful of potential distractions and how they affect your concentration. Notice when your mind starts to drift and what caused it.

Common distractors include:

  • Phone notifications
  • Email/Messaging
  • Social media
  • Background noise
  • Interruptions from others
  • Physical discomfort
  • Hunger/Thirst
  • Daydreaming

When you feel your attention slipping, take note of what triggered it. Identify distractions you can control, like silencing your phone, closing unneeded browser tabs, putting on headphones, or finding a quiet workspace.

Single-Task to Increase Focus

One of the worst enemies of sustained focus is multitasking. When you try to juggle several things at once, a little bit of attention goes to each task. Your brain can’t fully devote itself to one goal when it’s split among many.

To boost your attention span, adopt a single-tasking approach. Give your undivided attention to one task before moving to the next. Avoid context switching between tasks and apps. If you catch yourself getting off track, gently return your focus. It takes practice, but single-tasking improves focus and retention as your brain doesn’t have to constantly switch gears.

Use the Focused Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is a time management method that utilizes timed intervals (usually 25 minutes) followed by short breaks. This technique helps break down tasks and goals into manageable focused sprints. The timed nature gives your brain a positive focus challenge.

To use the Pomodoro method for focus training:

  • Choose a task to focus on for 25 minutes. Set a timer.
  • Work only on that task until the timer rings.
  • When the timer goes off, take a 5 minute break before starting your next 25 minute session.
  • After 4 focus sessions, take a 15-20 minute break.

Repeating this rotation over a few hours really strengthens your brain’s focusing endurance and recharge ability. Taking regular timed breaks helps reset focus instead of hitting mental fatigue and burnout.

Minimize Multitasking

As mentioned earlier, multitasking is not your friend when trying to improve focus. Our brains cannot fully focus on multiple complex tasks simultaneously, despite how skilled you may think you are at multitasking. Too many inputs at once overloads and stresses the brain.

Try to be more mindful when you find yourself multitasking. Catch yourself toggling between windows, apps, or trains of thought. Consolidate tasks and intentionally devote your attention to one thing at a time. Give it your complete focus for that period before moving to the next item.

Manage Interruptions

External interruptions can severely fracture focus, especially in open workspaces. From officemates stopping by your desk to friends texting you during study sessions, unwanted interruptions often derail focus.

Rather than getting frustrated, have a game plan for managing disruptions:

  • Set office hours – Block time on your calendar when you’re unavailable for drop-ins or calls. Slack a “Do Not Disturb” message.
  • Use headphones – Wearing headphones sends a clear signal that you’re not to be disturbed. Noise-cancelling ones also help block ambient noise.
  • Politely ask to discuss it later if interrupted – Don’t feel bad postponing a chat if you’re in focused work mode.
  • Enable Do Not Disturb mode on your devices and apps – Mute notifications from non-urgent senders.
  • Find quiet spaces to work if your main workspace is busy.

Staying focused does require some ability to minimize and control distractions. But doing so will help you achieve better concentration.

Take Regular Breaks

While intense focus is helpful in short bursts, your brain’s ability to stay on task diminishes over time. Taking regular short breaks helps replenish mental reserves so you can direct full focus to the next session.

Schedule 5-15 minute breaks every 45-90 minutes when working. Stand up, move around, get a snack, or do a brain boosting activity. Regular short breaks boost focus stamina over the course of a day. Taking a complete break from thinking about work is also vital for energy and creativity.

Exercise and Move Daily

Physical activity doesn’t just strengthen your body, it benefits your brain and focus too! Getting your blood pumping with regular exercise or movement helps sharpen focus and executive control.

Aim for 20-30 minutes of heart-pumping exercise at least a few times a week. This could be a brisk walk, strength training, run, dance class, or any activity you enjoy. Moving your body energizes both your muscles and your mind.

On days when you can’t exercise, look for ways to incorporate more movement:

  • Take the stairs vs the elevator
  • Walk to chat with coworkers rather than email
  • Stand up whenever you get distracted
  • Do shoulder rolls or march in place
  • Try a focus-boosting yoga sequence

Keeping your body active throughout the day maintains energy and blood flow your brain needs to stay on task.

Meditate Daily

Meditation may sound mystical, but it’s one of the most scientifically-backed ways to strengthen focus. Sitting in quiet contemplation and awareness for just 10-15 minutes daily can work wonders for attention span.

How does meditation increase focus exactly?

  • Lowers stress – Less mental clutter lets you direct attention better.
  • Breaks autopilot thinking – Builds ability to redirect thoughts.
  • Strengthens attention stamina – You control where your attention goes, not your emotions or environment.
  • Increases self awareness – You better notice where your focus lapses.

