How to Stay Focused While Studying

May 26, 2021

Find it hard to focus when you’re studying?  You’re not alone.

There are so many distractions these days: text messages, videos, email and social media.

Not to mention your own wandering mind.

Whether you’re a veteran student getting a Ph.D. or someone starting high school, figuring out how to stay focused while studying is a challenge that we all face.

Learning remotely and losing the motivation and pressure that comes with in-person learning and contact has left many of us fighting off the internet like never before. This post shares research-backed tips on how to stay focused while studying.  So let’s dig in!

1. Find a suitable environment.

Finding where you work best is an essential part of any successful studying session.  A library, a coffee shop etc… Whatever your background noise preference, it’s important that your study spot has a few things:

  • Flat, clear, surface – with sufficient space
  • Outlets – nearby power sockets to charge laptop
  • Comfortable seating – sitting in an upright position
  • Also don’t study in bed!

2. Create a study ritual.

it’s important to create a routine to help you find your flow and focus. A good place to start is having a pre-study ritual that involves some of the following things:

  • Clearing your desk
  • Closing your door
  • Grabbing all essential materials
  • Putting on some headphones
  • Creating a to-do list

3. Divide up + space out study sessions.

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information to learn for an exam.  Most of the stress associated with studying is a result of poor planning and time management that leads to stressful cramming the night before.

Research has shown that dividing your studying into multiple, spaced out sessions greatly improves retention over time.  It’s also a lot easier to maintain focus for 30 minutes at a time, rather than for an eight-hour cramming session.

4. Schedule downtime / exercise.

It’s important that you schedule downtime into your study sessions. Self-control and mental energy are finite resources that will finally run out as the day goes on.  Also, having a small reward to look forward to at the end of each session can help you stay motivated.

Studies have shown that regular exercise benefits not only your body, but also your brain in the following ways:

  • Short-term exercise can improve your focus for up to two to three hours by increasing blood flow to the brain.
  • Improved mood and sleep.
  • Reduced stress and anxiety.
  • In the long term, exercise has even been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and slow the process of brain aging.

5. Block distracting websites + apps on your phone, tablet, and computer.

For the majority of us, distracting websites and apps can be the death of any productive, focused studying session.  You sit down to study and before you can even begin, you get a notification or a headline catches your eye. 

Seemingly small distractions like these quickly steal minutes and then hours. On average, it takes 23 minutes to refocus on your work once interrupted.

Luckily, using a site blocker like Freedom can make all the difference. Freedom allows you to temporarily block distracting sites and apps across your Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Chromebook, and Linux devices. These are the following benefits:

  • Select what sites or apps you want to block while studying and on which device and for how long.
  • You can even schedule recurring blocks that align with your scheduled study sessions to help make focusing a habit.

6. Focus on skills, not grades.

According to some research, one of the most common mistakes students make is to focus on grades more than skills and learning.  

At the end of the day the purpose of education is about equipping students with the skills and knowledge to contribute more effectively in the real world.

Furthermore, remembering to focus on the learning rather than a grade can help reduce some of the distracting stress and pressure surrounding studying.

7. Regular reviews.

Taking five minutes at the end of every week, (month or year,) to review your habits, routines, and progress can help you spot patterns in your workflow and gives you a chance to spot inefficiencies, adapt your habits, and optimize your workflow.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Learning styles

In addition to these studying tips, there is further advice on different ways to learn depending on which learning style is most beneficial for you.

The seven learning styles according to Harvard Professor Howard Gardner are:

Visual learners

Getting creative with your revision notes and creating colourful posters with information you need to understand and memorise and displaying these posters around your study space.

Aural learners

If you’re an aural learner, try playing non-distracting music in the background whilst studying.  

In addition to this, creating raps, poetry and songs to remember key information which you can recite back to yourself, in your head, during exam season.

Verbal learners

This style benefits from home learning as students can write easily without distraction. World leaders are making almost daily speeches at the moment, addressing the nation with the latest on the pandemic, so use this time to study how key spokespeople are delivering speeches.

Physical learner

We suggest physical learners should use their hands as much as possible. Need to learn and understand how something works, such as an atom, why not make a model of it? 

Use outdoor space to learn too, for example, if studying for a Geography exam on footpath erosion – take a walk in the countryside to immerse yourself in physically learning about this subject.

Logical learner

Numbers, recognising patterns and mathematical reasoning is your forte so make the most out of online information systems, such as Microsoft Excel and Google Spreadsheets, to maximise your learning. 

Use your personal learning space at home whilst you can – invest in a large whiteboard so you can create systems and logical patterns at your will.

Social learner

These learners are likely to struggle the most whilst learning in lockdown. It is recommended they use face-to-face calls as much as possible, software such as Skype and Zoom make group learning from a distance much easier. 

Using a shared drive is a great way of managing group projects.  Also recommended is for social learners to log on to face-to-face calls for social reasons throughout the week too, even a five-minute chat or Zoom call through a lunch break can support social learners.

Solitary learner

For solitary students now is the time to make the most out of individual learning by cracking on with more difficult tasks. As someone who can make the most out of solitary learning, now would be a great time to share tips and thoughts on how to get the most out of this style of learning with your peers.

Summary:

To conclude, there are a various number of ways to stay focused while studying.  Which method is most beneficial depends on what kind of learner you are and also what your biggest distraction is. 

I hope these tips on how to stay focused while studying have been helpful.  If you need any further advice on career choices or one to one coaching please contact us at graduate coach.

Useful links:

Written by Daniel Power
Featured image by: Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

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