With the weather warming up and summer in the not-so-distant future, forcing yourself to focus on school work is harder than ever! As the school year draws to a close, it's time to buckle down and make it through the final push.
This week, we're going to share 7 useful tips to maintain focus and improve your concentration. The first five are short-term methods, while the last two are long-term methods. Read on to learn more about each one:
1. Quit trying to multitask
When you have a million things to do and a limited amount of time, it seems logical to try and accomplish multiple tasks at once. However, most people are incapable of actually performing tasks simultaneously, and instead force the brain to switch gears back and forth from task to task, resulting in overall lower efficiency.
Our short-term memory can only hold 5 to 9 items at once, which, if encoded, become part of our long-term memory. By bombarding yourself with information to process, you're incapable of storing as much information than if you had simply focused on the one task at hand before moving on to another.
2. "Chunk" your work
Big projects can be so daunting that it's tempting to procrastinate until the last minute before making any progress, which oftentimes results in work that is not reflective of your true capabilities. Break up large tasks, such as writing an essay or completing a problem set, into smaller, more manageable pieces that don't seem so intimidating.
When working, it's also helpful to set a timer for a predesignated amount of time you will spend on that particular project. Knowing that the end is in sight pushes you to work harder and more efficiently than an ambiguous or uncertain deadline.
3. Offer incentives
One of the best ways that I maintain focus is by providing myself with incentives. For example, I might decide that I can't go out with friends until I finish a certain amount of reading.
This method requires a bit of self-control, but if you can follow through with it, then you'll find it becomes much easier to maintain concentration when there is a specific reward waiting for you when you finish.
4. Create the right environment
Where you study is one of the biggest factors in concentration. It's very important to figure out what works for you. Are you easily distracted? Do you work better in your room or in a public space? Can you work efficiently alongside friends? Determine your personal needs, then find or adapt an environment to suit them.
Tips for creating a study-friendly environment:
Listen to study music. If you like to study in public places, but find that your concentration is easily broken by the conversations happening around you, consider using music as a way to drown out distractions. I personally like to listen to the "Classical for Studying" station on Pandora. I use it exclusively for studying, so simply turning it on helps me to get into the right mindset. I've also found that the lack of lyrics creates less of a distraction.
Keep only what you are working on in front of you. Even if you plan to knock out your English essay, problem set, and lab report all in the same time frame, keep only one project in front of you at a time and give it your undivided attention. Simply having other assignments in your line of sight invites your mind to wander and renders you less efficient.
Eliminate distractions (a.k.a. technology). Hands down, the biggest source of distraction in college students is technology, whether it's checking your phone every 20 seconds for a new text, checking up on your friends' social media accounts, or checking Forever 21's website to see if those cute new shoes are still on sale. You need to be aware of this. This brings me to my next point...
Keep your phone out of sight and on silent so that you are not as tempted to look at it. Laptops are more challenging: they are often needed to complete school assignments, but offer an abundance of easy opportunities to become distracted. Thankfully, there are several apps that allow you to block those websites that tempt you for a set amount of time. If you're a Mac user, try Self Control. If you use Chrome or Firefox, try StayFocusd or LeechBlock, respectively.
5. Take a break if you need to
If you reach a point where you are simply staring at the page and making no progress, recognize that it's okay to take a break. Give your mind a moment to regroup by getting up and moving for a moment or by switching tasks altogether and coming back to it later. Forcing yourself through the slump isn't always the most productive option when there are other tasks to be accomplished.
Engaging in aerobic exercise is a great way to boost your memory and concentration power, since it boosts the transport of oxygen to the brain, which improves functionality. In addition, a study done at the National Academy of the Sciences showed that aerobic exercise has the power to cause the generation of neurons in the hippocampus - the part of the brain responsible for memory - leading to increased concentration skills and sharper thinking ability.
7. Sleep is essential
Regularly getting a good night's sleep is crucial to maintaining your concentration. If you find that you are having trouble focusing on your work and didn't get enough shut-eye the night before, consider taking a power nap to give your brain the boost it needs to get back on track.
What do you think?
What tips and tricks do you use to stay focused? Will you be trying any of these methods? Let me know in the comments below!