Topic: Focus and Concentration


Quick tips to improve focus and concentration

 1. Your Health Habits

  • Eat regularly to maintain adequate levels of glucose in your brain
  • Sleep enough to maintain regular body rhythms and enable you to feel rested and alert
  • Exercise to reduce restlessness, manage stress and feel good. Getting fresh air before class or a study period will help wake you up and increase your level of alertness.

2. Motivation

  • Connect your present activity to your short-term and long-term goals. “Keep your eye on the prize”.
  • Set a specific target in terms of time spent on the current activity, or amount of work to be completed
  • Do your work before your play. Build in a reward for successfully reaching your goal: a coffee, chat, walk, or something you enjoy that you must earn before you have it.

3. Study Habits

  • Develop a routine place, time, and pattern to your study sessions
  • Blocks of study time (2+ hours each) divided into 30-50 minute periods with a short break (5-10 minutes) are effective.
  • Try varying the subjects you are studying or activities required in each long study session.
  • Break up large projects into manageable sections. Congratulate yourself for completing individual sections.
  • Whenever possible schedule your most challenging work during your personal best learning time. “Do the hard stuff first, and the easy stuff will take care of itself”.

4. Getting Started

  • Keep all necessary supplies close at hand to avoid endless set-up time and distractions.
  • Try the “5 More Rule”. Commit to working solidly for 5 (minutes, pages, sentences…) and then Do It…and then intentionally decide to work another “5 More” or not.
  • Start each work session with 10 minutes of review of the most recent material. This reinforces previous learning and boosts your confidence

5. Concentrating in Lectures

  • Reduce distractions: Get to class in time to pick your best seat…close to front, off to one side or near to/far from a window… whatever works
  • Stay awake: Take notes during the lecture, or add to notes from the web or manual
  • Use a code in your notes to mark things you don’t understand (eg. use a  ? or highlight text in red), or mark things the lecturer said were really important (eg. with an **, or highlight text in green)
  • If the lecture is a double class, try to get some fresh air on the break
  • Engage your mind. Actively participate in class and use your brain more actively:
      • offer your opinion
      • think about how the material relates to what was recently covered in lectures or readings
      • try to anticipate what direction the professor might go in
      • ask questions related to the material being presented, out loud or in your mind.

6. Controlling Distractions

  • Work within your personal limits of staying focused, and gradually expand the limit. “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” (Lao Tzu).
  • When worrying thoughts come into your mind during class or while studying, record them on your “distraction pad”:
      • jot thoughts on a slip of paper and put it in your pocket, to be dealt with later. Say to yourself “I’ll get back to you later” and return to your target activity.
      • if the thoughts aren’t important, just let them pass through your mind.
      • at a designated time of day when you have 15-30 minutes of uninterrupted time, look over your day’s concerns and decide if there is anything you need or want to deal with. Is the worry still relevant? Are there patterns to your worrying thoughts? Anything you need to settle? If so, talk to someone or solve the issue. You may have really great thoughts about another paper you are writing, that just came to you at the wrong time.

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Photo courtesy of Mark Hunter under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No-Derivations 2.0 license.