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On Tackling Reading Attention Spans

A stack of books

How can we make ourselves more attentive in our reading? This is something I’m constantly struggling with, struggling to get better at. On days when I’ve a lot to think about I’ll find I’ve ‘read’ several pages – my eyes have scanned the print, which could have been gibberish for all the attention I paid – and I’ll suddenly realise I’ve not taken anything in and have to go back some pages. (Or, more often, I’ll call it a day and come back to it later.) This ‘dreamer’ sort of experience isn’t wholly down to the Internet, but is nevertheless still down to attention.

So, for one thing, I’ll call it a day if I’m not really reading what I’m reading. There’s no use in half-read books and I see it as not only disrespectful to the author if I were to call it ‘reading’ but also disrespectful to myself. I’ll go and do whatever it is that’s taking my mind away from the words on the page, be it a chore, tiredness, or, if it’s just that I’m distant I’ll go find another task, one I can do in autopilot.

I find making a deliberate action of reading helps, making a show of the activity, if you will. I’ll read in a different room to the computer, I won’t take my phone, and I’ll make a drink. I’ll create the whole snuggled up with a coffee and a book tableau because the association is so enticing that the enticement itself works. Turning off the computer can help but it’s not foolproof. That move to another room pays off, and it pays more the further it is from any devices. It’s easier to stay sitting with a book and make a couple of notes with your pen than to get up, plod along to the computer and fire it up. Laziness is an excellent tool to use for keeping your attention on your book. Again, like the snuggled up tableau, it’s using laziness for what it can mean.

Of course you need to pick the right book. You need to work out whether it’s your attention span that’s the problem or whether it’s the book and if it’s the book change it. It could be both in which case you need to leave reading for a bit and come back to it later. Comfort helps, too.

Lastly, I try to make a plan. If it’s a work day then you’ll be going home for dinner and after that reading for the rest of the evening, or you wake up and read during breakfast – that sort of thing. I find the earlier in the day I plan my reading, no matter when I plan it for, the better the reading itself goes. If you can plan it down to the hour it’s even better. This may be a basic to do list sort of idea but it really works because everything you need and want to do is given time, a start and an end, so you can focus solely on reading during the time you’ve allotted to it.

These are the ways I deal with my attention span. What are yours?



November 16, 2015, 6:06 pm

I don’t think I’m easily distracted from reading. What really affects my attention span is if I’m too tired or I’m not enjoying the book. To combat this I tend to be careful to have a variety of books on the go so I pick a book that suits my mood.

Literary Feline

November 17, 2015, 12:12 am

Much depends on the type of book I am reading. Some books easily draw me in while others take more effort. There have been times when I am so engrossed in a book that I do not notice anything going on around me, including someone standing in front of me asking a question. There are other times when the smallest sound can be a distraction.

I have those moments too-the ones in which I read something and somehow completely miss it and have to go back and read it again. It’s usually because I’m tired. Or perhaps not quite as involved in the story yet. I will often set the book aside and come back to it later. Sometimes reading a bit of it out loud helps me focus.

I waste way too much time on social media and I really want to change that. It’s time I could be spending reading.

Another distraction that wasn’t as big a problem before I began reading an e-book is the progress percentage that appears at the bottom of my e-reader. Whether it’s the percentage left in the chapter or the book. It does come in handy when I have limited time–do I have enough time to start another chapter? That sort of thing. But other than that, I found myself always checking my progress. As soon as I realized it was a problem, I turned that feature off.


November 22, 2015, 10:03 pm

I have the same sort of thing, the reading but not reading, and do the same as you and just put the book down if i’m not absorbing anything. It’s frustrating. Recently I’ve found myself daydreaming while reading, which is so odd.

The best way around it for me is to remove anything that could distract me and sit down somewhere warm and cosy.



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