Tips to Try for Improved Focus

by Grace Dickins

All students need to know how to get "in the zone," how to achieve that state of intense concentration that we call focus. Distractions evaporate and your favorite pastimes are easily ignored when you're focused on one task. Successful focus is achieved by the right and left brain working together while distractions are removed from the periphery. When your focus is interrupted, it can take some time to return to that state.

External distractions

When interrupted, take the time to determine exactly what broke your concentration. Pin down those distractions so that you can eliminate them. Everyone has an ideal learning environment - some people can read with the radio playing or can execute advanced formulas with speed metal screaming in the background. Determine what things distract you and get rid of them for scheduled periods. For example, two basic physical triggers are flashing lights and loud noises. Minimising these standard distractions can increase your ability to maintain your focus. Put in your headphones or earplugs before you get to work. Generalized background noises, such as an ambulance siren, are as distracting as those that are directed specifically at you. If you know that specific times of day in your environment are high-decibel, schedule your study periods during quiet times, or change your environment when things get too loud.

Smaller sounds can also be big distractions. Turn off your phone. Notifications can combine visual and auditory distractions, so disable them before you get to work. If you compulsively check social media sites, there are timed Internet blocks that can keep you off of Facebook during study time. You can find an individualized solution, but the end goal is to eliminate those little distractions that consume big chunks of time in your day.

Internal distractions

Even if you manage to create a quiet cave devoid of distracting sights and sounds, a different set of tactics is required for those eternal internal distractions. Your mind might wander to your grocery list, a concerning checking account balance, or another upcoming project. Stop these distractions by learning to halt the thought process. Once you've set up a quiet environment and established your routine, the next task is to pay attention to how you pay attention. With some practice, you'll be able to catch wrong impulses before they become wrong actions. Some bad habits can be self-perpetuating. For example, once you've checked your email, why not read the messages? If you read the messages, perhaps you'll decide that some require immediate attention. You'll get back to work eventually, but you've lost time and focus in the interim. Make a note of your "favorite" distractions and get in the habit of stopping them before they start.

Not only can you learn to maintain your focus, you can also train to increase it. If you prioritize the tasks you need to complete, you make the top ones more relevant. You can also increase project relevance by creating a deadline or giving yourself a small motivator, like a chocolate. The most relevant project becomes your top priority and receives more focus. Learning basic meditation can also increase your ability to focus in other environments. You can even use entertainment as a way to train your brain to concentrate on other tasks: you can make it through a movie without a twitter break, so being aware of your focus for that duration makes it a transferable skill. With the right combination of environment, organization, and awareness, you may notice improvement in the intensity of your concentration, as well as the duration, if you maintain it.