Laser-like focus. That’s going to be you! Own it! (I think they have these at Staples :) .

(Students, you did a bunch of sitting and listening in high school, so you already have some sign of what you’re in for in college. Or if you’ve been in college, you know what I’m talking about. How about using the summer to step up your focus for your fall classes? I have a few tips based on some recent revelations I’ve had about my own attention shortcomings. Read on!)

If you read my last post, I’m in a disclose-y sort of mood. So if I admit something and you agree, will you admit it, too?

(Quid pro quo, Clarice… I tell you things… you tell me… Too much? Too random? I’ll stop…)

My attention span really stinks lately. A few examples:

I a little bit dozed off during part of the movie Brave (I’m sorry… the mother is a bear for most of the movie. Too over the top for me! But I don’t usually fall asleep during movies.)

I find myself fast-forwarding through TV shows that I formerly enjoyed. I don’t seem to have the patience (Or maybe I’ve smartened up and realized they aren’t worth watching? This does not include the Kardashians.).

I’ve given up on more books after a few pages, and I’m not even devouring every word of my People and Entertainment Weekly (otherwise known as my “candy” and, at times, my news–hey, I need some recreational reading!)–I’m just flipping pictures and reading some articles.

Maybe you are suffering from the same issues? And I don’t know about you, but these “habits” aren’t exactly going away when I’m in situations where I need to be attentive (just being honest!). Now I’m not talking about when a good friend calls and needs to talk–I can focus for that–but I can’t say that other things I don’t find 100% engaging (meetings, anyone?) get my full attention.

That’s just not right.

And if you’re like me (because you admitted you were earlier when we were quoting Silence of the Lambs, didn’t you?), it really won’t be right for you when you’re in class. Whether you’re in a small class that you like, but can’t help meandering over to Facebook on your laptop–or a huge lecture hall where you disappear in the crowd (and your mind easily disappears along with you), in both cases, one brain ‘birdwalk’ could mean falling behind, and in some cases, you may not be able to catch up.

So why not use your summer to admit to yourself that your attention span can suck at times, and make a conscious plan to improve? Here are three ways:

1. Watch something that you don’t usually watch on television.

Okay, it doesn’t have to be on TV. You could go see a movie (if you can tolerate one for that long), or see a play that you may not be interested in at first glance. Even pick a news show or documentary, or something that you wouldn’t ordinarily select. Act like it’s a class. Take some notes. Even write questions for yourself. I know this may sound like a pretty crazy suggestion, but it’s good practice for classes that you don’t find particularly exciting. Now here’s the next step: You have to tell someone else about what you viewed. Just watching isn’t enough. You have to be able to synthesize the information and show that you paid attention–explain it to someone else! I say repeat this several times before you start your classes for “training.”

2. Really pay attention during your next conversation with another person.

Your day-to-day interpersonal dynamics can help your attention span. First of all, when you are on the phone (if you are ever on the phone), don’t cruise Facebook or text, if you are doing that. Pay full attention to your communication partner. Next, work on paraphrasing the other person’s words to show you are listening and really involved in the conversation: “So, what you’re saying is that…” Or, “Am I reading you right? You mean she did…” Being present in your conversations will hopefully exercise those “attention” muscles and remind you to stay focused in other situations, too. And, you know what? In the classroom, you can use paraphrasing, too… it’s called asking questions!

3. Up your reading of all sorts of material… and give it a chance.

This advice isn’t new and I have to take it, myself. I really love to read (and I did just finish a book, so don’t get me wrong… I am reading… just getting pickier about what I read!). Expand your reading this summer and, again, try to note or at least talk about what you are reading. Reading and then talking about what you’ve read helps you make critical brain-based connections for retention. But the point is that you have to know what you’ve read in order to talk about it. So, you have to pay attention to the material.

And a bonus tip: Reward yourself!

In Say This, NOT That to Your Professor, I talk a lot about making deals with yourself and then rewarding yourself for paying attention. So I’m going to reiterate that here: Sometimes, before you walk into that less-than-exciting class, you have to say, “Okay, this class is one hour. I’m going to give it my full attention, take notes, really focus. Then, later I’m going to reward myself with 15 extra minutes of something I really want to do.” (Or whatever an adequate reward would be to you). Do the same for yourself with these tips.

Wonderful student, I know that you might be having fun right now not being in school. Or, maybe you are slogging through the rest of summer term. Either way, use July and August (particularly before you re-enter classes, if that’s when you do) to test out a few new attention-gaining strategies of the mental sort.

You’ll be sharper in and out of class and more mentally focused (and, hey, better grades might happen!), others will find you all sorts of impressive because you’re so attentive and you’re sharing what you know, and you may find some new genres of
material that you didn’t know you liked.

Are you ready to get started? Which one of the steps will you tackle first?

I’m going with #3 and starting a new book today.