Learn Stuff: The Attention Span Experiment

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I’ve been clutching hard to the last few days of Autumn – yes, I’m in the Christmas spirit but no, I’m not going to pack this pumpkin away anytime soon.

With finals week looming around the corner, I’ve been trying out any and all ways of improving my ability to get work done and help myself with the push to end all undergraduate pushes. If you were to couple my wretched attention span with my generally bad memory, you’d get a bonafide 6 year old they’re giving a college diploma to in a few weeks.

Over the past month or so I’ve been conducting a little experiment I designed around something I read once, which is that human beings are able to focus on something for 12 minutes before their attention begins to wane. Now before you ask me where I found this information, let me get right to it and tell you that I cannot for the life of me remember and some quick Googling has confirmed that it has no clue where I got it either. You’ll just have to take that research into your own hands.

The design of this experiment was further supported by remembering how my all-around personhood idol, Rory Gilmore, switched through different subjects every time she got bored or unfocused while she crammed for finals one time. Thus a combination of those two clearly very academic sources of information was born into what I call The Attention Span ExperimentIf it’s good enough for Ace then it’s good enough for me.


The Hypothesis

Switching between subjects every 12 minutes while I study will make me more focused and will increase the amount of information I retain.

The Variations

All Subjects – Reading Only

I’m taking four classes this semester and all of them can be pretty reading intensive. For 2 hours, I tried rotating through the required readings for each subject every 12 minutes.

Classes: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2

Some Subjects – Reading Only

Since two of my classes require substantially more reading than the others, I chose to focus on only the assignments for those two subjects. One class is textbook based and the other is article based. Side note: let it be said that I detest being taught by a textbook. 100% anti that. I need some human connection up in this lecture room. Again, worked for 2 hours in 12 minute intervals.

Classes: 1 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 2

All Subjects – All Work

My classes also include these wonderful little things called ‘case studies’ and ‘group projects’ so if that type of work was priority over the reading assignments, I worked on that instead. Example: I worked on readings for two classes, a business plan for my capstone class, and a case study. Can you see what’s coming next? 2 hours, 12 minutes.

Classes: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2

All Subjects – All Work, A Little Play

Most times out of all times, I’ll choose personal reading over school reading (wouldn’t life be swell if they were one and the same???). For this variation, I added a fifth “subject” to the interval loop (see smiley face, below). Think All Subjects – All Work plus a block of personal reading to give myself a break from the boring.

Classes: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 🙂 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 🙂

*Note: I did not sit for 8 hours and go through all of these back to back. Every variation was tried on an entirely different day. Also, I used 2 hour blocks because that seemed appropriately long enough to get me into the homework mindset but that’s as far as the logic goes.

The Results

Well… it’s the thought that counts, right?

This was interesting to attempt, but overall most of the variations just caused increased frustration. When rotating through just reading assignments, I found that even though the page count was up I couldn’t say I actually finished anything in its entirety. The issue with that is the to-do list conundrum: since nothing could be crossed off, I felt unaccomplished and unmotivated. My favorite variation was definitely All Subjects – All Work, A Little Play. We all know we’re going to end up procrastinating anyways and it’s nice to have something to look forward to.

I tried, I really did, but at the end of the day I still had trouble absorbing information with all the switching around. Not to mention the timer left me feeling exasperated.

My focus was lost before it was found, so I guess I’ll just have to keep looking. Do let me know what you think works best. I’m desperate for tips to keep me productive.

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