How To Increase Your Attention Span (Or At Least Stop Refreshing Facebook Every Five Minutes)

You guys, the internet is breaking my brain.

Several weeks ago I decided to join the world of Serious Bloggers and put together a newsletter/email list (don’t worry, it’s probably the least annoying email newsletter you’ll ever receive.) In order to put together said newsletter, I had to watch a ten minute instructional video on MailChimp.

And after about three minutes of watching this video? I had completely lost interest.

I could not handle watching a well-edited, informative, funny video that would teach something I needed to know. Because that video required me to really pay attention to something for more than three minutes.

Twitter/Facebook/Google, I blame you. Also, I blame myself. I don’t want to be the person who can’t sit still for more than ten minutes and won’t read things without bullet points! I don’t want my instant reaction to a tough bit of code, an unpleasant email or some uneditable writing to be “Ugh. Has anything popped up in Google reader? I’m going to see if anyone has responded to my latest hilarious Facebook update!” Puke.

So! Let’s talk about ways to increase our attention spans! And let’s bold those ideas so we can skim them as quickly as possible and then get back to our Facebook refreshing.

Most hippie-dippie things make me roll my eyes and groan. I’m deeply pragmatic and if you try to talk to me about your chakras I’ll get all uncomfortable and slowly back away. With that said, meditation has been scientifically proven to make you calmer, more focused and less likely to be depressed. And you don’t need to view it as a spiritual practice. Simply set the timer on your phone for five minutes, sit with you back against the wall, close your eyes and actively empty your mind. Ommmm-chanting and incense-burning not required!

Do a bit of physical activity
We’ve all heard it a million times – physical activity makes you happier, calmer, more focused and generally more awesome. You don’t have to join a gym or do a Jillian Michael’s caliber workout to see the effects. Just a ten minute walk through the park, a bit of stretching a few rounds of sun salutations or even just a dance break can do wonders. Sometimes when I’m feeling listless, sleepy or unfocused, I’ll pull up the She Wolf video, put it on repeat and dance around the kitchen for ten minutes. I am not kidding at all.

Set a timer
Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique? It will change your life. The crux is this: set a timer for 25 minutes and then do one thing for those 25 minutes. When the timer dings, you get a five minute break to do whatever you want, then you set the timer again and keep going. And no multitasking! Here’s another variation on this technique that uses boredom as a motivator.

Do five more
Your attention span is like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the better it gets. So if you hit a wall (like losing interest in a useful instructional video) force yourself to do five more. Read for five more minutes, do five more problems, write five more sentences. You might catch a second wind and if you don’t? At least, you’ve been slightly more productive and you’ve stretched your attention span muscle.

Limit your screen time
In my fantasy life – in which my self control is about triple what it is now – I stop watching TV or using my computer after 7 pm. I’d love to spend my evenings hanging with friends, making dinner, reading, going out or creating things with my hands rather than my computer. I bet we could all be better about this, eh?

Have a snack
Kiddos aren’t the only ones who get cranky and shifty when their blood sugar is low. I rarely produce anything worth reading after 3 pm but if I eat some nuts or fruit, I can usually string sentences together ’til at least 6:00!

Think of happy stuff
If you can’t concentrate because half of your brain is obsessing over your botched work presentation or that thing your frenemy said, take a break and think of good stuff. Look at the sky for two minutes. Check out CuteRoulette. Send a sweet email to a friend. Write down all the different ways you can deal with that thing that’s bugging you and then imagine you’re pushing that problem out the door and turning your key in the lock.

Cheater methods 
These won’t actually cure your jacked up attention span – but they will put a cute Hello Kitty band aid on it.

This free Mozilla add-on is gonna change your life, friends. You can set it to block specific website between set hours, on certain days or to cut you off after a designated amount of time. So you can set it to block you from Facebook-stalking after 1:00 am on Saturdays or just cut you off after you’ve been on there for 3 hours straight. Handy!

Wifi-free coffee shops
I’m fairly sure these still exist, somewhere in rural America. Or, um, most places in Wellington, New Zealand. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you don’t have the option to access the internet!

Stick with good ol’ fashioned, non-wifi internet at home
I know a self-employed couple whose lives slowly devolved into working on their laptops from bed, 18 hours a day. So they reverted to a one-internet-cable household and now if they want to work together, they make an active choice to find a wifi coffee shop, set a time frame and get to work. And if they want to use the internet at home, they can use it one-at-a-time, sitting at a desk. How novel!

Seriously. I know that coffee makes some people jittery and insane, but for me it’s Liquid Ambition.

How’s your attention span? Any tricks to share?

You can read more from Sarah Von Bargen on her blog.

Feature image via flickr.

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