Attention and concentration

What is Attention and Concentration?

Attention is the ability to focus on a task or subject and concentration is the ability to maintain this attention for a certain amount of time.

Why do we need attention and concentration in day to day life?

Attention and concentration is required to successfully complete a task and it is especially
important when doing new activities.
If your attention or concentration is impacted, you may have the following difficulties in your
everyday life:

  • Remembering information (if information is not initially ‘stored’ or ‘filed’ well in your
    brain, it is harder to recall later).
  • Maintaining attention when reading e.g. forgetting what you have read straight away.
  • Forgetting to complete familiar tasks properly e.g. forgetting to add milk to a cup of tea.
  • Being easily distracted e.g. by people talking around you or the TV in the background.
  • Not finishing a task that you have started.

What is involved in attention?


Time of day can affect alertness e.g. when you just wake up, or if you are feeling drowsy or unwell. If you are not alert things just don’t ‘register’. 

Common Difficulties: You may find that you don’t notice when someone says hello to you, or are slow to respond.  

Sustained attention

Often referred to as your ‘attention span’. This is the ability to maintain your attention, orconcentrate long enough to complete the task.

Common difficulties: It may be difficult for you to read large amounts of text and take in all of the information. You
may need prompts from another person to complete a task.

Selective attention

This is the ability to focus on the task you are doing and ignore surrounding distractions.

Common difficulties:
You may become easily distracted from a task if there is background noise e.g. the TV. – If you were having a conversation with a friend and someone next to you started talking, the extra noise may shift your attention from your own conversation.

Alternating or shifting attention

This is the ability to shift your attention from one task to another.

Common difficulties: When cooking, you may find it difficult to keep track of several things at once e.g. a saucepan on the stove and something in the oven. – Keeping track of 2-3 children in a busy playground.

Divided attention

This is the ability to attend to two or more activities at the same time. Often called ‘multi-tasking’.

Common difficulties: Doing the ironing while watching TV, multi-tasking at work, e.g. talking to a person, writing
an email or keeping track of the time to go to a meeting.