Try a simple breath awareness meditation to get started. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and direct your full attention to the sensation of inhaling and exhaling. When your mind wanders, gently return focus to your breath. Starting small allows focus skills to develop naturally.

Don’t worry if your mind races at first. Meditation builds “focus muscles” with regular, patient practice. Over time, you’ll be able to direct and sustain attention for longer periods.

Remove Email Distractions

Email can be one of the worst offenders for splintering focus. The constant notifications and pings pull attention away from deep work. Every time you check an email, it takes an average of 64 seconds to resume your original task.

To curb email’s disruption and simplify your focus:

  • Turn off email notifications – Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Set specific times to check email – Such as 3x/day for 15-30 min sessions.
  • Unsubscribe from non-essential lists – Reduce inbox overload.
  • Turn off send read receipts – Alleviate pressure to constantly reply.
  • Use features like Boomerang – Schedule emails to send later so they don’t interrupt you.

Email maintenance is important. But by managing expectations and checking just a few set times daily, you free up more time and space for focused work.

Declutter Your Physical Workspace

They say a cluttered space leads to a cluttered mind. The state of your physical workspace has a bigger impact on focus than you may realize. Here are some tips for creating focus-boosting workspace ambiance:

  • Remove piles of paper, documents, books, and random objects.
  • File away supplies in drawers and cabinets.
  • Keep just a few work essentials on your desk surface.
  • Minimize visual distractions on walls if possible.
  • Add plants, lamps, or elements with visual simplicity.
  • Position your monitor so it’s not facing high traffic areas.
  • Face any noise sources such as doors or windows.

Your workspace environment affects your subconscious even if you don’t notice it outright. Decluttering clears physical and mental space so you can channel focus where it needs to go.

Know Your Peak Focus Hours

Focus ability ebbs and flows throughout the day as our brain’s chemistry fluctuates. Pay attention to when your focus peaks and dips. Are you sharpest first thing in the morning? Do you get a second wind after lunch? Does your focus fade by late afternoon?

Plan your most challenging or detail-oriented tasks during your peak hours when your brain is refreshed. Save less demanding tasks like email for low-focus times. Aligning work mode with your biological focus rhythms removes friction.

Everyone has different patterns so experiment to find yours. Maintaining productivity and focus is about working with your natural flows, not against them.

Prioritize Deep Work

“Deep work” is any task that requires long periods of uninterrupted focus to complete. This includes things like:

  • Analyzing data
  • Writing reports
  • Coding or development
  • Studying complex material
  • Strategic planning

Deep work fuels rising productivity, while shallow work kills it. But deep work can only happen when you dedicate long stretches of focus to a single task.

To encourage deep work:

  • Block time for it on your calendar before anything else.
  • Eliminate distractions and interruptions during deep work sessions.
  • Set an intention for what you want to achieve.
  • Consider changes like waking early or staying late to protect deep work time.

Focus flows from clarity on your priorities. Devote it first to the work that creates the most long-term value.

Take Intentional Focus Breaks

Sitting and forcing focus for hours leads to diminishing returns. To sustain focus over time, you need both deep work sessions and intentional breaks.

Breaks are often viewed as a waste of time. In reality, they provide mental space to gain new clarity and perspective:

  • Reset attention – Unfocusing relieves mental strain.
  • Spark creativity – New connections form when your brain isn’t fixated.
  • Gain motivation – Natural mood boost upon returning to work.
  • Support health – Physical and mental wellbeing depends on rest.

When taking a break, fully disengage from work thoughts rather than half-tuning out. Take a walk, do a puzzle, play an instrument – anything that gives your focus areas a chance to reload.

Target 15-30 minute breaks every 90 minutes. You’ll return to work recharged and refocused.

Set Time Limits on Distracting Sites

Common websites like social media, news, email, and more compete heavily for our attention. While occasionally visiting distracting sites is fine, overuse fractures focus.

Rather than rely on sheer willpower, use apps like Freedom to lock distracting sites after a time limit:

  • Set a max of 10-15 minutes for social media sites.
  • Limit general internet browsing to 30-60 minutes total per day.
  • Customize schedules and exclusions based on when you want to focus.

With limits in place, you can still enjoy sites in moderation, while preventing endless rabbit holes that devour time and attention.

Practice Focus Recovery

No matter how strong your focus skills, you’ll still get distracted or interrupted at times. The key is having strategies to quickly regain focus rather than spiraling. Here are useful techniques for focus recovery:

Walk away – If you catch your mind wandering during work, physically get up and take a quick walk before returning to your task. This mental palate cleanser shifts your brain out of distracted mode.

5 deep breaths – As soon as you notice your focus slip, pause to take 5 full inhales and exhales before continuing. Deep breathing helps clear distractions and sharpen clarity.

