I used to sit in bed, TV on, phone by my side, music blaring, and “study”. And I wondered why, after two hours of relentless studying, it felt like I was getting nothing done. It would take me at least another few hours to run through the rest of my notes just a couple times through. And still, I was stumped when my “hard work” didn’t earn me an A. Look, we all have different study and work habits. But I was taking that mantra a little too far. And sure, maybe some people focus better whilst relaxing in bed with some soft music playing in the background. But, I was a fool to think that I could sit in bed, watch TV, update my social media, put on a concert, AND focus on my work. It just doesn’t typically work like that. So, after receiving a few grades I wasn’t too proud of, I switched up my routine and was kindly rewarded. And I owe it all to these five hacks that will help improve your overall mental focus:
1) Build your willpower.
It’s true that your brain can become fatigued after focusing on one task for too long and needs to take a break. Generally speaking, it’s smart to work for 60-90 minutes and then take a short 10-minute break. However, don’t use this as an excuse to give up or get off task and claim you need to take a break every five minutes. Recognize the importance of willpower: not only does it help you resist that bowl of ice cream at 12 a.m., but it also keeps you on track and working hard. You just need to build it up. So when you’re tempted to open a Facebook tab, resist. When you’re feeling bored, tell yourself you can get through it. And when you want to stop altogether, stay stubborn and center your focus.
2) Practice mindfulness.
You should capitalize on opportunities each day to practice mindfulness, or simply concentrating completely on what you’re doing. For example, when you’re eating lunch, really take the time to chew your food and focus on its flavors. Or when you’re taking a bubble bath, take note of the pleasure you receive from sinking into the warm, soapy water. Doing so can help strengthen and expand your overall attention span. Additionally, practicing mindfulness meditation can also help boost your attention span. Research suggests performing just 10-20 minutes of meditation everyday will suffice.
3) Remove and overcome distractions.
So my big study mistake was ignoring what my TV, phone, and music ultimately were: distractions. When I cut them out of my study routine, I saw immediate improvements in my grades and I actually spent less time studying. So first, remove whatever distractions you can. Then, work on overcoming whatever distractions can’t simply be removed. Say, for example, emails keep popping up on your laptop while you’re working. Designate a time to check and respond to them, and don’t pay attention to them until then.
4) Customize your environment.
It can be super beneficial to create your own work environment, built specifically for your optimal work grind. But first, you should eliminate clutter. Brain MRIs show that clutter affects our ability to concentrate as well as process information. So whatever you do, keep it organized. Now you’re free to customize your workspace. If you like flowers, fill a vase with some and set them on your desk. If you need a comfortable seat, get yourself a nice cushion. It’s all about what aesthetics and elements will make for the best environment. And even if you don’t have an office or a desk, don’t be deterred from designing a work area. Wherever and whatever it is, your mind and body will quickly become conditioned to snap into work mode there.
The most important tip I have for you is to find what works for you. As I said earlier, we all have different work and study habits, some of which may sound totally crazy to me but might work for you. So if filling your eardrums with Blink 182 gets you in the concentration zone, by all means carry on. Or if you need complete silence, I totally get that too. And if you’re really just not sure whether music improves or throws off your focus, experiment! See what works best for you. Then you can implement these strategies in the future to maintain a level of mental focus you never thought was possible.