Do you find yourself powering through work one minute and watching cat videos the next? That sounds about right: A study last year by Microsoft discovered that the average attention span is eight seconds. (Curse smartphones!) Refocus with these four adjustments.
1. Take a break
Give yourself two short breathers over the course of an hour. While that may sound counterintuitive, research shows that periodic diversions make it easier to zero in on one thing for a longer amount of time. Why? The brain gradually gets habituated to whatever the stimulus is (say, doing your taxes), so you need to stop and “reactivate” your goal from time to time to maintain your concentration.
It’s not just making a phone call or sending a text message that distracts you from what you’re doing: A study out of Florida State University revealed that people who merely received text or call notifications committed more mistakes on a computer task they were working on than those who did it free of phone interruptions. On deadline? Put the iPhone on silent and stash it away.
3. Reel in your multitasking
Eating dinner, watching TV, and also skimming a report? Stick to two activities (or one!): Your brain can’t handle more than two big tasks simultaneously, suggests a 2010 study in Science. Why? A part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex helps divide the work so that half the region attends to one task while the other focuses on the second one, leaving no room to juggle a third.
During breaks at home or on the job, take some steady, deep breaths and simply concentrate on your inhalations and exhalations. The Buddhist technique has been shown to improve mental performance by helping ground your mind in the present, instead of letting it wander throughout the day.