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Sustained attention is a necessary component of academic success, but many students will experience concentration deficits at least once throughout their academic career. There are many things that can impede sustained attention that students are often unaware of, such as anxiety, depression, burnout, stress, poor diet and infrequent exercise.

Attention is your cognitive ability to engage in the present, and for students this engagement is with learning. An average attention span can be different for everyone and affected by biology, environment, sleep, health and stress. Many experts believe that the average attention span for an adult is around 20 minutes.

There are several ways you can recognize if you are struggling with sustained attention:

  • You regularly have trouble focusing.
  • You have difficulty completing tasks efficiently.
  • You frequently miss important details or assignments.
  • You feel overwhelmed trying to manage life’s demands.
  • You have trouble following conversations.
  • You make frequent careless mistakes.

If you have been struggling with sustained attention, there are several things backed by research that you can do to improve your attention span:

Keep a Routine: Eliminate distractions, and try to study in the same place as much as possible. This helps your brain know when it is time to learn and respond accordingly with increased focus.

Meditate: Research shows that meditation is a powerful tool to help you practice “paying attention.” Meditation also helps many people relax their mind and body, which also increases focus. Even a short daily meditation can have considerable benefits. You can find mindfulness exercises in TAO (Therapy Assistance Online) – download the app to access these exercises on your smartphone! You can also tune in to the @ClemsonHealthyCampus Instagram account each Tuesday for Mindful Minutes.

Break It Up: Schedule breaks regularly throughout your work day BEFORE you begin to notice your attention waning. The Pomodoro Technique has become increasingly popular, and it is simple to use. Set a timer on your phone for 25 minutes, and study without distraction until the time is up. Then set the time for five minutes. During the five minute break, try to mitigate activities on your phone in favor of walking, coloring or completing a short meditation.