How to Stay Focused While Studying – Evidence-based Tips and advice

If you always struggle to stay focused while studying, then you’re not alone. Studies show that around 49% of people feel like their attention span is shorter than it used to be, and 50% of us check our phones on average every twelve minutes. The modern world is full of an ever-increasing number of distractions, and for students especially, it’s getting harder and harder to focus. But there are some simple tips backed by a whole bunch of research that can help us improve our focus, which is what we’re going to go through in this video. And we’re going to talk about a five-part framework that’s going to help us stay focused while studying.

Part one is about mindset. Part two is technique. Part three is the environment. Part Four The Human Factor then finally, we’re going to end with a bonus session on identified motivation. Let’s get into it.

Now, the thing when it comes to mindset around focusing is we need to get away from the idea that focus is something that you have or something that you don’t have. Focus is something that you can develop. We need a growth mindset when it comes to focusing. We need to think of focus as something that can be learned rather than something innate to us. The way I think about this is, do I struggle to focus when it comes to playing video games?

Probably not. Do I struggle to focus when it comes to hanging out with my friends or watching Netflix or watching a movie? If the movie’s boring, then yes, but otherwise, probably not. But do I struggle to focus when it comes to studying for my pathology exam? Yes.

Okay, cool. So what’s going on there? When I’m playing a video game, I’m having fun. It’s enjoying, it’s generally energizing. And so the mindset with which I approach things that I need to focus on with is how do I do it in a way that makes it feel more energizing?

In other words, how do I make it fun? With a lot of students I talk to, I see a kind of defeatist mentality that like, as long as I just get through this, then suddenly I’ll become a doctor five years down the line, and then it will all be worth it. It’s like this thing that Muhammad Ali famously once said, which is, I suffered every day in training for ten years, but that’s what it took to become a champion. And I don’t like that approach to life, and I’m nowhere near as successful as Mohammed Aliyah, so feel free to take this with a pinch of salt, but to me, suffering rings every day for ten years to lift a trophy, the end. It’s probably not worth it, right?

Like, even if it comes at the cost of lifting that trophy. I would rather feel as if I’m making the most of my short time on this earth than think I have to suffer and crawl through glass and discipline and grit and white knuckle myself through the hard work to get to the reward on the other side. Because it’s all about enjoying the journey. It’s about the journey before the destination. And so that’s kind of the mindset with which I try and approach all these focused questions, where this is basically what my whole book is about.

It’s coming out later this year. More details on that later. But there are a few things that I found helpful over the years. Firstly, studying becomes way more fun if you do it with friends. Back when I was at university, I set up this group, the Pomodoro Society, where we’d all get together and we were all doing different subjects, but we would all do the Pomodoro technique together.

So we’d do 25 minutes of work and then chat for five minutes or whisper conversations or watch YouTube videos, and then we’d like, knock twice on the table. We would just kind of repeat this process. And that made studying so much more energizing and helped all of us focus because now we’re doing it around other people. You don’t necessarily need to do this in person. There’s a zoom coworking group called London Writers Salon, but during lockdown especially, I used to join quite a lot of they’ve got this writer’s hour, which is a free thing.

It’s a free coworking session. It happens four times a day at 08:00 in the morning in different time zones, and you just hop on a zoom call. There’s like a few hundred writers on there and someone chats for about five minutes, giving some inspiration. And then you work for 50 minutes and then do five minutes of wrap-up at the end, where people post in the chat, what they get done. And there’s something so nice about that.

And I used to run this kind of zoom co-working session myself during the lockdown. I think another thing on the mindset front that I find helpful is to try and frame what I’m doing as more of an adventure. Back in the day, I used to ask myself, what was my most important task for the day? And I took this from Ben Franklin’s morning routine. Every morning he would ask himself, what good shall I do today?

And then the guys, Jake and John that wrote the book Make Time, which is a very good book, called The Daily Highlight, where every day you ask yourself what’s today’s highlight going to be? And it could be urgent or something that’s satisfying or whatever. And I was using the Daily Highlight framing for a while, and then I realized that I’m missing a trick here. And I started calling it my daily adventure. It’s like, what is the adventure that I’m going on today?

Like, For today my adventure is to film this video, or actually, my actual adventure for today is to do the edits for chapter one and chapter two of my book. And so what is otherwise a case of sitting on a laptop, hunched over coffee in my hand, going through a Google Doc to approve or reject suggestions and do little nitty copy, edits and line edits and stuff on my book? Chapters that could initially, on the surface, be seen as boring things that I would struggle to focus on. But if I frame it as an adventure, I’m going to go to the local coworking space. I’ll grab a coffee on the way, I’ll have my headphones in playing Lord of the Rings, and music in the background.

All of these things make it feel more like an adventure. On that note, one thing I’ve started to do is wear shoes in the house. I have a pair of trainers that I just wear in the house. Why do I have a pair of trainers that I just wear in the house? Well, because it just makes it feel more like an adventure.

It means that when I get up in the morning and have my shower and get dressed, I put on my trainers and they’ve got a bit of a bounce to them and I feel like when I’m walking around the house, I have more energy. And then, number two, we have technique. One of the main things here is the Pomodoro technique. And basically, the idea here is that there’s a ton of evidence that suggests that our brain struggles to focus for long periods. Long is somewhat arbitrary.

Like, some studies say 90 minutes is the absolute max, but I find 25 minutes to be really good because 25 minutes is long enough to get a reasonable amount of work done, but short enough that like, the break just feels like it’s around the corner. And it’s like one of those things that it creates a mini deadline. And deadlines are a great way to encourage action. When we have something where we feel like we’ve got a little bit of time pressure on the thing, it makes us perform a little bit better. If there’s too much time pressure, then it sort of.

1 thought on “How to Stay Focused While Studying – Evidence-based Tips and advice”

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