Tips for Staying Focused When You’re Studying
You sit down to study and then, before you know it, it’s 2am and you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos – sound familiar? Every student knows that staying focused can be a difficult task, often leading to hours spent at your desk and feeling like you haven’t got much to show for it.
There’s no quick fix to avoiding procrastination and remaining concentrated, but there are changes you can make to improve your focus and get your studying done more quickly as a result.
You need the right environment to properly focus – ever noticed how you’re far more productive working in the library than you are when studying at home? That’s because in the library you’re not around the same distractions that you would be in the comfort of your own room. From rogue housemates to electronic devices, there are plenty of things that can interrupt your study session.
Start by recognising the worst offenders when it comes to distractions, then work on eliminating these one at a time. If you’re guilty of checking your phone every five minutes (especially when it’s on silent) then turn it off until you’re finished, and consider studying away from home – somewhere that you know you won’t be disturbed.
Make a Study Playlist
Walk into any study space at university and you’ll notice that most of the people there are wearing headphones. Research has shown that listening to classical music can help improve attention and memory whilst learning, leading to the Mozart effect – a short-term improvement in performing certain mental tasks. If Mozart isn’t your first choice of study music, then any classical music works well for concentration because there aren’t any lyrics to distract you.
The likes of Spotify are full of study playlists and classical music, making it easy for you to experiment with different ones until you find what works for you. However, if you’re finding it difficult to focus with any music on, try listening to ambient sound instead – it will still block out any outside distractions without distracting you in the process.
Lock Your Browser
Apps like StayFocused and ColdTurkey allow you to block certain websites – like social media – so that you can still access the resources you need without being able to access the sites that will distract you. If you can’t face going cold turkey completely, you can start by setting a limit on how much time you spend on social media, or any other site that would normally distract you from studying.
Create a To-Do List
Sometimes when you sit to do some work, you can be overwhelmed by how much you have to do. After all, revision is an ongoing task and there are always deadlines to meet. A to-do list can help you prioritise tasks and keep track of anything that still needs completing.
It’s easy to worry about incomplete tasks, but by using a list, you can stop focusing on how much you have to do and instead concentrate on actually doing it.
Often, you’ll start losing focus when you’ve been studying for too long or have no incentive to finish a certain assignment. To avoid this, break your workload down into set tasks and assign yourself a reward for completing each one. This way, when your attention starts drifting, you can use the reward as an incentive to finish your work rather than leaving it for another day.
Instead of trying to do everything at once, focus on doing one thing well at a time. Multitasking pulls your focus in different directions and, in the end, none of the tasks will get your full attention. According to a 2009 study by Stanford University, students who identified themselves as media multitaskers performed poorly on tests analysing attention span, memory capacity, and ability to switch from one task to the next.
To combat the urge to multitask, consider making your study sessions task-based – with the aim of each one being to complete a specific task – rather than a long session where you aim to complete everything on your to-do list.
Follow the 5-More Rule
When you notice that you’re losing concentration, it’s easy to become frustrated and want to give up altogether – but try this technique before calling it quits on your revision or assignment.
When you start getting bored or losing focus, tell yourself that you’ll study for five more minutes and then you’ll take a break; when the time is up, aim for five more minutes, and so on. Staying focused for five minutes sounds a lot more achievable than convincing yourself to stay focused until you’re finished with all of your work.
It can be hard to focus on studying when you have other things on your mind. Whether it’s coping with homesickness or tips on getting organised at university, our blog is full of resources to help you make the most of your time as a student.