“How to increase your attention span”—like so many others, this blog post idea came to me when I was on one of my morning walks. I realised as I was soaking in the leaves and generally living my best autumnal life, that I felt truly present. The leaves were right there, I could feel the cool autumn air on my skin and my brain was whirring in a good way—soaking things up, present, not distracted.
This was a vibe, but I haven’t always had a good attention span.
Back in my early twenties I went through a spell of nano-attention. I’d flit from one conversation to another, opening my phone, closing it, taking a photo, writing an email, running round quite literally but mentally too. It wasn’t until a friend of mine shared an article with me about how you can train your brain to have a better attention span that things changed for me.
The analogy which the article shared was as follows: your attention span is akin to your running stamina. If you only ever train for sprints, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to complete a longer run or marathon.
Ergo, work on your attention span like you would your running stamina. Soon enough you’ll be laser focused!
7 Simple Ways to Increase Your Attention Span
1. Use The Pomodoro Technique
Have you heard of The Pomodoro Technique before? It’s a focus and productivity technique, which uses ‘pomodoros’—25 minute time slots—to help you to focus.
It’s an easy technique to implement: you simply set a timer for 25 minutes, and work on whatever task you want to focus on for that full ‘pomodoro’. When the timer goes off, you take a 5 minute break. Or you can set another 25 minute timer if you’re in a good flow. Every 3 – 4 pomodoros you’re advised to take a longer break.
This is the #1 technique I use when I need to focus and I’m struggling to concentrate. Oftentimes once I’ve set 1-2 timers, I’m well into my flow and can complete my task with more ease and attention.
If you’re struggling with your attention span, I highly recommend starting to train yourself to focus for longer using this simple technique.
It’s a game changer!
2. Single screen only
It’s really hard to concentrate if your attention is quite literally being dragged in different directions. Imagine being in a room with 3 different people waving at you from opposite corners of the room—distracting right?! I like to think of multi-screen use as doing the same thing.
If you want to increase your attention span, try focusing on one screen at a time only. Watching TV? Put your phone on Do Not Disturb and zone in on your ep.
The more focused you are on a device, the more you’ll enjoy it too. It’s hard to pick up on the nuances of a really good TV show or Instagram caption if you’re half-focused.
3. Write notes as you listen/read
Did you know that being an active listener and/or reader has been shown to increase your recall?
Active listening, or active reading, is when you interact with something as you engage with it. For example: taking notes as you read a book. Or feeding back to someone whilst you’re in a conversation.
If I hear a pearl of wisdom in a podcast I’m listening to I like to write it down. I also do this for the book club I’m a part of, since it’s handy to be able to recall specific passages.
By becoming an ‘active’ participant in the content you’re consuming, not only do you increase the depth with which you experience that content, you’re also sharpening your attention span and attention to detail.
4. Read as well as watch
Watching TV and scrolling social media are, by and large, passive activities. I love them for this very reason! They’re the perfect activities to zone-out to.
That being said, if you’re trying to increase your attention span, you’re going to need to do some mental lifting. If you really struggle to focus on reading, try reading something short to start with and work your way up. I love magazines, short stories and books with easy to digest chapters.
The more you train your brain to read and stretch your attention span, the easier it will come to you.
5. Go for walks with friends
You know I’ll take any opportunity to mention a wholesome walk haha!
A ‘walk and talk’ became my go-to during COVID-era. It’s pretty self-explanatory but it’s basically when you go on a walk with a friend, and talk as you go. This can be IRL or over the phone.
I read somewhere that partaking in a physical activity whilst listening can help you to soak in more information.
There’s also something special about the low-pressure vibe of a walk. I’ve found that it can often encourage more vulnerable conversations than sitting across from one another.
All this to say, walking and talking is a bit of a gem when it comes to connecting with people and tuning into a conversation.
6. Pay attention to every. one. of. your. senses.
One of my favourite ways to ground myself in the moment is to ask myself what I can hear/see/taste/touch/smell.
By bringing my focus to my senses, the moment feels much richer, and I anchor myself in the present. This not only enriches that precise moment, it also helps to develop a stronger memory.
How often do you think fondly of a memory because it includes an amazing view/delicious meal/melody of laughter?
7. Meditate (+ how to meditate without meditating!)
Meditation is one of the most well known and well cited ways to increase your attention span. It helps to calm your nervous system, improve cognitive function and ease anxiety.
When I am in a good meditation habit I absolutely notice that I feel more present, and that my attention span is better too.
I personally prefer short meditations of around 5 – 10 minutes. If meditation isn’t something you’re keen to explore, I think it’s helpful to remember that activities can be meditative too. Anything which allows you to get into a ‘flow state’ can have similar beneficial effects. For instance, I count my morning walks as a meditation, Oli loves cooking, other friends of mine love painting. Whatever works for you!
Bonus tip! Allow yourself to get bored
Boredom is something which we, by and large, just don’t have to deal with any more. We have devices that can distract and entertain us even in the smallest cracks of time. Whilst this may feel soothing, it also doesn’t allow your brain much downtime.
It’s OK to feel bored. Great ideas can come to you when you’re bored. It’s a breather.
You can also practice a mindful moment in a time when you may otherwise have chosen to distract yourself: in a queue, waiting for the kettle to boil, commuting to work.
Why do you need to increase your attention span?
Having a good attention span allows you to enjoy life with greater ferocity. When you can ground yourself in a moment, lock into a conversation, take a mental picture of a place, really FEEL where you’re at, it makes life richer.
On a practical level, having a good attention span can make work easier and increase your productivity. As well as helping with things like household tasks.
It’s not the sexiest topic, but working on your attention span can help to boost so many areas of your life!
What’s your take?
How would you rate your attention span? Is this something you’re curious about or interested in? I’d love to know your take!
Love, Monica x