blank'/> A LITTLE BIT OF LACQUER: How to Focus

September 11, 2015

How to Focus

Other than actual study tips and strategies, one of the questions I get pretty often is how to actually stay focused when trying to study. I think a lot of what I have to say will sound repetitive to any of you who have read my advice before, but it really boils down to a lot of the same concepts - organize your tasks, organize your space, and organize your thoughts!

image via.

Focus on one thing at a time.
Nothing makes us lose our focus more than trying to do more than one thing at a time. Now, it is smart to plan your block of time most efficiently (and maybe one thing will be "cooking" while you work on another, see below) but for the most part all of your focus should be on one thing and one thing only. Make a list of what needs to get done, decide what you're going to work on now, and once you do, forget everything else on that list. When our minds are scattered we can't think clearly - ever find yourself reading the same page over and over again because you keep "reading" it while thinking about the other assignment you have due or what you're going to wear tonight? If it needs to get done, add it to the list so you won't forget it, but then remove it from your thoughts entirely.

Plan your block of time.
Having a good list will help you know what needs to get done and help prepare to complete it all in the most efficient way possible. Maybe you've got to bake a cake, export files to a hard drive, and prepare a power point presentation. Sure you can work on the presentation for two hours, and then export the files over the hour it takes, and then bake the cake and let it cool (and spend four or more hours doing it in that order). Or, you could get the cake together and throw it in the oven, start your file export, and work on your presentation while your files are exporting and the cake is baking and cooling. And get it all done in more like 2 and a half hours. A super simple and obvious example, but I hope it illustrates the point that with a little planning you can make better use of your time, still focusing on one main thing (the presentation) but allowing for the other time consuming tasks to still get done in the background. There is a limit to this multitasking of course, so don't try to do too much or else you will end up losing focus!

Work in an inspirational space.
I've said this before, but nothing like an inspirational space to help you focus. For some this is a quiet corner in the library, for others it's a busy cafe. And still others can work pretty much anywhere with a set of headphones and be able to focus (see below for one way to do this). Find what works for you, and realize that this may change - sometimes all the "inspiration" you need is a change of scenery! A clean table is always best, so try and eliminate as much clutter from around you as possible (I'm a true believer in decluttered space = decluttered mind)!

Eliminate distractions.
I've mentioned the self control app previously, and this handy computer plug in allows you to make certain websites completely inaccessible for a designated period of time. Unfortunately I don't think it's compatible with the newer Mac updates (or at least the reviews since have been poor) so I have not used it - instead I have been able to focus just using white noise! For those that would like an app like this, there are a few other options you can read about here (sadly I can't weigh in on any as I haven't used them myself).



So to what I use currently - I just have the simply noise website in easy reach on my bookmarks bar - there are many white noise apps you can download on your phone but I like this website because it means I can keep my phone away from me while I'm working (and eliminate the temptation to check Instagram or Twitter). My favorite setting is the pink noise on oscillation - sounds just like waves crashing. I'll plug in my headphones and listen to this while I work and really be able to focus. Some people swear by actual white noise machines, but I find these are best for keeping in your own office space if you have one or in the bedroom for sleep, not so much for on the go (although this one is so small that some of the reviewers do mention taking it traveling with them)! Find what works for you - some people would rather listen to a 2 hour rain forest sounds loop on YouTube or classical music, or even hip hop music. Careful though, if you find yourself singing along you likely aren't focusing as well on your task as you could be (unless that task doesn't require much thought).

I also like to enter full screen mode for whatever I'm working on and really visually focusing on only one thing at a time. I also make sure to turn off any notifications that would otherwise pop up (messages on my mac, new email notifications, etc).

Set a timer.
Starting is always the hardest part. To force myself to get to work, sometimes I will set a timer, even for only 10 minutes, and say, ok, for these 10 minutes I will do absolutely nothing but focus on this task. Although 10 minutes doesn't sound like much, it's enough to get started, and once you're actually working you can continue on. Some people like to continue working this way and work in focused chunks of 20 or 30 minutes at a time, taking a quick break to do their other distracting tasks that they put off while they worked. I prefer just using the timer technique for forcing myself to get started, and then I'll usually just keep working.

Take a small break.
Sometimes you just need to take a little break to get the brain juices flowing again. Especially if I'm working late at night (and at home), I love to take a shower and have a snack (usually something high protein like peanut butter and granola), then get back to work. Some things that work for other people include going out for a quick walk or run (fresh air does wonders) or even taking a music dance break (switching from your white noise to some crazy dance inducing/motivating tunes for a couple of songs).

Take a big break (ie, take a little time to find your purpose).
Sometimes, you need a big break. Like a vacation kind of break. Especially when work becomes so crazy and it feels like you've lost control of your own schedule and you just don't even know what you're working for... a break like this is sometimes exactly what you need. A big break doesn't have to be a vacation, it can even just be a day you take for yourself and try to remind yourself what your motivations really are in the first place. Maybe it means volunteering in the hospital, or visiting family, or even shopping, whatever it may be, that's what you should do.

I hope this post can help some of you find a little bit more focus when you work! 

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing these! I've been trying to find ways to focus better and motivate myself now that I'm starting grad school. It's tough when I'm used to having free time and doing things besides studying!

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  3. Great advice Laura! I need to get back on the study game for Step 2, and it has been so hard after a few months of audition electives and ERAS stuff. Thanks for the tips <3

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  4. Really great advice! It's so important to stay as focused as possible in university. I really like using a timer to really keep myself focused and motivate myself to get started. Thanks for the inspiration!

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