7 Ways Productive People Stay Focused
Science says these tricks will help you work smarter, not harder.
Posted January 21, 2016
Technology offers constant distractions. Text messages, emails, and advertisements constantly bid for your attention. And if you're like most people, you fall prey to these distractions.
A recent report by Microsoft claims the average attention span was down from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds in 2013. That means a goldfish--who has a 9 second attention span--might be able to beat you in a staring contest.
If you struggle to stay on task, you're not alone. But there are some secrets productive people know that help them stay focused.
1. Exercise Every Day
Exercise won't only boost your physical and mental health--it can also fuel your attention span. While some studies have shown physical activity can help children or older adults concentrate, a 2011 study published in PLoS ONE found that regular exercise helps healthy young adults concentrate better too.
Previous research concluded that exercise provides an immediate boost in attention. A walk during a lunch break could help you concentrate when you return to work, for example. But this study also showed regular exercise provides long-term benefits to your attention span. Participants who engaged in aerobic activity for at last 10 hours per week experienced improved executive functioning throughout the week.
2. Set a Break Time Reminder
Trying to focus on a task for hours on end will wreak havoc on your attention span. The more you sit and try to make yourself pay attention, the less attentive you may be. In an effort to meet a deadline, many people avoid taking breaks. But taking short breaks may be the secret to getting your work done in less time.
A 2011 study published in the journal Cognition found that brief mental breaks helped participants stay focused on tasks longer. Setting a reminder to take a break every 50 minutes can help you return to your task with improved attention.
3. Listen to Classical Music
Listening to certain types of music may activate the attention centers of your brain, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Interestingly, researchers found that peak brain activity occurred during the short period of silence between musical movements. Although they're not exactly sure why, classical music seems to help the brain organize incoming information.
4. Turn Off the Obvious Distractions
Every interruption, whether it's a phone call, a question from a co-worker, or an email, disrupts your concentration and impairs your performance. Even a disruption as short as 2.8 seconds long doubles your chances of making an error, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Interruptions lead to poorer quality work and can cause you to take longer to finish the task. If you really want to improve your attention, limit as many distractions as possible. Turn off your smartphone, email, and social media alerts and your productivity will improve.
5. Drink Black Tea
Although most people reach for another cup of coffee to get through an afternoon slump, black tea may be a better choice. A 2010 study published in Appetite reports that theanine, an amino acid exclusive to tea, can give you laser light focus.
Theanine, which increases calmness and relaxation, interacts with caffeine to synchronize the brain activity related to attentional processing. Additionally, tea provides more consistent alertness throughout the day compared to coffee, even when matched for caffeine content.
Among the many benefits of meditation is an improved attention span. Research conducted on Buddhist monks who have spent years training in meditation shows they enjoy a much longer attention span than most people. But the good news is, you don't have to study meditation for years to reap the benefits.
A 2010 study published in Psychological Science found that short-term meditation training-3 to 6 months-provided lasting benefits. Following the training, participants performed better on tasks that required sustained attention. And the best news is, the improvements persisted for five months after the training had ended.
7. Enjoy the Outdoors
Spending some time in nature could greatly reduce your mental fatigue and restore your attention span. Nature has such a powerful impact on attention that "green time" has become a recommended treatment for children with ADHD.
Some studies even suggest viewing trees, grass, and plants from your window could give your attention span a much needed boost. If a nature view isn't an option, put some plants in your office. Plants have been shown to boost productivity--as well as office morale.
Want to learn about the bad habits that keep you from reaching your greatest potential? Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.
Interested in learning more about mental strength? Check out my interactive online course Mental Strength: Mastering the 3 Core Factors.
This article first appeared on Inc.