I often hear some version of the following question:
“How do I study with a short attention span?”
Sometimes, it is no longer a question but a statement:
“I can’t study because I have a short attention span.”
(I can’t study because I have ADD. I can’t study because I have ADHD. I can’t study because I have ___________.)
This is worrying because it becomes part of a student’s identity. Once you begin to believe you can’t, you can’t! It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You don’t want to go that way. The further down that road you travel, the harder it is to come back even when you finally really, really want to.
In this blog, I am going to suggest two things.
First, use your short attention span to your advantage.
Second, train yourself to lengthen your attention span.
Something you can do right away
Plan. You know you have a short attention span, so incorporate this into your study plan. Use this to your advantage.
Provide several short breaks between study sessions. Write your plan down. Don’t skip this step. It is very important because, if you want to make improvement, you must follow through.
Don’t forget to keep your breaks short – after all, you have a short attention span, so you should easily be able to get back to the next study session once the 5- minute break is up.
Focus on your material for 15 minutes – but totally focus. All of your energy and brainpower is on one thing – your study. In other words, cell phones are turned off – not vibrating or resting – OFF! All other interfering devices are also off. (If necessary get yourself a phone jail. Yes, they really exist.) You are 100% engaged with your study.
After 15 minutes, take a break. Make the break short and purposeful. Get a drink, a small snack, or walk around the house or the block (short block). You just need to clear your head for a few minutes, stretch your legs, and move your body.
You could check your texts; however, this might be risky if you can’t control yourself to the 5-minute time limit for the break.
As soon as your break is over, get back to your next 15-minute fully-engaged study session. Most people that have attention span deficits are, in fact, able to concentrate extremely well for short periods.
In other words, “build in” your short attention span, but don’t let it control you. You control it. With a plan, you can do this!
The Next Step
During some of your 15-minute sessions, set a timer for an extra minute or two. Over a period of weeks, keep moving that time forward a little, adding a minute.
Once you reach 30 minutes, consider yourself a master!
If you can truly focus, engage, and work for 30-minute stretches, you should be fine.
Working for too long without breaks is not a great idea for anyone. We all get weary and begin to fade if we don’t take a few minutes away. Also, the brain needs a wee bit of time to absorb.
Of course, there are times in which you might be reading a particularly interesting book or text, and an hour flies by. That’s fine.
I am talking more about the “study” portion in which you are reading, taking notes, writing papers, etc. It is in these moments that most students find themselves wandering.
The number of 30-minute sessions (or 15-minute sessions) you will require depends on your grade level, course material, and so on. You will need to work out the necessary overall study time.
Try to make your plan and stick to it. Apart from adding a minute or two slowly to expand your focused study times, do not deviate a lot from the plan. Often students will sit for an hour but only study for a few minutes within that time frame. They might be proud to have sat in a chair for an hour but that is not nearly as productive as having even one 15-minute focused session!
Remember, you are going to make that attention span work for you – not against you.
If you have convinced yourself that it is impossible to change, then best of luck.
If you believe that you can still change, try the steps mentioned above and you might surprise yourself at how much you can accomplish in short time-spans and how you can expand your study sessions over time.
I have seen hundreds of students change over the years. I bet you can too!
If you need a little coaching or have a question, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
This Week’s Video
Short Attention Span – Use It!