Study well tips #4 – Seven steps to finding your focus

Study well tips #4 – Seven steps to finding your focus

Learning is part art, part science, and a large part perseverance but there are some well-known tips and tricks that can make it a lot easier. Here are seven of my favourites:

1. 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. If you are working on your personal device, set up a separate desktop for when you are working from when you want to unwind and play so that you can hide any games and other distractions somewhere where they will not tempt you away from your work. Making sure you have antivirus software running on your device is also important to avoiding any unwanted file corruption and other problems.

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 headphones or in-ear buds will help. Noise-cancelling earplugs are also often available from the Library for anyone who really hates excess noise.

3. Visualise the end at the beginning

Begin with the end in mind – the joy of submission, the reward of successful completion, whatever matters most to you. It is tremendously motivating, and visualising what you are working to produce helps shape what you are producing.

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! Given that you are likely to become less productive and capable as the day wears on, consider starting with the most challenging things you need to complete, move on to progressively less difficult things, and then finish off with routine activities such as laundry, reading non-critical emails, and so on.

6. Focus in

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, then focus in on one thing at a time 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 25-minute chunks separated by moving about or doing something entirely different in between, such as a craft or colouring exercise.  This particular 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 interrupting your flow to say “hello”. After all, they will all want the same when they are trying to focus. 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 tell you things that you need to know. Set aside a short period of time each day to check for important emails about changes to your taught sessions and assignments, recalled library books, and so on.  Anything not important can be ‘snoozed’ or just deleted. If you are getting a lot of unwanted emails from outside of the University for any reason, remember you can mark them as ‘spam’ and Google will try to filter them out before they reach your inbox.

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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