How to stay focused while studying

Studying a course is one way to learn something new, improve your skills, enhance your knowledge and increase your employability.

So if the benefits of completing your studies are so positive, why do we find it hard to stay focused?

Read on to discover the reasons why you might be finding it hard to focus on study and how you can improve your levels of concentration.

Why can’t I stay focused while studying?

If you’ve been easily distracted lately and are finding it hard to concentrate and focus, there could be a number of reasons for this. Do you feel like any of these reasons could be behind your lack of concentration?

1. You’re not getting enough sleep

If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, then this could be affecting your ability to stay focused during the day.

If you’re living with a disorder that affects your sleep patterns (such as insomnia, anxiety or sleep apnoea), consider talking with your doctor about ways that can help alleviate these symptoms. However, if you find you’re staying up late every night just so you can binge another Netflix show, then consider other ways to help you get to bed on time – such as setting a reasonable, regular bedtime, not looking at your phone before bed, finding ways to wind down at night and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon.

2. You’re under a lot of stress

Stress and anxiety can lead to a lack of concentration.

A recent study looking into the relationship between cognitive function and stress found that the higher a person’s anxiety was, the lower their working memory performance. On top of this, stress can also cause insomnia. So if you’re feeling stressed then this could lead to you also not getting enough sleep, which will further compound your inability to focus.

Everyone copes with stress differently. This may mean you need to try and limit exposure to stress triggers, include more healthy foods in your diet, limit your alcohol intake, exercise regularly, get out in nature or try a new hobby. However, if you feel like these methods aren’t working then you may need to speak to a professional Counsellor or Psychologist to help you come up with strategies for dealing with stress.

3. You don’t follow a healthy diet

Researchers have found that junk food can hinder the brain’s learning capabilities. A recent study found that people who enjoyed a healthy diet did much better on memory tests than people who consumed a lot of junk food.

But what if you need a quick afternoon pick-me-up to get you through your study session? You might be tempted to reach for a chocolate bar to give you a bit of a sugar high. But the truth is, while sugary food can give you a sugar rush, the comedown after effects far outweigh the little energy boost you receive. Basically, high sugar consumption limits the production of orexin, which is a chemical in your brain that makes you feel awake. Ergo, the more sugar you eat, the less orexin, and the sleepier you’ll feel.

Kicking a junk food habit isn’t easy. Eating tasty (but unhealthy) foods such as potato chips, lollies, biscuits and chocolate triggers and releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that’s released when your brain receives a reward – like tasty food.

However, junk food isn’t healthy or nourishing. So even though it triggers the ‘reward’ chemical in your brain, it’s not helping your brain or your body get the nutrients they need to repair, grow and function normally. This can lead to a whole host of problems, and consumption of junk food has even been linked to depression.

4. You’re not getting enough exercise

Regular exercise has a variety of really positive benefits. For one, when we exercise the brain releases endorphins which can help to boost your mood. Getting a natural mood boost from a workout is a great way to combat feelings of anxiety and depression.

Research has shown that exercise can improve concentration. This research found that: “the effects of acute exercise on cognitive performance are generally small; however, larger effects are possible for particular cognitive outcomes and when specific exercise parameters are used.”

What we can take away from this research is that regular, short sessions can help improve your concentration – such as getting up from your desk and going for a walk around the block to break up your study session.

Regular exercise can also help to improve your quality of sleep which, as we mentioned before, is pivotal in helping your focus.

 

How to improve your focus, stay motivated and improve productivity

First of all, think about the barriers you’re facing which are preventing you from focusing. How can you overcome them so you can get back to the important task of completing your studies?

You may feel like you’re not getting enough sleep due to feelings of stress and anxiety. The first step here is to find ways to combat these negative feelings and then to work on getting a good night’s sleep. This might seem daunting at first, but when you break these obstacles down and start tackling these issues one by one, you’ll find that they’re not impossible to achieve. What are the causes of your stress? Can you remove these causes? If not, how can you find a suitable workaround so that you’re not as heavily impacted?

Here are nine helpful tips on staying focused and increasing productivity:

1. Make a study schedule

How much time can you reasonably commit to study each day, week, month? Building a realistic study plan will help you stay on track and stay committed. You can print out a study template, use a diary, download a scheduling app or draw up your schedule on a whiteboard. A study schedule can help you remain accountable and remind you of what you’re working towards.

2. List out your study goals

Sometimes, making a list of your study goals and what you hope to accomplish by the end of your course could help you stay focused.

You may also find it useful to set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-sensitive) goals. Setting SMART goals can give you a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how you can measure your success. By writing down your goals and keeping them in mind while you study, you may find yourself able to stay motivated and focus better.

3. Create a study space

Find a space with limited distractions and make it your very own study space. This could be at your local library or it could be a quiet corner of your house.

If you live with others, let them know that when you’re in your study space that you’re not to be disturbed.

Having a dedicated study space also means that your brain will associate that area with study, so you’ll be able to focus better when you’re there.

4. Stick to a routine

Creating a routine can go a long way towards helping you stay focused. Just like setting a regular bed time can help your body wind down for sleep, setting aside set time each week or day to study can help you brain move into ‘study mode’.

Having a pre-study ‘ritual’ that you follow can also help you get into the zone. This could be as simple as making yourself a cup of tea and tidying your study space before you sit down to get to work. Or maybe you could create a playlist of songs that you listen to each study session that get you in the right headspace, or light a nice-smelling candle that helps you to de-stress.

5. Block out distractions

Roadworks? Noisy neighbours? Busy traffic? Buzzing phone? We understand – sometimes it can be hard to block out distractions. But if you want to really knuckle down and study, you need to find ways to limit distractions.

Sometimes, overcoming distractions can be as simple as putting on headphones and listening to some soothing music or putting your phone in another room. Other times it may mean that you need to physically move somewhere quiet – such as a local café, park or library – to get away from distracting, annoying noises.

6. Take breaks as needed

Sometimes your course content can seem overwhelming. This is why it’s important not to push yourself too hard and to take breaks as needed.

Creating a study schedule can help with this, too, as it means you’re able to effectively divide up your time to avoid getting stressed and trying to cram a week’s worth of study into a single day.

The Pomodoro technique is one method you can use that may prove helpful. This technique involves 25 minutes of focused work, then five minutes of rest to let the brain relax. Repeat this in blocks throughout your allotted study session time and see if it helps you focus.

7. Make the most of technology

There are plenty of apps and websites out there that have been created to help you get organised and stay on track. Trello is one such tool that has been based on the Kanban system and is most often used for project work. However, you may find that its design is helpful in organising your study tasks.

8. Discover your study style

There’s more than one way to study. By discovering your learning style, this could make your study sessions much more productive and help you to remember information better.

9. Reward yourself

When you reach a milestone don’t forget to reward yourself! This could be something like taking yourself out for a nice breakfast, buying that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing, or simply taking a night off from studying to watch a movie.

Set your study goals and start making things happen

We can’t all be perfect, and sometimes your focus will waver. When this happens, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. Just take stock of everything, take note of any obstacles that are preventing you from staying focused, decide on the best way to combat them and get back to it.

One of the best ways to stay motivated and keep focused is to remember the reason why you decided to start studying in the first place. By keeping your end goal in mind and reminding yourself of what you want to accomplish, you’ll be motivated to stay on track and complete your course.

 

About 

Chloe is an Open Colleges alumnus who now works full time for OC as a Content and Copywriting Specialist. She is passionate about encouraging others to pursue their goals through education.

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