23+ wellbeing things. No. 14 – Seven steps to finding your focus

Dart scoring bulls-eye on dartboard1. Make yourself as comfortable as possible.

Sitting at a table that is not the right height for you or sitting on a chair that does not really fit the table at hand is just asking for stiffness and physical strain. A proper desk or comfortable height table and a (preferably adjustable) chair with good back support will allow you to study in comfort day after day. Good lighting, fresh air and sipping water continuously all helps as well.

2. Reduce distraction and clutter

Have only those things you need within sight. File everything else away in its proper place – within reach so you can find it without diverting your focus, just not right where you are looking so it tempts you to look away too soon.

The same goes for your computer. Change desktop or hide your games somewhere where they will not tempt you away from your work. Installing and updating antivirus software is also useful for avoiding any unwanted file corruption or unwanted intrusions. You can download antivirus software for free from leading providers, such as Sophos (https://home.sophos.com/en-us.aspx).

Noise can be almost as distracting as visual clutter.  Over-ear sound-cancelling headphones can really diminish distractions and allow you to listen to meditation soundtracks, music or podcasts – whatever lets you concentrate best – without distraction. Any sort of headphone or in-ear bud will help. If you do like silence, try wearing them and just don’t plug them in!

3. Visualise the end at the beginning

In order to begin any challenging task, you must begin with the end in mind – the joy of submission, the reward of successful completion, whatever matters most to you.

4. Find the fun

We learn most effectively when we are having fun. Allow your creativity and imagination to run riot. Play with the ideas. The final product might have to be written in an accepted formal academic style but the doodles, diagrams, mind maps and linking of ideas leading up to it certainly don’t.

5. Face what you most fear

You start the day as fresh as you are going to get. The first thing is when most people are most productive. For this reason, you should consider starting with the most challenging things you need to get done and break the back of them, then move onto less difficult things and finish off with routine activities (laundry, emails, etc.).

6. Focus in

Focus on one thing at a time, map the ‘big picture of that idea and make a note of gaps in your knowledge you need to come back to fill in later, and work in short, focused chunks.  Concentrate absolutely for as long as suits you – if you are in ‘flow’ and are being highly productive, keep going but otherwise, try working in highly focused 25-minute chunks and get up to think about and do something entirely different in between.  This working method is called the Pomodoro technique: you can find more about it here.

7. Go incognito

If you need to focus on work, go ‘offline’ on social media and put your phone on silent. This way, you can get some much-needed focus time in without all your bored friends being tempted to say “hello”. After all, they will all want the same when they are focusing in. Just remember to turn everything back on when you do want to relax so that others know you are there to chat!

8. Put aside a set time to read University emails

Email can be stressful, draining and boring, but emails from the University in particular sometimes contain really important information that you need to read. Set aside a short period of time at the end of your day to read emails that be important.  Anything not from the University and not potentially important can be left unread or allowed to slide into your archive. Don’t be afraid to mark emails that you really don’t want to see again as ‘spam’ to save your inbox overflowing.

9. Switch off

Remember the Duke of Wellington’s saying: “The work of the day, in the day.”  Do not worry about what was not done in the day just gone, just reprioritise and crack on with what’s most urgent tomorrow.  Be kind to yourself.  You deserve happiness and will perform better if you feel excited and engrossed by the puzzles in hand rather than blaming yourself for what you believe you ought to have done.  Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not yet here.  Enjoy yourself now and remember to switch off.  You need to recharge like everything does!

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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