How to Focus
Focus! Pay attention! We’ve all heard (and perhaps even said) these words at some point. But have you stopped to think about what it actually means to focus or how you can improve this vital skill?
When preparing for sitting exams, it is crucial that students can “get in the zone”. A 2015 Microsoft study reported that the average human now has an attention span of just eight seconds, that’s less than a goldfish! This being the case, it’s more important than ever that young people develop the skill of concentration and learn to focus. Here’s my top 5 tips on improving focus.
We live in an interesting time. Never before have people had to deal with such a huge amount of information coming at them on a daily basis. Tweets, texts, snaps, emails, phone calls, whatsapps, news bulletins and facebook messages come flying at us all day long. No wonder we can only concentrate for seconds at a time.
One of the easiest and quickest ways to improve concentration is to eliminate any distractions from your environment. When it’s time to work, it can be enormously beneficial to switch off your phone or place it in another room. I personally like to use airplane mode. This way, I know I won’t be distracted by any incoming messages.
If you’re realising that you might be a little addicted to your smartphone, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Take a look at this excellent video describing why smartphones are so addictive, and what you can do about it.
Use the Pomodoro Method
One of my favourite methods for improving focus is the pomodoro method - Here’s how it works.
Set a timer for 25 minutes. When it’s running, focus on one task and one task only. Do not under any circumstances allow yourself to be distracted.
When the timer finishes, set it for another 5 minutes. This is a short break and a reward for your focus. During this time, you can look at your phone, go to the toilet, make a cup of tea or even browse the internet for pictures of cats. Be disciplined, when the time is up, you’re back to work.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 another 3 times working for 25 minutes with 5 minutes rest. Once your 4th session is complete, give yourself a pat on the back and take a longer rest of half an hour and marvel at just how productive and focused you have been.
The pomodoro method works on a number of levels. The countdown timer gives you a sense of urgency to complete as much as possible in a 25 minute time slot. It also helps to motivate you if your attention starts to wane. Knowing that you only have a short time left before a break helps you to keep focused when the going gets tough. Having short, regular breaks helps your mind to stay fresh and gives your eyes well needed periods of rest.
At risk of sounding like your PE teacher or your personal trainer, you really should do some exercise. With a healthy body, comes a healthy mind. Not only does regular exercise help you develop the will power required to focus on studying, it also helps improve your ability to focus. Studies have shown that following exercise, the brain works harder to resist distractions, improving problem solving, memory and attention span.
Find your “Why?”
I’ve talked about this before on this blog, and I’m sure I’ll talk about it again. When completing any task, it’s essential for you to know your "why?" Your “why” is the fuel that drives you onwards, motivates you and ultimately helps you stay focused. Without a clear purpose, it can be all too easy to become sidetracked. When you have your “why” firmly in place, nothing will stand in your way.
Consider asking yourself “why?” a number of times to drill down on your real motivations for completing a task. Here’s an example.
“I need to revise for my exam”
“So I can get a good grade”
“So I can get into the course I want at a great university”
“So I can get a good job”
“So I can enjoy my adult life, doing work that I love and have the freedom to travel to beautiful places around the world.”
Do you see the power of this simple exercise? Now you’re not just studying to get a good grade in your exams, but to access a brighter and better future. When working from this level, do you think that you’ll get distracted easily?
Completed your work on time and in a focused way? Congratulations, now it’s time to treat yourself! Rewarding yourself for working in a focused way helps to reinforce good habits and is a powerful motivational tool. Want to spend 2 hours on Fortnite? That’s ok, just make sure you only do so if you get your work done first. This kind of self discipline will stand you in excellent stead for your adult life.
I hope you find this blog post useful and have picked up some new ideas about how to focus. As ever, we’re here to help. Feel free to reach out anytime with any questions you might have.