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Tips on How to Stay Focused: Improve Your Concentration

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Tips on How to Stay Focused: Improve Your Concentration

How many times have you sat and tried to focus on a project or assignment, only to find your mind wandering? Despite your best efforts, you just can't concentrate. We've all been in this familiar, frustrating situation. Many students complain about their lack of ability to focus and concentrate as their minds race from one thing to another as their thoughts run all over the place. The trick is to use the right strategies to help improve your concentration skills and apply them to your studies. Don’t panic or be overly discouraged, almost everyone has the ability to concentrate.

We’ve all had days where we can’t seem to focus. For some of us, those days are more common than we’d like, but you don’t have to go to extremes. Here are some easy tips to help increase your productivity:

Getting Started

Environment is everything. Dedicate a space for completing work and other assignments; whether it’s the library, your room, or a friend’s home, it is essential to have a place that will enhance your concentration, not impede it. Keep this study area a distraction free zone- this means no TV, video games, or phones anywhere near this space. Consider stocking this space with all of the things you will need to complete your tasks, so that you don’t break your concentration by getting up to retrieve supplies. Some other tips include:

  • Calming music
  • Draw up a study timetable in correlation with energy levels at different times of the day
  • Divide your work into sections

Having a million things to do can create a major focus problem for anyone. If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of projects and assignments, extracurricular activities, and social obligations you have, it can be difficult to clear your head long enough to concentrate on any one task. This is why prioritizing is imperative. Determine the most important responsibilities and forget the rest. The less you have to do, the more you’ll be able to focus on the things that matter.

Set Goals for Each Study Session

We all know that studying can sometimes feel boring and pointless, making concentration seem impossible. While you may not be able to elevate the entertainment factor of the subject being studied, you can change your perception of the task itself. When you set goals, achieving each little step makes maintaining your focus not seem so difficult after all.

Write goals down in order of priority. Try to keep your goals specific and measurable. Break down large goals into smaller, more manageable tasks that can be achieved in an appropriate amount of time. Creating to do lists is a great way of keeping track of your progress- and don’t forget the satisfaction of crossing items off!

Time manage your goals by setting achievable deadlines. Commit a set time each week to focus your attention, concentration, and energy on what you need to get done. Try to only work on one goal at a time and plan regular breaks.

Take Breaks and Naps

Taking breaks to relax and clear your head can make your studying and work time more efficient and effective. Research has shown that people remember best when they study for shorter periods as opposed to studying for longer periods. A 2008 University of Illinois study found that a person’s attention span drops after long periods of concentration, decreasing our focus and hindering performance. But even brief diversions from the task could significantly increase your ability to focus for prolonged periods of time.

Spreading out your studying with breaks not only helps your brain better remember, but it can improve your concentration and motivation. So, plan to study for about 30-45 minute increments, then take a 5-10 minute break.

Even a brief nap can boost learning, memory, and concentration. A 2010 Harvard Health study found that dreaming can reactivate and reorganize recently learned material, which could help improve memory and boost performance.

Build in Variety

Approach your material in different ways. This increases your learning and concentration by using different brain pathways. For example, read a textbook section, then review your lecture notes on the same concept and write a summary to test your understanding. Some other tips to keep things interesting while working on your assignments are:

·         Change the subject or study strategy every few hours

·         Use your study break for exercise. This changes the pace and helps to get rid of extra adrenaline.

·         Alternate reading with more active learning exercises, such as:

o   Putting what you learned into your own words

o   Comparing what you are learning and linking new facts with what you already know

o   Color code flashcards or grids

Just say Stop

Every time you begin to have wandering thoughts, tell yourself to stop and consciously bring your focus back to your studies. At first, you will have to do this several times, but with practice you'll be able to concentrate for longer periods.

Although some distractions are inevitable, there are steps you can take to reduce your chance of an interruption. For example, don’t look or use your phone, or check your email while working except when taking a break. Allowing yourself to be distracted by these things will only eat up your time and negatively affect your academic performance. Practice self-discipline and eliminate all potential distractions.

If you find it hard to focus your attention, try taking a break or switching to a different subject or study strategy.

Food to Boost Focus and Memory

Food has a huge impact on your brain functions. For instance, did you know that eating a lot of sugary foods actually impedes your ability to concentrate? We’ve always known that what we eat affects our bodies, but scientists are also beginning to learn more about how what we eat affects our brains. Here are some foods to consider snacking on during those late nights and early mornings:

·         Avocados are green powerhouses packed with monosaturated fats that keep blood sugar levels steady and your skin glowing.

·         Beets’ natural nitrates and antioxidants boost blood flow to the brain, helping with mental performance.

·         Blueberries contain high levels of gallic acid which protect our brains from degeneration and stress.

·         Broccoli is one of the best brain foods out there. With high levels of vitamin K and choline, it will help keep your memory sharp.

·         Walnuts also have high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that improve mental alertness and cognitive functioning.

 

 

What do you do to keep concentration? Share your tips in the comments below!

My love of research emerged well before I received my PhD in Experimental Psychology in 2004; however, it was around that time that I realized how much my passion and experience could benefit others. This is what inspired me to create Elite Research, LLC, which employs statistical and editing consultants to assist faculty, students, and anyone else who needs assistance in conducting or reporting research. For the past 9 years, my colleagues and I have helped graduate students around the world through tutoring and workshops, setting up mock dissertation defenses, or even just acting as a cheerleader or shoulder to cry on during those challenging times. My goal for PhDStudent is to provide all graduate students who are seeking support with the tools they need to survive graduate school, a time that I personally know can be demanding and exhausting. When I do get some rare time for myself, I enjoy traveling, appreciating art, and making fun of my husband, whose love for Star Wars and The Princess Bride I will never fully understand.

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