Brits are 'unable to focus on anything for longer than 46 minutes', according to study

Woman looking out the window, struggling to focus, short attention span. (Getty Images)
Research has revealed our attention spans are shortening as Brits struggle to focus on a task for longer than 46 minutes. (Getty Images)

In proof our attention spans are shrinking, new research has revealed the average Brit is now unable to focus on a single task for more than 46 minutes before losing focus.

This drops to just 11 minutes when it comes to reading a book, 10 minutes when in a work meeting and just nine minutes of a video call.

Turns out we're even finding it hard to concentrate on our favourite TV shows, with 13 minutes emerging as the point our minds start to wander.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is work tasks we struggle to concentrate on most with 37% of those polled admitting to finding it hard to focus while performing our roles.

Phone calls (38%), text messages (38%) and social media notifications (33%) were among the most likely things to break our concentration, according to the survey of 2,000 adults by nasal spray brand Stérimar.

Someone talking loudly next to you (50%) and roadworks outside the house (31%) are also major distractions.

So what's going on? Why have our attention spans taken such a hit lately?

Read more: Why getting enough sleep is important for mental health, as study shows link between sleep and depression (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)

Why are we struggling to focus?

According to Sandi Mann, senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and author of The Science of Boredom there are many contributing factors to our shrinking ability to focus.

"The evidence suggests that our attention spans are shortening, and that it has been for a long time now," she explains.

"There are several potential reasons for this including the fact that we are now experiencing a faster pace of life than ever before, where we expect to get through tasks quickly."

This increasingly busy world means we're less likely to sit and read reports or books or study for a long period of time.

"Instead, we expect things to change quickly and to move quickly," Mann continues.

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Woman looking on social media. (Getty Images)
Living in a 'swipe and scroll world' could have an impact on our ability to focus. (Getty Images)

We are also living in a "swipe and scroll world" where we can pander to our lack of attention.

"In the past, we might have brought our attention back to a particular task," Mann explains. Now, however, if our attention wanders, we go along with it and will swipe onto the next thing."

"This means we are not allowing ourselves to develop a long retention span. In the past, we had no choice. We had to read a book or report to gain information, rather than it being on the other end of a quick google."

Mann says our short attention spans might also be due to having multiple tasks competing for our time.

"It’s not just that we don’t have to pay attention to things, we’re also being pulled in different directions in ways that we haven’t before," she explains.

"We have so much stimulation from a young age which we become used to. Then, if we don’t have enough stimulation, we become bored."

Read more: Can you take a sick day from work for mental health reasons? (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)

There are some ways to regain our focus and improve our attention span. (Getty Images)
There are some ways to regain our focus and improve our attention span. (Getty Images)

How to regain your focus

The good news is, there are some steps we can take to combat attention span zapping stress and reduce our exposure to technology.

To rebuild your attention span and regain your ability to focus, try the following:

Learn to resolve boredom

To improve our attention span, Mann says we need to become used to lower levels of stimulation.

"Rather than swiping or scrolling away, we should work to build up our tolerance for low stimulation," she explains.

"If we don’t need stimulation from multiple different sources, then our attention is less likely to wander. This means we need to make a conscious effort to pay attention to things for longer periods of time, such as by spending longer reading a book or article."

Watch: Average employee spends nearly 11 hours a week drafting emails

Break the multi-task myth

This has become common practice and we see this by the proliferation of tabs and apps open on our laptops.

"Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is one of the worst things we can do for cognitive performance," explains Dr Lisa Turner, trauma and emotional resilience expert and founder of CETfreedom.

"Close everything. Shut down everything. Tell work colleagues and family members not to distract you and get into your flow state."

Go on a dopamine detox

Turn off all the notifications on your phone, even deleting the apps. "Spend some time doing something really boring," Dr Turner suggests. "Although we’re almost taught that boredom is bad, it’s actually really good for our brains. It re-sets our dopamine receptors and rests the mind so that when we return to a creative task, it seems really interesting."

Read more: Two-thirds of employees say working from home is more productive... but bosses disagree (Yahoo News UK, 2-min read)

We're even struggling to focus on our favourite programmes right now. (Getty Images)
We're even struggling to focus on our favourite programmes right now. (Getty Images)

Practice meditation or mindfulness

Breathing techniques can also increase attention spans. "Box breathing is particularly good for this," Dr Turner says. "Move your body at intervals. Take a moment to step back from your work and do about 2-3 minutes of jumping, shaking or movement. Even this short time can reset the mind."

Set clear short goals

For example write a certain number of words, learn a specific topic. "Choose tasks with the right skills challenge balance," Dr Turner suggests. "Tasks that tax the mind just enough to fully engage it, but not too much that it creates excessive frustration.

"If the task is too easy, you’ll get bored and distracted, so try adding an element of challenge to prevent this. if the task is too hard, you’ll get frustrated and discouraged, so alter the difficulty level until you can do it but only just."

Take breaks

Work for 30 – 45 minutes then take a 3 – 5-minute break to reset your brain and neurotransmitters.

"The idea is to take a break before you get distracted, and whilst you're still fully engaged in the task," Dr Turner explains. "This way it is much easier to get right back into your work."