How to Build Your Attention Span
Rapidly build your deep work focus and attention span with these four steps.
Today, you intended to sit down and knock out a bunch of work. However, with one ping from your phone, you can have your attention stolen by a notification or even an employee looking for one of those not-so-quick meetings.
Nowadays, the battle for your focus and attention is far beyond what anyone could have imagined. So when you can build up this skill, you will have a huge advantage in today's marketplace.
Below are four simple steps to improving your ability to focus in no time.
1. Create a list of three "must get done" tasks for the day
Make a list of those things that you must get done today. There are millions of tasks you believe you need to get done — when in actuality, there are only a few "must" get done tasks. Completing these tasks is more impactful and will leave you feeling more accomplished.
So, before you begin working, consider this approach.
Bring out a paper and pen and write down everything you are hoping to get done that day. You will notice that the long list in your mind will get shorter and shorter. Finally, reality settles in that you don't have this mighty list to accomplish. From that list, pick only the top three that you will give all your time and energy to get done by the end of the day.
After choosing your top three tasks, you are one step closer to getting some work done. However, the following steps are crucial to your success.
2. Build your focus muscle with timed work and rest periods
Set a timer for 10 minutes and start to work on the first task you chose from your list. When time runs out, take a 5-minute break and step away from your desk.
Get up and walk away from the work you were doing. Approach this like training your muscles in the gym because your focus is a muscle too. The more you train it and allow it to rest, the greater your focus's "muscle" strength will be.
To start, begin with 10 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest, Monday through Wednesday. Then, on Thursday and Friday, increase the work period to 20 minutes and the rest to 10 minutes.
The following week follows a similar pattern of increases in work and rest periods. For Monday through Wednesday, set your timer for 30 minutes to work and follow this with a 10 minute rest period. Finish Thursday and Friday by upping the work period again, this time to 45 minutes followed by 15 minutes of rest.
It's essential to track how you feel each day. This way, you can evaluate any improvements in your attention and discover what you prefer personally. For example, if you find that working for 10 minutes with a 5-minute rest helps you feel energized and more focused, then stick with that. On the other hand, if you find that 30 minutes of concentrated work allows you to work better, then do that. Find your sweet spot.
However, I generally advise that whenever you go over 20 or more minutes of work. Do rest at least 10 minutes.
Don't jump on social media and scroll your focus away when it comes to rest. Instead, get up from your desk and take a walk around the office. If you can, get some steps outside and grab some fresh air before going back to work. The key here is to find that sweet spot between work and rest that works best for you.
3. Set your phone to airplane mode and shut off all notifications
One phone notification is all it takes to get off track. Don't worry — it's natural.
So, put your phone on airplane mode and get to work. It sounds simple, but it's hard to do. Just know that it's crucial to stick to this trick so you can protect and strengthen your focus.
If people around you cannot decide without you, you have created another job for yourself. And you want to build independent leaders and managers around you, not dependent ones.
4. Meditate daily to learn your thoughts
As an entrepreneur, your presence and being are on call 24/7. Your mind is working on countless scale ideas and improving your business — but these racing thoughts can become a significant obstacle. We can't forget that we are also human.
Your mind can be your worst enemy if you don't learn to control these thoughts.
Many entrepreneurs believe mediation will quiet their minds and help them think more clearly. When you start meditating, you may notice that your mind runs wild with loud racing thoughts of health, wealth and even relationships. But, you will learn to acknowledge those thoughts and to let them pass.
Meditation teaches you that thoughts, like clouds, can be unique and worthwhile — but they come and go. Ultimately, you are always in control of those thoughts.
Your mind will run massive amounts of thoughts when you're learning to build focus. Meditation will give you the self-awareness to acknowledge these thoughts and let them pass you by as you refocus your mind on your work at hand.
For beginners, refer to a quick meditative breathing technique below that will allow you to snap back faster to work and build your attention rather quickly:
Start to take deep full breaths in your nose and out your mouth. Focus on the air that is flowing in your nose and going out your mouth. Five to ten deep breaths should do it.
Put it all together
Your focus is like any other muscle in your body, and it is strengthened if appropriately trained. By making a list and keeping it to three items, you will maximize your time and energy. Combining that with timed work and timed rest will increase your focus capacity. With this, you will be more productive, more attentive and have more energy.
If you are intentional and consistent about building your focus levels — you will see improvements in as early as two weeks.
Related: 13 Ways to Develop Laser-Like Focus
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor