Personal Productivity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people wanting to improve their personal productivity. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

While talking to someone at work or even on the phone I often find myself drifting off where my attention wanders off. This happens even during short say 5 ~ 10 minute conversations. If while talking I try to write down some stuff so that I can remember later, I miss out the details. Any techniques you guys can suggest for improving on this aspect ?

share|improve this question
You might want to read this post as it is somewhat similar to your problem. – THelper Jul 9 '12 at 11:43
Listening is a skill. Research and practice. – eflat Mar 29 at 18:52

During listening

  • Be an active listener, not a passive listener. Give some reaction sometimes during the listening (such as nodding, showing your surprise and other feelings etc.).
  • Try to focus on the main subject instead of the words.
  • If possible, give feedback about what you just listened sometimes. This will help both to you and your interlocutor to more easily focus.

Other times

  • Finish your works. A half-finished work may stay in your brain also out of work time and negatively affects your focus.
  • (As possible) Do what you like, give up what you hate and boring things. In a boring work, you can not focus optimally and this situation also affects your overall focus performance (IMHO).
  • Train yourself to focus. You can perform little focusing exercises in your waste time, on going etc.
share|improve this answer
+1 for "finish your works" – Abid Rahman K Jan 13 '13 at 5:03
I see several edits in this answer, repeating one item is part of the answer? (repetita juvant :D) – spocchio Nov 19 '13 at 18:54
"Focus on the main subject instead of the words" - I have to be careful with this point. I start thinking about something related and then my mind is focused on that and has tuned out of what someone is saying – Adam-E Jan 4 '14 at 16:47

Emotions are the cause of failure of our intelligence --Jose Antonia marina

Observing our emotions is as important as observing our thoughts --Tolle

1) As you exercise to keep your body in shape in same way you have to exercise to keep your mind in shape.

2) Are your emotions in control while listening? (it seems not in control that is why you may be facing this problem) maybe you are overwhelmed, maybe you are suffering from some lack of confidence, self esteem issues , lack of interest or maybe other things. what you need to do is to find out what is disturbing you get rid of disturbance. maybe talking to a one particular person you lose confidence , find out why. In short try to find the source of the emotional outburst if any and try to solve the problem.

3) maybe you have lot of things on your mind to do. do it and clear your mind. try to write all the things down you need to do, that will definitely be a help.

4) start meditation that will automatically lead to better concentration.

5) if not doing try some jogging in the morning for about 20 minutes per day which will automatically energies you and will speed up the blood flow in you body which will automatically bring you in the better frame of mind.

6) before talking to someone breadth i.e inhale and exhale from your nose 20 times that will automatically control your breathing. do this breathing exercise for about 20 minutes per day. it is very important to keep breathing under control for quality of life.

7) try to listen to some intelligent and informative talkshows on bbc or some documentaries on discovery etc and try to recall what is being said afterwards. try to write it down.

try to follow what is relevant to you and see how it goes.

share|improve this answer

Focusing on bodily sensations has helped me avoid drifting off in a conversation. Whenever I feel like I'm not paying full attention in a conversation, I try to be mindful of the sensory input to my body, my feet in particular. This can be summarised as Remember Your Feet.

Mindfulness meditation techniques help train this, doing body scan meditation in particular. A good place to start is this 3-minute audio clip (see bottom of table) for guided body scan meditation.

share|improve this answer

There are many good methods, some of which are listed here.

I will add two things that connect to the main theme already established here: Using your mind actively.

Create 'Subtitles' of what you are hearing, inside your mind

This is an invention of mine, that works surprisingly well when I'm listening to lectures and need to retain a lot of that information.

Inside my mind, I conjure up 'subtitles' of the sentances that are spoken by the person I am listening to.

Just like when you're watching a subtitled movie, I "see" the sentances in my mind's eye as an overlay on what I'm seeing in the real world. I can make certain important bits, like figures or keywords, BIGGER or maybe colored in different hues. This method makes you connect more precisely to the exact words that are being spoken, and you make both a visual and an auditory connection to what's being said.

Create 'Infographics' or images of what you are hearing, inside your mind

Similarly to the above, you are translating auditory information to visual information, but this time you are creating a much more graphical interpretation. Let's say you're hearing a story about trade routes between the EU and North America. Picture a world map and create an animated "infographic" inside your mind. Imagine arrows of different colors forming, or goods being moved. Try to make it as "fun" and appealing to you as possible. Let's say you're hearing a story about oil prices being dumped the last six months. Imagine an animation of the months rolling by, as more and more oil barrels are dropping down and knocking each other as the price stays the same.

You may also want to make very vivid and "funny" images to increase your retention rate. This is one of the techniques used by masters to win memory competitions. Try to mix in as many personal and crazy things in there as possible, like your auntie being chased and swallowed by a oil monster with three heads and five teeth as the symbol of $35 USD/barrel.

share|improve this answer

Chew gum.

Seriously, it helps. It kept me awake during lectures (which are done in warm, dim lit halls - the perfect sleeping conditions). Keeps your mind awake. My attention span has grown exponentially, thanks to chewing gym.

Silly advice, but I am being serious.

Good luck.

share|improve this answer

I always doodle when I'm listening to something important on the phone. Then, years ago, I read somewhere that a study showed that doodling helps focusing. They even recommended doodling during lectures and seminars.

Try and see if it works for you too. And it's fun. Just remember that there are no rules to doodle.

share|improve this answer

You need to listen all the words what the talking person is saying. You can use your mind as a filter. You can filter what you need. you just ignore what you need not.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to Personal Productivity! I don't really see how this would avoid one's mind wandering off. Can you please elaborate? – THelper Feb 16 '15 at 8:47

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.