How long a person is able to stay focused on a particular task or activity is his "attention span." Attention spans vary from individual to individual, but according to Indiana University - Bloomington, the average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 20 minutes on a single task, lecture or conversation. Many people, however, have a shorter attention span. Factors that affect attention span range from amount of sleep you get to daily stresses.
In order to function properly throughout the day, most adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep is known to cause irritability, difficulty concentrating and general mind fog. Adequate rest each night will help you wake up rejuvenated and focused. Creating a sleep schedule is the ideal way to "set" your body's internal clock so that you become accustomed to sleeping and waking up at a certain time.
Humans are fascinated with technology, and continuous advancements don't make it easy to lay off the gadgets. The New York Times reports that individuals who multitask e-mails, phone calls and social-networking sites have more trouble paying attention and focusing on important information. This is attributed to the fact that daily tasks not involving electronics do not provide the instant stimulation that electronic gadgets do. Nora Volkow, director of The National Institute of Drug Abuse, compares addiction to technological stimulation to addiction to food and sex. Try to limit television viewing to two hours or less a day and use your other devices such as your computer and cell phone for planning and keeping time. If you need entertainment, try writing, painting or exercising.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, is one of the most common reasons for short attention spans in both adults and children. Unfortunately, ADHD is hard to confirm, so many people go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Symptoms of ADHD include losing focus in the middle of a conversation, distractiblity, inability to focus or pay attention during simple tasks, overlooking details resulting in errors or incomplete tasks, poor listening skills and a poor memory. Only a medical health professional can diagnose ADHD and determine the best method of relieving symptoms whether it be through mental exercises or with medication.
When someone is under a great deal of stress, it affects both his mental and physical health. Stress may cause irritability, anxiety and even affect concentration. When stress affects the cognitive areas of the brain, the ability to focus and make quick decisions is significantly lessened. In order to relieve stress, practice deep breathing techniques, exercise or meditation. For severe stress that results in anxiety or panic attacks, a health professional can prescribe medications.