5 Ways to Improve Memory and Attention Span

26 July, 2020
The best way to improve memory and attention span is to create the right conditions to allow these two faculties to perform at full capacity. The good news is, once you get into the habit of using these two skills regularly, they'll gradually start to become second nature to you.
 

Improving memory and attention span is a goal many people set for themselves, whether because they have trouble studying for long periods of time, simply want to improve their skills, or they’ve noticed that these faculties have begun to diminish over the years.

Our intellectual performance as a whole tends to improve when we take steps to train our memory and attention span. While neither one nor the other equates to a greater intellect, they do play a decisive role in allowing you to make the very most of your natural intelligence. Moreover, your attention span can have a huge impact on your capacity for learning.

When it comes to improving both memory and attention span, practice is key. At the same time, this must be combined with perseverance and discipline. While it’s something that can be achieved at any age, this task becomes slightly more difficult as we get older, and requires more dedication. However, a number of simple techniques can help you improve these skills. Let’s take a look at five of our favorites.

1. Avoid distractions and monotony

While it might seem obvious, it’s essential to avoid distractions if you want to improve your memory and attention span. However, it never hurts to give a quick reminder. The most important things to avoid are loud noises and interruptions, as both these factors can have a huge impact on your attention span. And without your full attention, your ability to retain information will be seriously impaired.

 

Avoiding monotony is perhaps less obvious, but no less true. We now know that the human brain has very specific time limits when it comes to our attention span. For tasks that require high levels of concentration, it’s best to take a break every 30 minutes and change either the task or your environment every two hours.

A smiling woman.

2. Improving memory and attention span: revise, highlight, and consolidate

Sometimes, one of the greatest difficulties people encounter when they’re trying to improve their memory and attention span is wanting to do everything too quickly. For example, we often stop reading a book when the chapter or the book as a whole comes to an end. That’s not really enough.

Particularly when it comes to reading, you need to make sure to highlight the most important sentences, as well as any sections you want to memorize. Once you’ve finished reading, you then need to go back and reread the sections you’ve highlighted. This will allow you to retain far more information from the text. This same technique can be applied to a number of other activities.

3. Stop trying to multitask

 

Trying to do a million different things at once is a habit that has become ingrained in our modern way of life. For example, many of us try to do work with the TV on and headphones in, while constantly checking our phones. But this has far more negative effects than most people realize.

All this only means one thing: we’re not concentrating on any one of these tasks properly. At the same time, it can also cause increased feelings of anxiety and helplessness, as we struggle to get all of our work done. These are the worst possible conditions in which to try to memorize new information.

In short, multitasking can actually shorten your attention span, while also impairing your ability to retain information accurately and reliably.

4. Improving memory and attention span: create the right environment

Your work environment is hugely important when it comes to performing tasks that require high levels of concentration. There’s nothing better than working somewhere that actively promotes concentration. This means a well-lit room, with few distractions and as little noise as possible.

A pleasant atmosphere allows the brain to work at its best. And it’s not just your physical environment that’s important; your emotional state also plays an important role here. For example, low-intensity emotions help to significantly improve memory and attention span. While it might seem paradoxical, emotions that we usually consider negative, such as sadness, can actually help to increase concentration.

 
A woman working at a desk.

5. Creating your own external memory aids

Memory and attention span are very closely linked to one another. When you achieve high levels of concentration, memory processes start to function almost automatically. However, on some occasions, this simply doesn’t happen, either because our concentration levels still aren’t quite high enough, or because the information we’re trying to memorize is more complex than usual.

In these cases, we need to look for other ways to help us store and retain memories. You can use many different strategies: writing mnemonic devices, recording and listening to pieces of text, and drawing mind maps, among others.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, the key to improving memory and attention span lies in regular practice, to help ensure that we use our mental faculties properly. In other words, it’s important to get into good habits. The best way to do this is to use effective methods and techniques when it comes to completing academic tasks. You should notice the results almost immediately!

 
  • Gómez-Pérez, E., Ostrosky-Solís, F., & Próspero-García, O. (2003). Desarrollo de la atención, la memoria y los procesos inhibitorios: relación temporal con la maduración de la estructura y función cerebral. Revista de neurología, 37(6), 561-567.