Need Help Focusing? Read on!

Alyssa Burris, Writer

It’s second semester! By now you are learning what does and does not help you to concentrate on your tasks. 

It’s difficult to get ahead when you can’t get started.

Author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James Clear states, brutally, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

Clear’s comment is brutal because it reminds us that doing the same thing, that isn’t working for us, every day and expecting different results begins to define the word: insanity. Or however that saying goes. It’s brutal because it reminds us that our current habits, the ones we are comfortable with are not effective and change requires, well, change.

And no one likes change because it requires work and there’s no guarantee that the work will actually help. You may have more work to do. Hard work. To take a new path or new actions, your time and behavior will feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable. And when the task itself may be the root of why we aren’t working, layer on top of that new behaviors, we can freeze up and avoid everything even what might be best for us.

And yet, this is an article about finding success. So let me refocus us. You’re reading because you know at some point, if you aren’t successful at focusing, at some point you will need to. An opportunity will come your way and you will want to focus. You will want to avoid distractions. You will want to find immediate success.

And that, my coug, is why you are going to read on.

Mr. Grimm, our Dean of Students, agreed with me, “the sooner you can figure out what works for you to focus on what you need to do, the better off you will be in the future. Many don’t learn what works for them until a few opportunities have passed them by. That’s unfortunate. Many even believe that when they care, when the opportunity is important enough, everything will just click into place. That’s a lot of trust to place in a brain process that hasn’t been disciplined. I’m not saying you can’t do it, or all is lost if you don’t. I’m saying, practice now so your habits will be ready and waiting for you in the future.”

Below are some suggestions, but they are, by no means, all there is. None of the below work for all people. You need to know yourself and be firm with your natural tendency to shy away from hard work. Buckle down. Be determined. And reward yourself as soon as you see a positive change.

Most effective focus tips for those who experience low motivation, scatter brain or, as I like to call mine: the squirrel on the wheel that never stops.

  1. Identify your learning style/list learning styles & how to know which one is yours. 
  2. Take notes as its kinesthetic nature slows down how fast your brain is running. In a sense, you train it to stay focused
  3. Use a planner or a calendar to keep up to date with your deadlines and due dates. Use a phone calendar app to remind you of dates. For those with ADHD, we can struggle with object permanence. If we don’t see it, it’s not there. So closed planners or calendars on a wall aren’t helpful. We can tend to not see them or see them so often that they disappear into common place for us. Phone reminders are best.
  4. Try studying in a new environment. Different parts of your room or house can help you feel like you are making progress. 
  5. Use the Pomodoro method so you train your brain to focus in 20-25 minutes chunks of time and then take a break. You train your brain to focus with the lure of a reward after. The Pomodoro method can be a no frills timer for 25 minutes, a cute online tomato timer, or even a YouTube video of Gryffindor’s study room or search Google for a Pomodoro lofi. 
  6. Remember that your brain is a muscle, and you need to work it out to get stronger. The first attempts to focus will be a mess. The book by James Clear suggests you set your focus bar low so you will have success and then build from there.
  7. Take breaks. Eat, sleep, drink water, get outside for fresh air and movement.
  8. Know what you need to do and by when. Then day by day, walk your tasks backwards to the starting date. 
  9. Create a brain dump list of everything you are thinking about, everything that is on your “to do” list. Then make smaller lists that exist either daily or weekly. 
  10. Create a brain dump to keep you seated at your place of work. Your brain will remember “have tos” that will encourage you to get out of your seat. A remember list will keep you focused and calm and you will know you won’t forget to do anything.
  11. Find a study with me YouTube video. Accountability is huge with those who need to focus and work and can’t.

So the above suggestions, you have probably heard before. Additionally, it can be rough because we’re not all in charge of our life so to find a quiet place, may not be an option. The suggestion to study before you’re exhausted, to those of us who have a job, is also maybe not a viable option. However, maybe not all is terrible or out of your control every day. So keep faith and maybe some days are better than others to focus.

Just know there is a whole community out there to support you and once you start Googling for suggestions, you’ll see what I mean.