If your mind tends to wander, you’re not alone. Turns out, human brains are in the moment for just over half of our waking hours–a sad 53%–according to a study from Harvard University. The other 47% of the time we’re zoned out, thinking of something else. Unfortunately, mind wandering can happen at the wrong moment–like when your boss is giving a presentation and asks you a question.
If you’d like to increase your attention span and focus for more than half of your day, there are eight easy things you can do:
Meditation is one of the best ways to improve your focus, as it is the mental training of your attention. Similar to the effect weight lifting has on your muscles, meditation trains your brain stay at attention for longer periods of time. In a study done at the University of California at Santa Barbara, undergraduate students who took a mindfulness class and meditated for 10 to 20 minutes four times a week for two weeks scored higher on memory tests and exercises requiring attention than students who changed their nutrition and focused on healthy eating as a way to boost brain power.
Exercise doesn’t just improve your physical fitness; it increases your focus, and a short brisk walk will do. A study from the University of Illinois found that physical activity increases cognitive control. Students with ADHD who participated in 20 minutes of moderate exercise were able to pay attention longer and scored better on academic achievement tests, especially in the area of reading comprehension.
Being dehydrated isn’t just bad for your body; it’s bad for your attention span. A study done at the University of Barcelona, found that mild dehydration-–as little as 2%–can negatively impact your ability to concentrate. In fact, a 2% drop in dehydration isn’t enough to trigger thirst. So before you go into a situation where you need to focus, make sure you bring along plenty of water.
Mild dehydration–as little as 2%–can negatively impact your ability to concentrate, but it’s not enough to make you feel thirsty.
Meetings are one place where it can be hard to pay attention. In fact, nearly half of employees consider too many meetings the biggest waste of time in their workday, according to the National Statistics Council. Stay alert by planning to ask at least one good question, suggests Jon Acuff, author of Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck.
Asking questions not only keeps you engaged; it allows you to contribute to the conversation and learn something new: “Good questions give you information that helps you improve your job performance,” says Acuff. “Bad questions are those where you already know the answer or just want to look smart.”
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