Improving your Attention Span in the Social Media Era

According to my previous post, we had a 12 second attention span compared with an 8 second attention in 2013, which means that the amount of concentrated time that we are able to spend on a task without becoming distracted is less than a goldfish. It’s no surprise attention spans have been decreasing over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation – social media, mobile phones, and the flood of online information.

For young adults like us, to achieve the goal of improving the decreased attention span, we need to first understand how our brain works.

According to a Daniel J. Levitin, professor and researcher at McGill University and author of “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload“, human brains alternate between two modes of consciousness: (1) the task-positive network, which helps you get things done, and (2) the task-negative network, which functions when you daydream or let your mind wander.

Balancing between the two is essential to completing tasks and coming up with creative solutions to problems. When you’re constantly jumping between Facebook, email and texts, your brain has to divide its limited resources. This can destruct your attention span and your ability to make distinctions between what is important and what isn’t.  In short, you don’t spend enough time in either mode for your brain to be effective.

We all rely on the Internet to get a lot of our work done, but we are working on the best ever invention for procrastination because it can quickly shift our brains into task negative territory. Sometimes you thought checking your email when working on a project that requires longer and more concentrated attention is just taking a break, you are actually taking this break from productivity.

Our mobile phones make it worse. According to this recent Harris Poll,  63% of women and 73% of men ages 18-34 say they don’t go an hour without checking their phones. More than half said they check their phone frequently from the moment they wake up to the moment they sleep, even during the middle of the night and on the toilet.

Therefore, training yourself to concentrate during a specific time period without being distracted by social media platforms becomes one of the most important tasks for us, the modern day young adults who constantly get addicted to our phone and laptop.

According to Levitin’s book,”The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload“, brain science dictates that you should chunk your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant short dips in and out throughout your day. He also recommends that email should be time boxed or done a designated intervals.

Levitin also says that if you give up multitasking and immerse yourself in a single task for sustained periods of a half hour or hour, you’ll get more creative.

Levitin suggested several ways to get rid of the social media when working, but sometimes they can be unrealistic — what if we need to check our social media and emails for work? What if the technologies are necessary and have to be squeezed in our daily life?


According to Beth Kanter, the author of Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, she proposed several ways to make social media part of your work routine without dividing too much of your attention:

  • Take social media breaks after completing higher concentration tasks
  • Keep an eye out for photos, especially useful for Twitter
  • Do your “engagement” activities on your phone while taking a walk after lunch
  • Set reminders on your phone or calendar to check social channels and make it a habit
  • Block out some time to schedule your tweets or updates over the week, using scheduling tools
  • Don’t succumb to fear of missing out or myth of in-box zero or being caught up
  • Curate information on social that helps you build expertise or knowledge for a presentation or work related tasks
  • Check social channels while you wait in lines or in between meetings
  • Learn how to scan and then go deep

Does this post help you improve your attention span? Is there any other way you may propose to spend quality time on social media and achieve productivity? Please leave a comment!


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