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The attention span of humans: When do our brains switch off the most?

Whether we’re working from home, talking to our partner or doing the washing up, we are all guilty of our mind wandering off to other places. But what is the state of the UK’s attention span in 2022?

Whilst everyone’s attention span does differ slightly, research has revealed that the average adult human is only able to concentrate on a task for around 15 to 20 minutes, suggesting most of us are struggling to maintain focus for long periods of time. 

From staying focused at work to having sex with your partner, we surveyed 2,003 people about the activities, tasks, and conversations they struggle with the most, how they might fake concentration and what activities are the most popular for passing the time when we’re distracted.

The top 10 activities we get most distracted during 

It might not come as a surprise that more than eight in 10 of us (82%) get distracted when doing household chores, however, eight in ten of us (81%) also struggle to concentrate when watching TV and three quarters (75%) struggle when watching a film.

The activities we get distracted during the most:

Activity% that get distracted
Doing household chores82%
Watching TV81%
Watching a film at home75%
Listening to music73%
Talking with friends72%
Talking with family69%
Reading an email66%
Texting friends65%

With 44% of our respondents revealing that they find themselves listening with one ear and thinking about something else at the same time, it’s no wonder that talking with friends and family made the list as two of the most common activities we get distracted during.

So, how can we look to stay focused when we’re trying to complete important tasks or simply relax in front of the TV? Certified life coach Julie Leonard gives her advice:

Train yourself to be more present. Learning to be more mindful or to meditate will help you learn to be more in the moment. Starting small with just a minute or two is enough to have an effect and motivate you to build up your concentration.”

When aiming to complete tasks such as housework or cooking, she also suggests having a notepad and pen with you to write down thoughts, jobs or tasks to be done as they come up so that you don't forget them.

To get tasks done, I also highly recommend the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on only one task for that 25 minutes. Then take a 5-minute break and then set the timer for another 25 minutes, repeating this method until the task is complete. It's a good amount of time to fully concentrate and complete tasks. It also helps train you to focus on and complete one task at a time before moving on.”

74% of younger workers struggle with staying focused when working from home

With a typical workday lasting an average of eight hours, it’s no wonder 54% of us admit to getting distracted when working in the office, and 51% admit to losing focus when working remotely. In fact, nearly one in 10 (9%) remote workers find it extremely difficult, or sometimes even impossible, to refocus on the task at hand after becoming distracted. 

When it comes to our concentration levels at work, there is a clear difference between age groups, with younger generations admitting they struggle to stay focused much more than older generations. Three quarters (74%) of 16-24-year-olds struggle when working from home compared to just under a third (29%) of 55+ year olds.

But what do we find ourselves doing when we become distracted at work? Our results revealed that 28% of us check our phone every 20 minutes or less when completing a task at work, and 27% check every 20 minutes or less during a work video call.


Is romance dead? The majority of us lose concentration when talking to or even kissing our partner

Giving the one we love the time and attention they deserve is essential for maintaining a healthy relationship, but sometimes our minds can wander off to other places…

Six in 10 of us (61%) admit to getting distracted when talking to our partner and half (50%) will get distracted when kissing them. Shockingly, almost half (49%) struggle to pay attention when having sex, with 12% of respondents admitting to either getting distracted very easily or struggling to stay focused at all. One in six (14%) also admitted they can’t even go 10 minutes without checking their phone during sex! 

This doesn’t come as a surprise to life coach Julie Leonard: “Our ever busy minds and endless to-do lists means that we find it extremely hard to focus on the moment, even for pleasurable things. Feeling stressed, overwhelmed or exhausted will also make it difficult to remain present with your partner.

“Noticing when your mind wanders when you are with your partner is the first step. Try not to be thinking of what you want to say next, rather focus on actively listening and giving them your full attention. Focus on their facial expressions and body language, find new activities to do together, and spend time cultivating closeness.

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What conversations make us switch off the most?

Focusing on a conversation we’re interested in is usually easy, but paying attention when you find the topic tedious or boring can be a challenge. Our research revealed that gossipping is the least popular topic with one in four of us (27%) finding it hard to concentrate, however, women are less likely to struggle with paying attention (24%) compared to men (30%).

Fed up of current affairs? Over a quarter (26%) of us zone out when someone is talking about politics, and almost one in five of us (18%) find it difficult to pay attention when someone is talking about COVID-19. 

Interestingly, women are more likely to struggle to concentrate when it comes to both these topics with 50% of women zoning out of conversations around politics and COVID-19 compared to just 36% of men.  

The conversations we get distracted the most during:

Topic of conversation% that get distracted 
When someone is gossiping27%
When someone is talking about a stranger26%
When someone is talking about politics26%
When someone is complaining22%
When someone is talking about work21%
When someone is talking about themselves21%
When someone is talking about finance and money20%
When someone is talking about their children20%
When someone is talking about COVID18%
When someone is talking about their relationship with their partner16%
When your manager is talking to you about something11%
When your partner is talking to you about something11%

The top techniques we use to pretend we’re paying attention

From forcing ourselves to make eye contact to adding a fake laugh to the conversation, we’ve all pretended to be paying attention when we’re not actually listening. Below we reveal which techniques for faking attention are the most popular:

Technique% all respondents% women% men
Making eye contact35%36%34%
Giving one word/ short answers28%32%25%
Pretending to laugh22%22%22%
Sitting up straight15%14%16%

Despite making eye contact being one of the most popular methods of faking concentration, more than a quarter (27%) of respondents also said that they struggle to make eye contact with someone during a conversation, even if they are actually listening. 

Julie Leonard reveals “It's not easy to tell when people aren't actually paying attention to you. However, the main giveaway is to check their blinking. When we are concentrating and giving our full attention, we blink more frequently. When we are reading something else while daydreaming or not listening with attention, we blink 4-5 times per minute.

Many contact lens wearers will blink more excessively, especially if they’re new to them or experience dry eyes. In these cases, it might be more difficult to tell if someone is listening to you if they’re wearing contact lenses, so make sure to keep an eye out for other giveaways, including giving one word answers or excessive nodding.

The most common procrastination techniques 

It’s no secret that many of us struggle with procrastination, especially when aiming to complete a boring or extremely long task. With many of us still working from home most of the time, procrastination has become even more of an issue, with distractions such as the TV or a dirty pile of laundry preventing us from getting our work done.

We asked our respondents what activities they find themselves doing the most when they’re distracted -watching TV and scrolling through social media topping the list:

Activity% all
Watching TV28%
Scrolling through Facebook19%
Listening to music18%
Making a cup of coffee or tea17%

With many of us finding ourselves either staring at our mobile phones or stealing a glimpse of the TV when we’re bored of the task at hand, it might not come as a surprise that ​​29% admitted that tech has a negative impact on our attention spans. A further 29% also said that social media has a negative impact, whilst a third (33%) admit their phones limit their capability to pay attention. 

If one of your goals in 2022 is to be more present, smash your career goals and pay more attention to the ones you love, it will be important to address your ability to stay focused and consider what things are causing you to become distracted. Whether this is your phone, a build up of stress, or an endless to-do list, think about how you can reduce these distractions in the new year.

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