Do you find it hard to focus when you’re studying?
There are so many distractions these days: text messages, videos, email and social media.
Not to mention your own wandering mind.
Over the years, I’ve taught many thousands of students how to study more effectively.
I’ve come up with this list of 20 tips and techniques to help you concentrate while studying.
(To get 5 additional tips, download the free PDF below.)
1. Use your phone camera or webcam to record yourself studying
This tip may sound strange, but it works.
Set up your webcam or your phone camera to record a video of yourself studying.
The idea is to create accountability.
Instead of having a friend check on your progress, you have a camera watching everything you do.
Knowing that you are being watched will remind you of your objective.
Just when you’re about to get distracted, you’ll remember that everything you’re doing is being recorded.
It’s a useful reminder to yourself that you’ve made a commitment to study.
2. Use Focusmate
If you want to take it to the next level, use Focusmate instead.
With Focusmate, you make a pre-commitment to study for a 50-minute period at least one day in advance.
You then get paired with a real-life accountability partner.
You must turn on your webcam during the 50-minute session. This means that you and your study partner can see and hear each other during the study session.
If you leave your desk without giving an explanation, your study partner can report you, and vice versa.
Similarly, if you don’t turn up to your study session or if you are late, your study partner can report you.
Non-compliance results in the system marking you down. If your score falls below a certain level, the system will eventually lock you out.
But if you keep your commitments and complete your study session, the system will reward you with points.
3. If you don’t feel like starting work, take 1 minute to prepare yourself mentally
Sometimes you may not even feel like getting to work.
When this happens, take a minute to prepare yourself mentally.
Set a timer for a minute and tell yourself that you’ll start work when the timer goes off.
By doing this, you’ll be much more likely to get to work at the end of the minute.
This is called an “implementation intention”.
Any time you signal to yourself an intention to do something, it makes it easier to begin that task.
In this case, the implementation intention is to set a timer for a minute before starting a study session, if you feel like procrastinating.
So, if you find it hard to motivate yourself to start studying, take a minute and prepare yourself mentally.
By doing this, you will eliminate the resistance you were experiencing.
4. Before your first study session of the day, create a plan for the day
Make the plan as detailed as possible.
There’s a good reason for this. You must be clear about what you’re going to achieve during each study session.
For example, “study science” is not a sufficiently detailed study plan.
Here’s an example of a plan with enough detail: “Read pages 25 to 32 of the science textbook and create a summary diagram.”
When you break a task down into detailed components, you will have a better idea as to whether it’s achievable within the specified study period.
Another advantage of creating a detailed plan is that it becomes easier to assess your progress.
If you’re halfway through your study period and you’ve already completed half of what you planned to achieve, you’ll know you’re on track.
A key part of studying effectively is setting specific tasks to work on during each study session.
5. Write down exactly why you want to study hard
Another way to stay focused when studying is to be clear about why you want to study hard in the first place.
Write down the reasons you want to study hard.
Keep the list handy so you can remind yourself of these reasons when you find yourself losing concentration.
For example, you might write down:
- “I want to become a more knowledgeable person.”
- “I want to become a more self-driven person.”
- “I want to cultivate the habit of always doing my best.”
- “I want to make the most of my educational opportunities and learn as much as I can.”
Try to focus on process-oriented reasons rather than outcome-oriented reasons.
Because outcomes are often beyond your control, whereas the process is always within your control.
For example, the outcome of getting A’s for all your subjects is, in some ways, beyond your control. But studying for a total of at least 2 hours every day is a process that is within your control.
Here’s another reason to focus on the process rather than on the outcome.
The outcome could be something that may only come to pass in the distant future.
On the other hand, the process is something you engage in every day.
It’s far more effective to measure the achievement of the process than the achievement of the outcome.
6. Keep track of all the tasks you’ve completed
Keep a record of all the tasks you complete each day.
This is important for two reasons.
Firstly, it allows you to monitor whether you are meeting the objectives set in your study plan.
If you are not meeting your objectives, you may have underestimated the time required for the tasks.
But if you are completing your tasks with time to spare, you may be able to set your targets higher.
Secondly, it’s important for your morale to see that you are making progress.
