If you are like me, you will find yourself spending hours making the perfect timetable, wishing to study. You will try to keep yourself away from all distractions, even going to the extent of installing Apps on your phone to block other apps so that you don’t get distracted. But when the time comes to execute the plan, you will find yourself procrastinating. It is not because of the lack of will to study, but because of the lack of focus. If you can relate to every word above, then read on because this article is just for you.
What is concentration and why do we need to focus while studying?
Before we begin, it’s important to discuss what exactly does it mean to concentrate.
So here’s the dictionary meaning of concentration – ‘the action or power of focusing all one’s attention’. But concentrating on studies requires a lot more than just that. You require the ability to direct your attention in accordance with your will. It means having a total control of your attention. In these times of shorter attention spans, most of us lack the ability to focus the mind on one subject, object or thought. We need to develop the ability to exclude the mind from every other unrelated thought, ideas, feelings and sensations.
But the question arises why is it so important to focus while studying? Concentration is important because it is the gateway to all thinking- memory, perception, problem solving, critical thinking, learning and so on. So it goes without saying that without focus, you won’t be half as effective. You will be distracted and your mind will not be able to perform all of the above-mentioned tasks effectively and with as much efficiency.
Why can’t I focus on my studies?
If the ability to focus or concentrate is so integral to us, then you must be questioning as to why you can’t focus naturally? What are those forces that are keeping you from concentrating on your work? Well, here are some of the reasons why you can’t concentrate on your studies:
You are not getting enough sleep
There’s a reason why we spend a quarter of our lives sleeping. Sleep is essential for the effective functioning of our mind and body. It helps us recharge, gives the brain a chance to exercise neuronal connections and gives our body time to repair muscles and replace chemicals.
A research at Harvard identified how sleep helps with focus and memory. It suggests that there are three parts of learning – Acquisition of new knowledge and consolidation of the same in our mind and recall of the information whenever we need to access that memory. While acquisition and recall can only happen while we are awake, good amount of sleep is needed to consolidate whatever we learn into our memory. Not only this, sleep affects how well we learn even when we are awake.
Without adequate sleep and rest, overworked neurons can not coordinate information properly, and we end up losing our ability to access the previously learned information. You find it very challenging to stay directed on anything because your brain is not only tired, but also chaotic. When your mind hasn’t had the necessary time it needs to prepare for another full day of work, it is torn between the task at hand, and aching to shut down.
You are surrounded by distractions
If you are surrounded by your phone, or television, or even a good old novel for that matter, you find it hard to focus on the task at hand. You hear the phone beep, and rush to pick it up.
A research by former psychologist from King’s College, London University, revealed that workers who were constantly distracted by phone calls and emails performed 10% lower in exams than their IQ predicted.
Does it happen to you as well? One notification takes you to a post on Instagram and you continue to scroll from one post to another without realising the amount of time you have lost in the process. Sometimes, putting away distractions is the only choice to help you focus better.
You haven’t made a good plan
A plan is essential if you want to focus on studies. When you have a lot of tasks to accomplish, it can get a bit daunting. You may not know where to start and how to start. This makes you procrastinate and not focus on the task at hand.
Just creating a simple checklist or a to-do-list of all the things you want to study will improve your focus and striking off each task from the list can fuel you to accomplish the next one.
You are studying in a messy environment
Are you studying in a cluttered and messy environment? Is your study table crowded with a lot of books, unwashed coffee mug and tangled earphones? If yes, then this may be one of the reasons for your lack of focus/concentration on your work.
Disorder and clutter may not bother you, but it can still prove to be a diversion for your mind. And whether your table is filled with toys or wrappers and soda bottles, the final outcome is the same: your mind has something else to focus on other than the task at hand. So, clean it up. It doesn’t have to be spotless and pristine. But it is very important to give yourself, and your brain, the ability to easily focus on just one thing at a time.
You are way too stressed
It’s obvious that stress isn’t good for your body or mind. But in the competitive world that we live in today, it becomes increasingly hard to dodge a bullet of stress and anxiety. You may not be able to stop yourself from worrying about the exams or about finishing the syllabus on time, but you can find ways to manage your stress.
Yoga, meditation, more sleep, better food, and more time off, are all ways to help reduce the stresses in our lives. With less stress and less anxiety, we are able to focus on learning and studying better. And if we can focus more, we get more accomplished in the same amount of time.
What do you need to concentrate better on studies?
Before we move on to the various techniques to improve your focus, it is important that we establish a few pre-requisites or essentials for better concentration/focus. As we have already discussed the various reasons why you are not able to focus, it becomes obvious that eliminating those factors will improve your focus.
As discussed above, a cluttered and messy environment can draw your attention to other things and prevent you from focusing on the current task. If you surround yourself with distractions, be it your phone, other electronic gadgets or people constantly talking around you, you could find it increasingly difficult to focus on studying. Hence, a peaceful environment is one of the prerequisites to focus and get work done. So the next time you sit to study, make sure that you sit in a peaceful environment, away from any sort of distraction.
Finding the right time according to your body
Different people may have different timings when their body and mind function at their peak, hence proving to be most fruitful. You may be a morning person or a night owl. There is no best time to study. Some people may wake up with a lot of energy, making them focus better during the morning hours, while some may find it easier to stay up late at night and study rather than waking up early in the morning.
