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Why Do I Have a Short Attention Span?

By Dr. Usmarah Hussain

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Why Do I have a Short Attention Span

The human mind constantly processes information thrown at it from all directions, and the attention span determines how long it can focus on something before getting distracted. Life is hectic and includes many moving pieces, so it is perfectly normal to get distracted from the ongoing going task from time to time. In fact, studies suggest that humans spend an average of 47% of their waking hours thinking about something completely different from what they are doing at a certain time.[1] However, when this keeps happening over and over again, it can certainly start affecting your personal and professional life.

Luckily, there are plenty of solutions to help you increase a short time span but to choose the best of them; you must first identify the reason behind your issue. This comprehensive guide will help you understand why you might suffer from a short attention span and briefly describe its implications and solutions.

The Truth About Shrinking Attention Spans

If you are fond of staying updated and in tune with the latest news, chances are you have heard about the decreasing attention spans in humans. Experts have long been speculating how the attention spans in humans have shrunk from 12 seconds to 8 seconds since the early 2000s, making it worse than the attention span of a goldfish.[2]

Technology and Short Attention Spans

While the goldfish bit is a bit exaggerated and argued among the scientific communities, it is indeed true that attention spans are changing, but it’s mainly because the highly digitalized environment that surrounds us is making it challenging to apply the most effective type of attention. The huge amount of information presented to us 24/7 is what’s decreasing attention spans. A very common and famous example of this is depicted by the social media platform called Tik Tok that now features one-minute-long videos only, complying with the average attention span of today.

The round-the-clock news updates, social media, and bombardment of ads from every direction are constantly competing to gain our attention. Because it is becoming increasingly difficult to give anything or selective or sustained attention, we switch to dividing our attention, trying to focus on multiple things at a time, and failing at all of them together.

Signs of a Short Attention Span

People who quickly get distracted or struggle to give their work the best may seem to others as if they are uninterested in the task at hand or are simply unwilling to do it. In reality, most of these people are struggling from a short attention span. Here are a few symptoms to look out for and confirm if you fall into this category:

  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Partially completing tasks
  • Struggling to organize materials
  • Difficult reading long texts
  • Making mistakes
  • Failure to engage in active listening
  • Difficulties in managing time
  • Being late for appointments or forgetting them

How a Short Time Span can Affect Us

A short attention span can make it practically impossible to focus on a single task for a longer time period without getting distracted. So how does it affect life in the long run?

It limits what you can truly enjoy.

With a shorter attention span, you will always be on the alert for distractions that can hold you back from enjoying the little moments passing by. For example, you may not be able to finish the first few ‘slow’ chapters of the book and may quit in the middle before it actually gets interesting. Moreover, you may stop watching a TV show after an episode or two before the plotline slowly unfolds over time.

It holds you back at work.

Studies estimate that after every distraction, the human brain requires at least 25 minutes to fully return to the original task. Not to forget that we tend to experience up to a 50% decrease in overall productivity when distracted by something totally irrelevant. So a problem as simple as a short attention span might be holding you back at work and keeping you from becoming the best version of yourself.

Why Do I Have a Short Attention Span? Reasons Explained?

A short attention span can be due to many reasons, both simple and complex. Some of these are outlined below:

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a psychiatric illness commonly associated with inattention or a concise attention span.[3] Such people often feel agitated, fidgety, and restless as they try to focus on a task and are almost always required to constantly move when engaged in a task (a phenomenon known as hyperactivity).

Too Many Difficult Jobs

It can be challenging to maintain focus and attention when you are dealing with multiple tasks at a time, such as attending an online meeting and taking care of the baby at once. In such circumstances, the brain is being pulled in different directions, diving the focus and reducing the attention span.


Depression is a common mood disorder that can severely affect life. While the condition may present itself in multiple ways, the most common symptoms include persistent feelings of loss and sadness, along with difficulty concentrating.[4] Some other manifestations of depression to look out for include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Overwhelming feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, or hopelessness 
  • Lack of interest in activities that once brought happiness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of energy
  • Frequent thoughts of ending life or suicide
  • Learning Disorders

Learning disorders, such as dyslexia, can be one of the many causes of a short attention span. Such disorders make it difficult to concentrate and focus on tasks related to speaking, writing and reading.

Screen Dependency

The seemingly trivial everyday distractions, like a quick scroll on Facebook or a short YouTube video, may seem to boost your mood by hitting the reward centers and releasing dopamine. However, with time, this habit becomes a dependency and serves as a potent distraction that keeps breaking up your attention span.[5]

Sensory Processing Disorder

If you feel like your short attention span is due to a distracting sound, smell, touch, taste, or sight, you might be suffering from a sensory processing disorder. Such disorders make individuals extra sensitive to ordinary simulation, making it difficult for them to focus on anything in an uncontrolled environment.


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is also one of the lesser-known reasons for a short attention span. The condition activates the body’s fight-or-flight mode, which makes it harder for the brain to focus on a specific task for a longer time period.

Lack of Sleep

The amount and quality of sleep you get every night have a significant impact on your attention span. Studies suggest that sleep deprivation can negatively affect your vigilance, memory, and alertness while making it harder for you to work on a monotonous or too-long task.

Lack of Sleep and Attention Span

Strong Emotions

Emotions are one of the top distractions for most people, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. These strong emotions can quickly pull your attention away from the task you are completing.

Boosting a Short Attention Span

While you figure out the reason why you are experiencing a short attention span, the following are some tips to follow to maximize your focus:

Get rid of distractions

Create an environment with minimal distractions, such as by turning off all electronic devices and removing as much clutter as possible.

Chew gum

Studies have revealed that chewing gum can significantly improve the attention span by distracting the brain. [6] However, the effects can b experienced for a short time only.

Drink water

Dehydration can negatively affect your ability to think, focus, and concentrate, so carry a bottle of water with you wherever you go.

Drink Water to Improve Focus

Exercise more

As little as 30 minutes of exercise a day can do wonders for your attention span. It does not always have to be strength training or high-intensity workouts. Even walking and jogging can exert similar benefits on brain health.

Try meditating

Meditation helps the brain focus and supports the redirection of thoughts to produce sustained attention.

Go for brain training

Science calls attention span a cognitive skill that can be developed and improved with brain training. Brain training aims to target and stimulate all underactive regions of the brain responsible for attention, such as the prefrontal cortex.[7]

Conclusion: Start Working Today

While many people complain of short attention spans now and then, some experience it more permanently. For such people, finding out the underlying cause and addressing it with medical help and everyday tips is imperative. As you work to find and address the cause behind your shorter attention span, make sure to be realistic and start being consistent. You’ll get there soon!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to measure attention spans?

Attention spans are pretty difficult to measure and usually vary depending on the task on hand, age, and general state of mind. While different experts have proposed different limits for time spans based on age, most people agree that this is not a very useful concept.

What is the average attention span in adults?

The average attention span in adults can vary based on their gender, age, and general health of the brain. However, for most people over the age of 16 years, this window is between 32 to 48 minutes.

Does screen time impact the development of attention span?

Studies have proven that exposure to too much screen time, especially in developing years, can negatively impact attention spans, cognitive development, and language. Moreover, it can also make children more vulnerable to mood swings, irritability, sleep disruptions, tantrums, and aggression, along with other issues.


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