Studying is an activity where progress isn’t always easy to measure. But when you keep track of the tasks you have completed, you’ll be clearer about the progress you are making.
This will remind you that you have been productive, which will keep you motivated.
7. Put only the materials you need for your current task on your desk
The brain is able to process information more effectively in an uncluttered environment.
This is what researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute discovered.
As such, it’s a good idea to place on your desk only the items that you need to complete the task at hand. For example, this might consist of the assignment, a pen, a pencil, an eraser, and a calculator.
Make a list of what items you’ll need during your study session. Make sure you have only those items on your desk.
If your study area is disorganised, take a couple of minutes to tidy it up before you start work.
Having things neat and tidy has a calming effect on your mind and will help you to concentrate.
8. Get your brain ready by doing deep breathing exercises before each study session
Deep breathing exercises increase the ability of your mind to focus.
Researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience have studied the effect of breathing exercises on the body’s production of noradrenaline.
Noradrenaline functions as a neurotransmitter, which affects your concentration.
By regulating your breathing, you can optimise your levels of noradrenaline.
The researchers concluded that “there is a strong connection between breath-centred practices and a steadiness of mind”.
Here is a simple breathing exercise that will bring calm and focus to your mind before you study:
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose for 4 seconds.
- When you feel that your lungs are full of air, hold your breath for 2 seconds.
- Then slowly exhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
Do this exercise three times in succession before the start of every study session.
Try it out now to see how relaxed it makes you feel!
9. Don’t study in bed
Don’t try to do anything productive while lying or sitting in bed.
It’s important that the place where you study is not the same as the place where you sleep.
You won’t be able to study effectively in a place that you associate with relaxing or sleeping.
Also, if you study in bed you will either be lying down or sitting cross-legged.
Neither of these positions is conducive for maximal focus. These positions may even result in neckaches and backaches.
What’s more, you may end up taking unintended naps!
So do your work at a proper study desk, every single time – this is a good habit that every student should cultivate!
10. Adjust the temperature of your studying environment
Make sure the temperature where you are studying is optimal.
Researchers at Cornell University found some interesting results when office temperatures were raised from 20°C to 25°C (68°F to 77°F).
Typing errors fell by 44% and output increased by about 150%.
Most research shows that the temperature most conducive for working and studying is in the range of 22°C to 25°C (72°F to 77°F).
So if it’s possible for you to adjust the temperature of your studying environment, keep it within this range.
11. Write down exactly what you’re working on at the moment
Every time you begin a study session, write down the task that you’ll be working on.
Do this on a rough sheet of paper and leave it on your study desk. This way, it will serve as a constant reminder about what you should be doing at the moment.
Just as you need a detailed plan for the day (Tip #4), you also need a detailed plan for each study session.
For example, if you write down “Do math assignment” for the current study session, it’s not specific enough.
“Do math assignment, questions 1 to 3” is more specific, so you’re more likely to stay on task.
12. Tell your family your study schedule for the day
Post your study schedule on your bedroom door or on the fridge door in the kitchen.
This way, your family will know when they shouldn’t disturb you.
There’s another benefit to doing this. It also gives you a greater sense of accountability.
By making a pre-commitment to your family about when you’ll be studying, you’ll be more likely to stick to your study schedule.
All in all, this is a simple tip that will enable you to concentrate when you’re studying.
13. Put all of your digital devices in another room
This might seem like common sense, but I’m surprised how many of my coaching clients were not doing this before I started working with them.
The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” applies here.
Leave your tablet and phone in another room and put them on silent mode.
Minimising temptations is one of the keys to being productive.
In addition, even if you feel tempted to check your phone, you probably won’t do it because the effort required to walk to the other room is too great.
14. Use these two apps to eliminate digital distractions
The first app I recommend is Forest.
With this app, your study session “becomes” a tree.
At the beginning of the session, you plant the tree and it starts to grow. But if you close the app, the tree dies – and nobody wants their precious tree to die!
By using the app, you’ll have a more productive study session.
Of course, having your phone next to you while you study could be a distraction (as mentioned in the previous tip).