So, try out different timings and experiment for a few days. And once you discover the most productive timing for you to study, stick to that timing to maximise your productivity.
I cannot stress enough on the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Most of us aren’t getting enough sleep, exercise and aren’t eating the right food. This, in turn, has a negative impact on our ability to concentrate on studies. Exercise drives brain growth, boosts hormones, fights anxiety and depression, reduces stress, and even increases responsiveness to insulin.
All of these are factors that can affect our focus and concentration on the work that we do. So, get some exercise. Even if you start slow, by taking the stairs every day instead of the elevator, you are doing yourself good.
How can I improve my concentration and focus?
Now that you’ve the basics sorted, let’s move on to some specific steps that you should follow to concentrate better whenever you sit down to study.
Make your study time table
Nothing hurts our ability to concentrate more than having multiple things running in our mind when we sit down to study. Do you sit down to study and suddenly remember something important that you were supposed to do? To avoid this, you need to set a routine for everything. Your timetable should ideally be for a week. This must include the time you should spend on study, go to sleep, time for meals, time for leisure and so on. There is no hard and fast rule here. You can allow yourself some flexibility depending on what works for you. But the important thing is to try to stick to your study time table as best as you can and not letting any other task take your mind space when you sit down to study.
Create a distraction sheet
The next step is to actually start studying. As the practice session, take as little as 25 minutes of your time where you are alone and comfortable in your room to study. Keep your phone, laptop and all other distractions outside. As this is your first session pick your favourite subject to study. Take your book, pen, marker, timer and also a distraction sheet.
When you are ready to begin, switch the timer on. Now read actively, read aloud, jot down important points, shut the book, ask questions, try to see if you can remember what you just studied and highlight important points.
Now while studying, if some distractive thoughts come to your mind, just write it down in the distraction sheet and start studying again. Promise yourself you will attend to the distractions once your focussing session is over. After 25min, switch off the timer and step outside the room to take a break.
Take regular breaks
When trying to build your concentration power, it’s very important to stay patient with yourself and not expect your ability to focus to develop magically. Here’s how you can work on it slowly without overwhelming yourself.
Take a 10-minute break after every study session. The first day after 25 minutes of study take a break of 10 minutes. Increase the duration of the study to 50 minutes and a break of 10 minutes. Taking regular breaks not only relaxes you but also restores your concentration. During your break, you can go through the distraction sheet, go out for a walk, listen to music and so on.
Practice mindfulness throughout the day
Concentrating on studies isn’t just about the studies only. It’s about forming a habit of staying mindful always. Mindfulness is simply focussing completely on what you’re doing. A mindful person is able to back against distractions as they arise. For example, if you’re drinking a glass of juice, just drink and enjoy it. Don’t try to play with your phone. By doing so, your mind starts getting trained to focus on the activity you are taking part in.
The rule is to do one thing at a time and focus completely. If you are studying and you feel the restless urge to do something else, think to yourself ‘’ Be here now’’. At that moment, bring your awareness to your body and your breath. You will notice that the distraction is no longer present and you are at your work.
Prepare your mind before you study
It is very important to be able to zone in and get into the right mindset to study properly. That’s why some people recommend having a pre-study ritual where you set your desk to prepare your mind to study.
Another way to prepare your mind is to simply take a minute or two to sit in a comfortable position and breath deeply. Let your body calm down before you start to study. Research has shown that 10 to 20 minutes of meditation will do the trick. You can see the improvement in your attention levels after just 4 days. So, start your morning off by just concentrating on your breath.
Eat the right kind of food
Eat brain food such as blueberries, leafy green vegetables, oily fish, flax seeds, etc to improve your focus and retention power. I cannot stress enough on the importance of staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water. You can also take various boosters or supplements available in the market to improve focus and concentration.
Bonus Section – How to study for long hours without feeling sleepy at night?
While we don’t recommend skipping on your sleep to study, there are times when you simply don’t have an option. What do you do then? How do you concentrate on studying at night when your eyes are tired and heavy with sleep? Here are a few hacks that may help you!
Chew gum or eat a mint:
Having something to occupy your mouth may help you get through the night. Mint gum or candies can enhance your mood and increase attentiveness. Chewing gum will help you stay alert. Keeping a small bottle of peppermint oil closeby can also improve your focus and concentration power.
Have a snack at regular intervals
Studying all night will requires a lot of energy. Taking small bites if snack every 2 hours will provide your body and mind with the energy it needs to function effectively. Eat something light and rich in proteins like cheese or dark chocolate.
Take a power nap
Sometimes, you will have to steal naps, if you can’t get it through the night the legitimate way. Taking short naps at regular intervals will not only help you get through the night, but also boost your memory, creativity, mood, alertness, and cognitive performance. Taking naps for as short as 20 minutes can make a huge difference and help you become more productive while studying.
Eat light and stay away from greasy meals
Heavy meals tend to make us lazy and lethargic, often putting us to sleep. Heavy foods redirect blood away from your brain to aid in digestion. So, eating heavy meals is not a good idea if you have to pull an overnighter. Also, stay hydrated to optimise your energy level.
So now that you know how to focus on your studies, what’s holding you back? Start studying right now, without wasting any more time surfing the internet. Happy studying!