Quick Tips To Increase Your Attention Span

"A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind," according to Harvard University psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert (via The Harvard Gazette). Through their research, it was discovered that humans spend 46.9% of their waking hours with their attention directed elsewhere rather than in the present moment. Researchers were able to draw a link between inattentiveness and decreased levels of happiness, leading scientists to conclude that our natural tendency to continuously shift our attention "comes at an emotional cost."

Our rapidly narrowing attention span as a society is particularly evident in our online activity, according to a 2019 study published in Nature Communications. Researchers assessed collective attentiveness among social media users by measuring how long global hashtags remained trending on Twitter. They found that attention span is not only diminishing on social media but in books, web searches, and other mediums. In 2016, the average lifespan of a trending hashtag was just under 12 hours before user interest shifted elsewhere, compared to 17.5 hours in 2013.

In response to this decreased attention span, many media publications find themselves having to curb their content. In fact, writer and editor Jill Ebstein states via the Orlando Sentinel that readers often spend no more than two minutes and 46 seconds on an article with a four-minute read time. With inattentiveness so pervasive in our society, how can we go about increasing our attention span to help us stay present in our day-to-day lives?

How to maintain attention at home and at work

According to bestselling author of "Stolen Focus," Johann Hari, one of the best things we can do to lengthen our attention span is to cut down on multitasking. Hari explains to mindbodygreen that when shifting our attention between tasks, it takes an average of 23 minutes to return back to a fully focused state. With technology being particularly distracting, Hari suggests restricting internet and phone usage to help maintain focus by delaying text responses, utilizing website blocking apps, or even placing your phone in a lockbox at home.

Looking for an even quicker hack? Try popping in a stick of gum. 2012 research has shown the act of gum-chewing to boost alertness and focus (via Nutritional Neuroscience). Furthermore, if you find you're having a particularly hard time maintaining attention while at work, Fast Company suggests asking engaging questions, as well as taking notes by hand during those long team meetings. When writing, your brain is more actively engaged in information processing than it would be on a laptop — where we can easily slide into "mindless transcription."

How sleep impacts our attention span

Overall, however, the No.1 thing we can do to increase our attention span is to make sure we're getting quality sleep. While sleeping, our brain rids itself of toxins. Therefore, if we're not getting enough sleep, our brain doesn't get that cleanse, and our attention suffers. Author Johann Hari elaborates, telling mindbodygreen, "Your brain is literally clogged up with waste, so you can't think as well and you can't pay attention as well."

To help keep yourself at attention during the day, ensure you're sleeping well at night. Experts at Healthline suggest keeping a regular sleep schedule by maintaining a consistent bedtime. In addition, implement a nighttime routine before going to bed that allows you to wind down, such as reading or meditation. Lastly, while sleeping, be sure to keep the electronics in another room. With a few of these quick tips, you may just find yourself feeling happier, more present, and able to get through reading that whole four-minute article.