Note the distraction – Jot down what broke your concentration, whether it was a random thought or external interruption. Getting it out of your head and onto paper can release it from your mental space so you can refocus.

Chunk projects – Break large tasks into smaller milestones. Achieving each mini-goal keeps you engaged and motivated.

Reset reminders – Use apps like Focus Keeper to set periodic alerts reminding you to reset wandering attention.

Think of recovery tools as your mental ctrl-alt-delete, restarting your attention when needed.

Know When You Focus Best

Humans all have biological prime times when their focus, energy, and alertness levels peak. For some, peak hours are early mornings. Night owls rise to the occasion in late evening hours.

Track your own energy cycles by taking note of when you feel most alert and clear-headed:

  • What time of day do you finish tasks fastest?
  • When are you most motivated and productive?
  • What hours do you struggle to concentrate?

Match your scheduling to focus during peak hours when possible. For example:

  • Do analytic work in mornings if that’s when your focus is sharpest.
  • Make phone calls during energy lulls.

You can’t always control your schedule. But being aware of natural focus rhythms helps you work with your body’s flows as much as possible.

Limit Media Multitasking

Many people multitask television watching, web browsing, social media, and other media consumption out of habit. But combining media activities fractures attention rather than enhancing it.

Studies show those who regularly multitask media take longer to switch between tasks, retain less information, and feel greater mental strain.

To strengthen your focus, be more mindful when media multitasking. Set limits on combining media like these:

  • Don’t watch TV in the background while working. Give your full attention to each.
  • Don’t keep news or videos playing during tasks requiring concentration.
  • Check just one site at a time rather than toggling between social media, forums, and blogs.
  • Read articles fully before skimming others- don’t split focus.

Consuming media mindfully prevents overload and distraction creep. Give your mental spotlight to one outlet at a time.

Take Breaks from Tech

Today’s nonstop digital noise makes sustained focus feel nearly impossible. The constant pings, alerts, and notifications from our devices fragment attention.

Make device breaks a regular habit. For an hour before bed (or longer if possible) turn off all screens- TV, tablets, laptop and phone. Give your mind quiet time to recharge and reflect.

Resist using phones during meals or conversations so you can be fully present. Set times like weekend mornings or evenings to unplug from technology altogether.

Digital detox time helps strengthen your brain’s natural focusing ability without stimulation overload. You’ll find your renewed attention starts to carry over even when using devices again.

Set Smartphone Boundaries

For many, their smartphone is the ultimate distraction- within arm’s reach 24/7. Inboxes, alerts, texts, and apps beckon for our attention when we should be focused elsewhere.

Regain control over technology with these smartphone boundaries:

  • Silence notifications – Mute non-essential apps and features.
  • Remove tempting apps – Delete or hide addictive apps from your main screen.
  • Turn off wifi/data when working – Remove the possibility of interruption.
  • Apple “Screen Time” settings – Limit certain app time, lock apps/websites during focus hours
  • Leave phone behind – In another room when you need to concentrate.

Don’t rely on willpower alone- set physical boundaries that discourage phone habits from derailing your attention.

Maintain Focus While Reading

Reading is both a joy and a critical learning tool. But in the digital age, sustaining focus while reading has become increasingly difficult. Between external pulls for your attention and the urge to multitask, absorbing what you read can feel impossible.

To maintain reading focus:

  • Put aside devices and eliminate distractions – Phones, tablets and computers compete for your focus.
  • Move beyond the first paragraph before deciding to continue/stop. Avoid restless shifting between pieces.
  • Read for comprehension, not just completion. Note important facts, passages and concepts.
  • Pause and reflect on what you read rather than churning endlessly through content.
  • Use a pointer to guide your eyes while reading dense text.
  • Take meaningful notes rather than just highlighting. Write down main ideas and thoughts using your own words.
  • Review retrospectively – Periodically look back on notes/annotations to strengthen retention.

Don’t equate focus with speed. Slow down, deepen understanding, and engage actively with the reading.

Alternate Intense Focus with Rest

Balancing intense focus with mental rest may seem counterintuitive, but both extremes are vital for top performance. Like world-class athletes, your brain needs to alternate sprints with recovery:

  • Sprint – Direct all mental energy toward a single task for intense bursts.
  • Rest – Fully disengage focus to let the mind recharge.
  • Switch mindfully between focus and rest states rather than half-tuning out.

Approaching work in “pulse” cycles trains the brain’s flexibility and stamina. Intense focus charges productivity. Complete rest restores mental clarity. Master the rhythm, and your potential has no limit.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness means directing non-judgmental awareness to what’s happening in the present moment. Rather than dwelling on the past or future, mindful awareness lets you fully engage with current experiences.