This means that you’ll need to be careful not to use your phone for anything else.
The second app you can use to remove digital distractions is Freedom.
You can schedule this app to block other apps such as YouTube, games, and social media to keep you on track.
15. Listen to classical music while studying
Listening to classical music is another way to help you focus when studying.
Dr. Masha Godkin, professor at Northcentral University, has researched the effects of music on our brains.
She found that classical music can take you from the beta brainwave state to the deeper alpha state, and even further to the theta state.
According to Dr. Godkin, the ability of music to stimulate both sides of the brain is why music helps you focus and also improves your memory.
Classical music with a fast tempo, such as Beethoven’s Für Elise, is effective in helping students to concentrate and remember more information.
16. If you don’t like classical music, listen to music/sounds from these two websites
If you don’t like classical music, try using Coffitivity instead.
Coffitivity simulates the sounds you would hear in a cafe to boost your creativity and brain function.
It’s designed based on research at the University of Chicago. This research shows that we think better and are more creative when there is a moderate level of background noise.
Alternatively, try listening to Brain.fm.
Brain.fm offers music engineered to help you achieve and sustain deep focus.
Personally, I use Brain.fm almost every day, and I’ve found it to be useful. By listening to Brain.fm, I’m able to stay focused for about 50% longer than before!
17. Use earphones or headphones while studying
If you intend to use Tips #15 or #16, then you’ll probably want to use earphones or headphones.
But even if you don’t want to listen to any type of music, using earphones or headphones is still a good way to improve your concentration while you study.
Because they insulate you from the outside world.
Using earphones or headphones is a signal to others that you are occupied.
This reduces the likelihood that others will interrupt your study session.
Wearing earphones or headphones will also remind yourself that you are in the middle of a study session.
18. Count how many study sessions you complete each day
There’s a saying that “what gets measured, gets done”. This principle applies to study sessions too.
Keep track of how many study sessions you complete each day.
This way, you’ll become more intentional about getting to work.
Let’s say that you typically study in blocks of 30 minutes.
Before you begin your first study session of the day, you might decide that your goal for the day is to do at least 3 sessions of 30 minutes each.
As the day goes by, count how many sessions you’ve completed.
By keeping score in this way, you’ll focus on the process of doing the work. As a result, you’ll get more work done!
19. When you feel as if you’re about to get distracted, write it down
It’s inevitable: From time to time, you’ll get distracted during your study sessions. So you need a strategy for dealing with these distractions.
Here’s a technique that works well.
Let’s say that you’re reading your science notes when you get the urge to check your text messages.
Instead of giving in to the temptation, write down on a rough sheet of paper: “Check text messages.”
Once you’ve done that, you’ll find that it’s easier to go back to studying.
During your next break, you can go ahead and do what you’ve listed on that rough sheet of paper. In this case, you can check your text messages.
Why is this technique effective?
Because instead of simply trying to resist the urge, you get to “take action” by writing down the distraction. In doing so, you’re acknowledging the urge without giving in to it.
This leaves you free to go back to what you were doing before – studying.
20. Set an end time for when you’ll stop studying each day
This might not be the advice you were expecting.
After all, shouldn’t you be trying to study for as many hours as you can every day?
No, because the idea is to study smart, not just hard.
Of course, you need to work hard. But it’s also essential to lead a balanced life.
So set a strict deadline, such as 9:30 pm, and make sure that you don’t do any work after that time.
This will give you time to wind down before going to bed. This means that you’ll be able to get those 8 hours of sleep that you need to optimise your academic performance.
There’s another advantage to setting a specific end time for when you’ll stop studying each day.
Clearly defined limits help you to concentrate on what you’re doing right now.
You won’t get distracted as often, because you know that you won’t stay up late to catch up on the time you’ve wasted because of procrastination.
You’ll learn more in less time, and you’ll get good grades too.
Staying focused while studying is something that all students struggle with.
But there are many things you can do to help you concentrate.
As described in this article, there are plenty of ways to harness the power of your mind and make it work with you, not against you.
So take at least several study tips from this article and work them into your routine, starting today.
If you do this, you’ll find that your study sessions will become more productive and enjoyable!
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