10 effective, smarter ways to help you maintain focus while studying

how to study with focus
Master the art of studying with focus to get into your state of flow. Source: AFP

“How to study with focus?”

It’s a question you may frequently ask yourself in our digitally connected world — where distractions are relentless and everywhere. 

Apps such as PawBlock, offering cute animal pictures instead of your social media fix, and screen modes such as Microsoft’s Focus are the tech versions of mindfulness, the perceived remedy for all modern ills.

A quick Google search and you’ll find many statistics to show how easily we get distracted while studying. Some numbers we found include the following:

  • 95% of students say they use their smartphones during study or class time.
  • Years of research suggest that teenagers have a higher need for reward and recognition — both of which they can achieve through social media.
  • 74% identified that the degree to which internet distractions fuelled their procrastination was significant and worrying, according to a survey by Stop Procrastinating. 

But it’s not just apps, memes, or trends that pull you away from your studies. And these aren’t the biggest hurdle to you regaining your lost sense of time.

Instead, one key thing most students miss out on when preparing for exams, completing an assignment, and going through their study routine is learning how to study with focus.

While it can take varying periods for us to regain our focus, most of the time, you want to be in a “state of flow,” a term describing a mental state in which a person becomes fully immersed in an activity.

Achieving this can be challenging, especially if you grew up with social media.

how to study with focus

Thanks to COVID-19, online learning has made learning much more accessible than before. Source: AFP

Has online learning made us forgot how to study with focus?

Today, interest and participation in online learning continues to grow.

2020 saw record enrollment and unis have launched new distance learning programmes to meet this increased demand, according to McKinsey.

It also opened the doors to a wave of distractions when students learn through an online medium. 

You may be attending a virtual lecture while holding your phone or leaving it on your desk while studying. And there’s no holding back when your friend pops you a text in the middle of something important. 

Background noises, especially in a chaotic family environment, can also be a huge source of distraction when it comes to online learning. 

TV, family members, pets running in the house, or siblings listening to loud music can all interrupt.

Worse, outdoor noises like kids playing in the street, neighbours mowing their lawns, loud cars, and barking dogs are equally disruptive. 

Regardless of your source of distraction, here are 10 effective ways you can learn how to study with focus for long periods. 

How to study with focus: 10 best and most effective ways

1. Create a designated study space

Everyone’s ideal study space is different. It is important to know what works best for you. 

Some require total silence in a soundproofed room, while others need a busy cafe’s background noise to concentrate. 

Still, there are a few universal elements on how to study with focus. For example, good lighting is important to ensure your eyes are not strained. 

A cluttered desk translates to a cluttered mind. Organise your space so your materials are within easy reach but not scattered about. 

Having a specific space for studying — not sharing it with a space you use to relax, eat or socialise — will help your brain get used to its designation. 

Over time, when you sit in that space, your brain will already be programmed to study mode, making it easier to focus. This will help you figure out how to stay determined to study too. 

2. Set realistic goals

We all have those motivational moments when we pile too much onto our plate and instantly regret it when we can’t keep up with the mountain of tasks. 

It is important that you are realistic with your goals and not be too hard on yourself. Setting small goals now makes it much easier to work towards larger aims. 

Start with your large overarching goal (eg. score above 80% on your mathematics exam).

Break that goal into smaller milestones, like revising half of your textbook by a specific date. 

Break it down further into bite-sized chunks or actionable tasks to achieve this. This could be solving three mathematics problems a day or attempting two past-year papers a week. 

All of this will make your big goals more achievable and realistic. 

 

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3. Make a schedule with breaks

How to study with focus? Regular breaks can help your brain process the information it has learnt and prevent you from being overwhelmed. 

Many turn to the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.

Named after a tomato (in reference to the similarly shaped kitchen timer used to track Cirillo’s work intervals), this technique has been proven to boost productivity and improve study habits.

The method is to work uninterrupted for 25 minutes, then take a five to 10-minute break. 

You repeat this about four times, then take a much longer break, where you can exercise, meditate, nap, or even walk. 

Experiment with the word intervals and see the amount of time that works best for you.

4. Prioritise tasks

Listing your priorities will help you decide what to do first. 

Identify the urgent tasks on your agenda first — that way, you can spend your study time more effectively. 

If you’re having trouble deciding what should be done first, start looking at deadlines for your goals. Which one is upcoming and which do you need to complete first?

This can be done for your study tasks as well as your coursework. From Google Calendar to Clickup, there are many scheduling apps that will help you stay organised and on target for your deadlines. 

how to study with focus

Effective learning techniques help you avoid passive studying when less information gets absorbed. Source: AFP

5. Use learning techniques

When thinking about how to study with focus, it is important to use effective study habits and techniques. 

This way, you avoid passive studying when less information gets absorbed. 

Here are some techniques to try out:

  • Create flashcards
  • Summarise information in your own words
  • Teach the material to someone else
  • Spaced repetition – break up information into small chunks and review them consistently over time. 
  • Active recall – create questions based on that topic, and then repeatedly test yourself on those questions. 

6. Get rid of your phone

The biggest distraction that most of us face is our phones. From social media notifications to messages from friends, it is sometimes impossible not to get swept up.

A typical social media user spends 2.5 hours per day scrolling through apps. That is 2.5 hours a day that you could spend studying or completing assignments. 

Mute your phone, use apps that block your usual distractions, or (in extreme cases) put your phone in another room while you are studying. 

how to study with focus

A little reward after a hard day of studying can go a long way. Source: AFP

7. Reward yourself

Rewarding yourself is the answer to how to study with focus. If you have something to look forward to after achieving each goal, it makes studying a lot easier. 

These rewards need not be big things, but it is good to celebrate small victories. 

Your reward could be watching a season of your favourite show, ordering take-out food, or even a cheeky night out with some friends. 

You are making great strides by keeping up with your schedule, so you deserve to celebrate how far you are coming along. 

8. Get help when you need it

When thinking about how to study with focus, we forget that we also must understand what we are studying in order to remember the information. 

Reach out to your fellow students, helpful teachers or tutors when you are struggling. 

Not everything will come naturally to you and that is ok. 

Sometimes, finding a study buddy or classmate to work with you can help you stay motivated and accountable. 

how to study with focus

Eat right, exercise well, and you’ll find yourself closer to acing your exams. Source: AFP

9. Eat right and exercise

According to LSE, there are foods that increase alertness, enhance memory retention, and increase energy levels and general well-being.

Put away the sugary treats and opt for protein-rich foods such as nuts, cottage cheese, figs, dried fruits, oatmeal, eggs, and yoghurt. 

Stock up on vitamin-rich leafy greens, and instead of consuming too much coffee, reach for green tea, which has more antioxidants. 

Regular exercise is also recommended as it releases endorphins with mood-boosting effects. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.

10. Sleep well

While it is recommended to get about seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night, you know your body better than most. Some require only six, whilst others can only thrive with 10. 

Sleep is crucial for memory consolidation and overall cognitive function, so getting quality rest is definitely the key when looking at how to study with focus. 

Less sleep can put a damper on your mood, memory and academic performance, so get those Z’s in.