The benefits of a short attention span

Yet blaming smartphones for our distractibility feels too easy—human attention has always been fleeting. A study conducted several years before the first iPhone was unveiled found that workers spent an average of just two minutes using a particular tool or document before switching to another. [4] Moreover, interruptions may have a silver lining. Many workers who were insulated from distraction by website-blocking software became more aware of time’s passage and were able to work for longer stretches—but also reported higher stress levels as a result of their sustained focus. [5]

For those seeking to exercise greater control over their attention span, science has some suggestions. A 2016 study found that mindfulness meditation led to short-term improvements in attention and focus, and that the benefits were disproportionately large among heavy multimedia multitaskers. [6] And research published earlier this year suggests that the long-term attentional benefits of regular mindfulness practice may be even more substantial than previously thought. [7]

Ultimately, it’s worth asking: How long do we really want our attention span to be? A little mindfulness can be grounding, while too much sustained focus can dial up our stress levels.