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Attention Spans

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

"The average British person has an average attention span of just 14 minutes, new research has found."

You may have seen a headline like this...its normally part of a larger "Attention spans are getting shorter" article, and smartphones and social media are blamed.

According to the data, while watching television the average adult loses concentration – usually to look at a mobile device – after just seven minutes. 

This most interesting finding of studies (for us) is:

Finance related meetings or conversations only keep our attention for 10 minutes.

Listening to someone who is moaning, or who is gossiping about a complete stranger, leads to most of us tuning out after six minutes.

Alarmingly, motorists lose focus on where they are and drive on ‘auto-pilot’ just 10 minutes into a journey.

The study found concentration is a struggle for many of us – with four in 10 admitting they have a particularly short attention span. 


Stacey Stothard of Skipton Building Society, which carried out the research, said: 

“As we all lead busy lives, our attention spans only allow us to think about things in the short term, not the long term."

So it is sometimes hard to see beyond your next cup of tea or weekly shop. 

‘’Unfortunately our research shows due to our short attention spans we are simply not taking enough time to think about the things that matter, including our finances and the future.”

Further Findings

-The poll also found when in a meeting, workers are unable to focus on what is being said for longer than 13 minutes, before they zone out.

- Similarly, on a call with a client or customers, employees start getting bored and as a result read emails or ‘doodle’ just seven minutes in.

- Listening to chatty colleagues keeps us gripped for just nine minutes, but that is cut to just six if they have a ‘boring’ voice.

- Phone calls to family members last just nine minutes before their loved ones will multi-task by doing other jobs around the house at the same time.

When it comes to why people lose focus, 26 per cent say it is because  they’re so busy multi-tasking, while 18 per cent haven’t got time to waste.

What this means for trainers

What it DOESN'T mean is that you should only ever run 10 minute sessions.

What it DOES mean is that variety of material in your session is going to be important. The issue of attention is not about the 'subject', it's that the delivery of the subject has to vary to hold our attention.

If this sounds complex, it doesn't need to be. You don't have to change subject completely, merely the presentation of that material.

For example, lets consider Data Security again.

Our session is going to run over 10 minutes so we should consider switching up the medium used:

- Start with a very short presentation contextualising the session

- Then, switch to an interactive activity where participants work through their day and identify risks to data security.

- Summarise with a short video to fill in any gaps.

- Then assess the participants work in a group session and suggest actions.

- Have learners turn the actions into best practice as a written activity.

- Recap with a short power point.

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