We can get more done if we stop interrupting ourselves. It is human nature for many of us to have such short attention spans that even while we are gaining momentum on performing a task, we start to think of something else we could be doing. So, we interrupt ourselves and check our email or return a phone call.
It starts when we are young. Larry Rosen, professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, asked 260 middle schools, high school, and university students to study for 15 minutes in their homes. He found that participants averaged less than 6 minutes of looking before switching tasks, most often due to technology distractions—phones vibrating, new email alerts or instant message notifications, as well as students’ “self-interruptions” to check electronic devices.
As Rosen put it, “We may think we are multitasking, but we are task-switching. These interruptions take us away from the task at hand.”
And if the task we are working on is not something we enjoy, our temptation to start something different is even greater.
Rosen advises that you plan on a technology break after 15 minutes of solid work and then gradually increase the times between those breaks. Or, maybe we should just hide our phones. Research shows we check our phones up to 150 times a day. That’s about every six to seven minutes that we’re awake.
We can also improve our attention span by exercising. It’s been shown that our cognitive strength improves after a single workout.
When you find your mind wandering, concentrate on your breathing. That meditative focus can significantly improve your concentration.
Drink some water. A study done at the University of Barcelona found even mild dehydration can negatively impact your ability to concentrate.
If your concentration falters during a meeting, participate in the discussion and ask questions. In his book,
Motivational speaker Jon Acuff says, “Good questions give you information that helps you improve your job performance. Bad questions are those where you already know the answer or just want to look smart.”
Try listening to music. My playlists help me concentrate because they include selections with just the right tempo to keep me engaged. Choose music that you like but won’t get you singing. Classical music may be a good choice. A Stanford University School of Medicine study found that listening to short symphonies engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention and those brief periods of silence between musical movements that peak brain activities.
You might also want to grab some tea to drink before you begin your work. Evidence shows that black tea contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been shown to directly affect areas of the brain that control attention.
There is no reason we should allow our brain to reduce our attention span and enable us to be less productive. Try these tips and others that you think might help you.