Enhancing Productivity and Improving Attention Span

By: Cheryl

After a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals are still learning to live with the stress, anxiety, fear, frustrations, and uncertainty. People have to constantly adjust to the changes in rules and regulations and adapt to the personal circumstances occurring in their lives. Feeling less productive and having a shorter attention span is common during these times. Research shows that concentration, memory, and cognition suffer when people are under stress and anxiety. Personally, as a full-time student who is working at the same time, I’m required to always be in front of the screen, whether it is for attending class, meetings, assignments, and even conversing with my family and friends. The increased screen-reliance during the pandemic has definitely affected my attention span. I have tried various ways to improve my attention span, and below are a few that I have found effective.

1. Watching Foreign-language Films

There is an endless amount of international dramas, comedies, and documentaries that are worth watching. While watching them, ensure that you are watching with subtitles and that it is not dubbed! This will help increase your attention span as it will require your attention as you have to focus and read in order to follow the plot, understand the dialogue and keep up with the development of the characters and storyline. An added bonus: you may also pick up a few names, words and phrases from hearing the audio in another language while also reading the translation!

2. The Pomodoro Method

I have been using this method for a while, and based on experience, this method helped me improve my work and concentration! At the beginning of my university experience, I was able to study and work on assignments for long hours straight. I remember nights during midterm and final exam seasons where I would stay in the same spot for 6+ hours, only getting out of my seat to refill my water bottle. As a result, I was always burned out since I never gave my brain time to rest and absorb the information I was taking in. I started using this method a few years back when I realized I needed to start taking care of my physical body too in order to truly enhance my mental capacity.

  • Choose one task you would like to get done: the task you choose to pursue will be getting your full and undivided attention.
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes: you will spend the entire 25 minutes focusing purely on this task. Try your best to do this without any interruptions or distractions!
  • Work on the task until the timer rings: truly immerse yourself for 25 minutes! Note: If anything pops into your head, write it down, you can also revisit it later after the time is up.
  • When your session ends, mark/check off one Pomodoro: You can also record what you completed or accomplished.
  • Take a short break: Typically, this break will last around 5 minutes. You can do short activities, including meditating, grabbing a coffee or tea, or even stretching exercises as long as you do something relaxing and not work-related!
  • Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break: Once you have completed four Pomodoros, you will take a longer break; this one is typically 30 minutes. Your brain will be able to rest and assimilate new information before the next rounds of Pomodoro.

The Pomodoro method will benefit you if you get distracted easily, consistently work past the point of optimal productivity, and have a lot of open-ended work. There are numerous amounts of reasons why the Pomodoro method is effective. You will be able to transform a complex goal into a series of simpler goals, increasing your motivation and the precision of the estimates and probability of success. You will be able to combat distractions more effectively as this method will help you resist interruptions and train your brain to regain focus faster. It is imperative to understand that this technique is more about consistency than perfection. Each session is a new start to re-evaluate your goals, challenge yourself to focus, and limit your distractions, overall improving your productivity and attention span!

3. Take care of your physical and mental self!

i) Drink water: Staying hydrated is extremely important for your mind and body! The lack of ability to focus, increased fatigue, sleep issues, and headaches are intrinsically connected to the reduced intake of water since our brain function depends on having abundant water access. Drinking water is imperative in order to help increase your concentration and results in heightened productivity.

ii) Exercise: Being active can help improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. As physical activity boosts your brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, all affect one’s ability to stay focused! Besides the direct effects, exercising regularly can indirectly boost your memory and thinking indirectly by improving your mood and sleep and reducing stress and anxiety.

iii) Meditation: Practicing meditation leads to numerous health benefits, including increased attention span. These meditation sessions do not have to be long, as a simple brief meditation session can train your mind to stay focused by building resilience and discipline. You can start very simple: close your eyes and slow down your breathing. Concentrate on your breath going in and out. You can also start by being present in the moment, be still, and focus on the environment around you.

In conclusion, these are just a few of the techniques that may help you enhance your productivity and improve your attention span! Most importantly, always remember to take care of yourself, especially during these times, and remember the basics of getting the right amount of sleep, eating healthy, and exercising.

Our MCIS COVID-19 response pages include collected resources regarding mental health, including MCIS Mental Health and Well-being Webinars, OHIP-Covered Psychotherapists, Affordable Psychotherapy, Agencies, Free Online Courses, Discussion Forums, Resource Hubs, and Mental Health Programs/Webinars.