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How to maintain your focus

By Winnie Cheng, 2nd-year Nursing AST student

In the world of smartphones attached to your hand and the use of laptops in all your classes, I was really struggling with my focus while studying and in class. I was constantly distracted by the buzz of a text or the habitual checking of Facebook every 30 seconds. In a 50 minute class, I spent more time checking my notifications and newsfeed than paying attention to what the prof had to say!

So I wanted to share a couple of tips and tools that helped me focus on the task at hand, whatever it was (writing an essay, reviewing notes, studying for that upcoming midterm).

Stop multitasking!

We often multitask because we think it helps us get more things done faster, but in reality, we aren’t able to focus on many things at once. Our brains can only focus on one task at once, and when we multi-task, we are breaking our focus every few minutes. This means we don’t get much of anything done! So stop trying to get 5 things done at the same time and instead do each thing, one at a time. You might find yourself getting much more done!

Use progressive training to improve your focus

PLAs like to recommend the 50/10 rule, where you work for 50 minutes and then allow yourself to have a 10 minute break, but I find that I have trouble settling down for 50 full minutes. So instead, I like to use a Pomodoro Timer that follows a 25/5 rule. For 25 minutes, my computer blocks all social media sites so that I can check my Instagram, Facebook or watch Youtube videos. After 25 minutes, an alarm goes off that tells me the time is over, and that I have 5 minutes of ‘break time’. I can then click on a 5 minute timer which unblocks my social media sites and rings off at the end of the 5 minutes to remind me to go back to work. If even 25 minutes seems too tedious, you can start even smaller. Commit just 15 minutes to work (no distractions, no cellphones) and slowly work your way up to longer times.

Use RescueTime to help you keep track of how much time you actually waste

If you need more motivation to help you cut down on distracting internet-surfing, try using RescueTime, a Google Chrome extension app that gives you weekly updates about how productive you were with your time. It shows you how many hours a week you spend on social media. When I first started using this extension, I was pretty shocked to see that I was spending almost 16 hours every week on distracting sites. That’s almost a full day (if I were to spend the other 8 hours sleeping)!

Put your phone to silent (turn off vibrate as well!) when you’re in class or studying

We’re all attached to our smartphones these days and we know that when we don’t’ want to listen to the professor in class, we tend to turn to our smartphones to check our Instagram, send a bored Snapchat or reply to texts. Turn your phone to silent and turn off vibrate as well and put it in your bag so you’re not tempted to check it every so often. You may be surprised at how much more information you’ll be able to absorb in class

Turn off wifi when you’re in class

Along the same lines, turning off your wifi on your computer when you’re in class will hopefully make you less likely to check your Facebook newsfeed when you’re in class. Without wifi, you’ll be more likely to pay attention to what the professor is saying and take notes instead. (Added bonus is that turning off your wifi extends your computer’s battery life!) Alternatively, if your professor uploads slides before class, try printing them off and handwriting your notes instead. Research has shown that you remember things better when you handwrite your notes!

See Focus and Concentration for much more info.

Happy midterm studying!

Photo courtesy of Irfan Johanda under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.