Time Management Expert, Event Speaker: Mark Lamendola

Productivity Case Histories | Productivity improvement articles | Time Tips Articles

Time Tips: Manage Your Attention Span Tip #2

We are often victims of our own attention span limitations--and those of others. In today's increasingly wired world, attention spans are shrinking. Tasks, information, and schedules are increasingly fragmented.

Thirty years ago, it would not be unusual for a person to sit and read 100 pages or so in a book without pausing. Today, that's highly unusual--because attention spans are shrinking.

This is observable in the work setting. As people progress with a task, their attention begins to waver and then they lose focus altogether. This is why when you walk around the typical office you will see people aimlessly staring at screens. Or, you can watch a person begin a task and then noticeably slow down only minutes later.

You can fight the good fight and try to maintain longer attention spans as you work. But, that's an uphill battle. I'm not saying it can't be done--I am saying it's hard to do. And, it doesn't solve your immediate need to work more efficiently.

You must accommodate your current attention span, whatever length it may be. If you know you can properly focus on your tasks for only 10 minutes before you begin to slow down or feel distractions, then limit your time for each of your most critical tasks to no more than 10 minutes each.

What if you want to expand your attention span? Doing so is much like weight training. You will have to begin by using a weight you can safely lift. Then, increase the weight as you adapt to it.

For example, let's say you can focus for roughly 10 minutes before your mind begins to wander. So, you work in 10 minute blocks to accommodate that. Get a digital timer that provides an audible alert, and set it for 12 minutes. Start a new task, and refuse to budge from it until your timer indicates the 12 minutes are up. After doing this religiously for about three weeks, you will find your attention span has increased to 12 minutes. If you could actually look at your cerebral cortex "before" and "after," you would be able to see changes to the wiring--your synaptic connections would have actually changed. Set your timer for 15 minutes, and raise the bar again.

As you do this training, you will find your efficiency drops every time you begin with the longer time spans. But, because you can work at increasingly longer stretches, you lower the "transaction costs" of switching between tasks. If your work is such that you don't actually need to do frequent switching between tasks, your overall efficiency goes up. If, however, your work is such that you must frequently switch between tasks, then your overall efficiency goes down.

The key here is to determine the length of attention span that best matches what you need to accomplish. Correctly match things up, and you will be able to make all of your waking hours (or minutes) truly count.


Do you want to radically improve how well people in your organization make use of the limited number of hours in each work day?

Contact me to arrange a time when we can talk about a presentation: mark@mindconnection.com. Why arrange a time? So I can give you full attention during the call. There's a really powerful time management tip. Ask me why it works.