It’s a new semester and once again, it’s time to buckle down as the onslaught of classes and assignments hits. While school can be challenging in general, it’s even more difficult when you struggle to focus in class or on the task you have at hand. If you struggle with maintaining your concentration and want to lengthen your attention span, this advice is for you.
Attention spans are getting shorter
Do you ever feel like you can’t focus as well as you used to? Well, I have good and bad news for you. The bad news: You’re not imagining it. Research shows that increased screen time has reduced the average human attention span. The impact of screen time is shown most starkly in children who have consistently high screen usage, but teens and adults are not immune to the changes brought about by technology. In fact, a 2015 Microsoft study claimed that the average attention span had plummeted to just eight seconds—one second less than a goldfish! It’s not surprising when you consider the instant gratification you get with a cell phone at your fingertips and the constant stimulation from social apps like TikTok.
How to lengthen your attention span
Now for the good news: You can increase your attention span! There are several tried-and-true ways to help increase your concentration both in and out of the classroom.
Practice deep breathing and meditation
Activities such as meditation and deep breathing can have a positive impact on your attention span. By allowing your mind to rest and focus on your surroundings, you’ll give your brain time to recharge. When you return to your work, you’ll find yourself with a stronger attention span. One simple deep-breathing exercise I find helpful is to breathe in through your nose for a count of four, then hold it in for another four seconds, then slowly release again through the nose for four. This is also super beneficial for stress and anxiety!
Get outside and take walks
The common practice of taking a walk to clear the mind actually works. Taking a few minutes away from your desk (and phone) can bring clarity and allow you to work for longer periods of time. If you’re stuck in school for seven or eight hours a day, see if you can walk around a bit during lunch or a class change. If you’re a college student, go outside between classes or study sessions even for a few minutes. Regardless of how you do it, try to get some fresh air and physical activity incorporated into your daily routine.
While it sounds productive to multitask, the reality is that you’re rapidly switching between tasks and not actually doing multiple things simultaneously. This means your brain is constantly having to change gears between tasks rather than focusing on one single thing. If you want to be able to focus for longer, try doing one thing at a time until it’s complete rather than forcing yourself to refocus every couple of minutes. When you work on something without distractions, it tends to go by faster, leaving you time to enjoy your phone or TV shows guilt-free!
Get back to basics
It’s no secret that technology has played a huge role in reducing our attention spans. It’s easy to have tabs for online shopping, a text conversation with a friend, and a half-written email all open on your laptop, flipping between them when you’re supposed to be taking notes for class. Multitasking is exacerbated by all the options present on your laptop or phone. Try going old school for some of your daily tasks to avoid the barrage of digital information. Take notes in an old-fashioned spiral notebook rather than on Google Docs. (Bonus: You’re more likely to remember your notes if they’re handwritten.) Use a physical agenda rather than a scheduling app on your phone. Try reading a hard copy of a book rather than the digital version. Simple changes like these can help increase your attention span by reducing your time online and cutting down on task-switching.
Reduce your notifications
Do you really need your phone to notify you every time you get an email, like, or comment? Rather than allowing one new alert to derail your focus, consider changing your settings to only allow phone calls and texts to notify you immediately; most other things can wait. Then set times to do things like check your email—in most cases, you really only need to check it a couple times a day and not every time a new message comes in. You can also take advantage of your phone’s Do Not Disturb and Work Focus settings if you need a seriously quiet study session. By reducing your notifications, you’ll be reducing distractions and increasing your productivity.
Set screen time limits
If social media is the main time-suck for you, consider setting some boundaries on how much time you use popular apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. If you need extra accountability, ask someone you know and trust to choose your screen time password so you can’t override it. Finally, try not to reward yourself with a social media scroll every five minutes when you’re trying to get something else done. It’s just not worth it!
Our collective attention spans have shrunk, due in part to the rise of technology and the constant desire to feel connected. As we get further into the near year, it’s worth re-evaluating your relationship with technology to better meet your needs while making simple changes that allow you to enjoy it without feeling tethered to it. Here’s to a more focused semester!
Find other great learning advice from students and experts alike in our Majors and Academics section.