It’s a crazy and distracting world out there, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tune it all out. It’s hard to follow along in a three-hour lecture, and even harder to focus on boring reading assignments or uninteresting work. Make improving your attention span your goal for 2014 with these simple tips.

Related: 50 Productivity Hacks to Help You Get More Done


It’s impossible to imagine what life was like before smartphones and Facebook, but I can tell you this much: Life was a lot less distracting back then. Between advertisements and cute puppy videos, it’s easy to get lost in the black hole of the Internet, and all-day marathons of your favorite TV shows will keep you hooked for hours.  A great way to help yourself focus is to simply unplug. This means no TV, no Internet, and no cell phone.

The media bombards us with news clips and commercials, and Internet pop-up ads, Facebook notifications, and text messages are all perfect for encouraging ADD behavior. Additionally, according to the New York Times, “exposure to technology may be slowly reshaping your personality.”

Do yourself a favor and unplug from your electronics at least once a day, for an hour or so, especially when you’re reading and studying. It might be against your nature to turn off your cell phone, but you’ll be so glad you did.

Train Your Brain

Have you ever heard of a little thing called neuroplasticity? It essentially refers to changes within the brain as a result of physical, behavioral, and environmental changes. You know, how and why the brain changes throughout life. There are plenty of ways to change your brain for the worse, but improving your attention span is about taking control of your mind. One method to accomplish this is attention interval training.

Basically you start with a short period of time, say 10 minutes, and set a timer. Your goal is to focus the entire time, and then you receive a two-minute break. You can train your brain to work smarter and harder in these longer chunks of time by building up to a goal. It’s much like interval training for distance athletes, but for your brain.

Remember, studies show that we can only focus for 45 minutes at a time, so make 45 minutes your ultimate goal by the end of the semester. (And who knows, maybe you can push it!) Check out the Pomodoro technique to learn more.

Be Aware of Time Limits

According to anti-procrastination author Neil Fiore, a great way to focus your attention is to list everything on your schedule that has a specific time, like classes, meetings, and appointments. Leave things like private study time off the schedule at first, and see how much time you actually have for study. You probably have less time than you originally assumed.

When you see three free hours on Thursday afternoon, fill the slot with tangible actions: Write three pages of Sociology paper, finish Act II of Romeo & Juliet, and memorize 20 vocabulary words. When you have specific goals in limited time frames, you’re more likely to focus and complete the task at hand.


Image: David A. Ellis