As hard as it is to get started, it’s much harder to stay focused. No matter what age, degree, educational level, we all face challenges to get ourselves to sit down and stay seated. This past year has come with an even bigger challenge; remote learning. Separating your home life from your study life has never been harder. However, it doesn’t have to be that big of an issue. With the correct techniques and a few tips, you’ll be sitting down without much effort and full-on enjoying your study session.
By the end of this blog post we will hopefully have much less of this.
Here are a few tips that we’ll be discussing that you can integrate into your routine:
- Use the correct learning style
- Create an optimal study environment
- Take a minute to prepare yourself
- Get rid of distractors
- Come up with an effective plan
- Schedule Rest
- Tools (Apps)
- Split up your study sessions
- Use different approaches
- Find a study partner
- Take care of your body
- Stay motivated
- Review (track your progress) and Adjust
1. Use the correct learning style
There are several types of learners. The way your friend studies might not be as efficient for you. Studying without knowing your learning style could be pointless. You could be a visual learner, auditory learner, kinesthetic learner, etc. Determining what type of learner you are can be challenging, since most people are a combination of types.Here is a Learning Style Quiz that could be of help.
With that said, using different learning styles at different points could be beneficial to you. For example, it would be best to learn how to do an abdominal examination by kinesthetic learning even if you are a visual learner. Do what suits you best.
2. Create an optimal study environment
Ensure that the area you are planning to study in is well prepared to allow you to study optimally. Make sure that your desk is clean (even though many people prefer a messy desk, it might be best to clean it out for starters). Ensure you have a good chair to sit in and a desk at a suitable height for you to study comfortably. This environment includes the temperature: several studies show that cooler environments (between 20 and 25 degrees celsius) lead to better study sessions with higher levels of focus. Make sure there are adequate snacks available to minimize the need to get up and get distracted.
Do not, under any circumstance, study in bed. You must separate your focus zone from your rest zone. Once you start studying in bed, your brain will have a very hard time concentrating. This is because your brain associates your bed with sleep and relaxation; the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve. Therefore, separating those two zones is crucial.
3. Take a minute to prepare yourself
Take a few deeeeeeep breaths with me, in and out, and again. Remember, you’re doing great.
Preparing yourself mentally is just as important as preparing yourself physically. The acts of preparing your study area gives a good introduction to your mind, telling it that you’re about to enter into a study session, thereby increasing your noradrenaline levels which leads to increased focus.
This can also be achieved by creating a study ritual or routine. Maybe brew some green tea, play some relaxing music, take a quick refreshing shower, and then sit down and study. Your brain will put itself into focus mode simply by the force of habit.
4. Get rid of distractors
Now that you are ready to start studying, get rid of anything that might distract you while you’re seated and might throw you into the deep dark tunnel known as procastination. Yes, that means get rid of that phone/tablet or use an application that blocks any distractions such as social media and games. Some of those applications are Moment on IOS and AppBlock.
Incidentally, only keep what you need around you. Have a copy of the Catcher in the Rye near you? Put it away. Is that a Rubik’s cube? In the cupboard too. Only keep what you are working on around you with the few extras that keep you going.
If it does come to the point where you are tempted to get up, write down what you want to get up and do. For example, if you want to check your whatsapp messages, write down “check whatsapp messages”. Then, after your session is done, you can check your whatsapp messages. The act of writing the distractor down gives you some tangible feeling that you have done something about the urge, which is much better than simply fighting it.
5. Come up with an effective plan
Just like you need a weekly plan outlining what to study on what days, what activities to do when, and so on. You should also have a daily plan to help you navigate your day. What I like to do is jot down a plan for the next day the night before. Just a rough sketch of what topics need to be reviewed or what assignments need to be submitted.
Dividing the hours you have each day to study beforehand saves you time on game day. You don’t have to sit down and work out what you are going to do because you’ve already figured that out. If you want to take it up another notch, you could place the items you are going to be working on on your desk and place a pen on the page in the textbook for an even greater head start.
(Sample daily study plan)
A weekly or monthly plan is also useful so you can set priorities regarding your life. Maybe I should push a little harder this week because of Sarah’s birthday next week? You can use an old-fashioned paper calendar, a store-bought one or print one off the internet. You could also use online platforms such as Microsoft Planner or Calendly.
6. Schedule Rest
After you’ve figured out your daily/monthly/yearly plan regarding your studies, make sure you schedule downtime too. Scheduling a day off a week is excellent for the long run, helping you prevent a possible burnout from happening. Schedule a half an hour or an hour a day to meditate or clear your mind too. Rest and sleep are vital parts of your day.
Stop when your allotted studying time is over, do not push yourself past your limits. Take it one step at a time and you’ll get there strong and proud.
Rest is just as important as studying. Several studies have proven that sleep is important for the consolidation of information and strengthening of memory. Here is a study about the role of sleep in memory for further reading.
7. Split up your study sessions
Sitting continuously for hours is simply counterproductive. A targeted approach where you study for a short amount of time and gain a bulk of information is much more valuable than hours and hours of studying.
Pomodoro is a technique that many find useful to keep focused. This technique is divided into cycles where you study for a specified time; let’s say 25 minutes, take a short 5 minute break and then repeat. You go through 4 cycles of this then get a longer break of around 25 minutes. There are many apps to help you keep this technique going. Remember, these timings are just the suggested frames; you can increase or decrease them to your preference.
8. Use different approaches
Reviewing and writing notes can only be useful to a certain extent, before you have to change your approach. Testing yourself, for example, can determine whether you understood the information inside out and can answer any question given to you.
Flash cards and spaced repetition can be life saving for those tiny bits of information that you just can’t get into your head. Anki is an application that helps you memorize information using flash cards and spaced repetition. We have multiple blog posts regarding Anki; here are a few links to help you navigate.
9. Find a study partner
Having someone by your side and pushing you to study could be extremely beneficial. Not only will you be motivated to study, you will also find that teaching your partner certain topics will strengthen your understanding of that topic. Your partner will keep you on track and you will keep them grounded. You could also become a part of a study group; however, make sure that your group helps rather than hinders you:, some study groups spend more time shooting the breeze than actually studying..
On another note, make sure your family and loved ones know that you will be studying at certain times so that you won’t be disturbed and they can motivate you to keep going.
Short-term rewards are a great incentive to keep yourself going. This could be a bar of chocolate, an episode of your favorite show, and for those of us doing clinicals, maybe a nap? These simple acts of positive reinforcement could be key to long-term success and eventually fulfilling your dreams.
11. Take care of your body
Make sure to eat nutritious, healthy food that keeps you well-fed and I must say it, FOCUSED. Some foods have been known to increase focus such as green tea, fish, avocados, etc. Caffeine in moderate amounts can also boost your concentration. Sugar could give you a temporary boost in energy but once it wears off it can leave you with a sugar-crash.
Some light jogging or a few minutes of exercise will energize you to get all your studying done. Taking care of your body is taking care of your mind.
12. Stay motivated
Staying focused will be hard when you aren’t motivated in the first place. Fortunately, you being here must mean that you are determined and want to fulfill your potential. Writing down why you want to fulfill your goals and coming back to them proves useful to many. Making your goals public will also give you that push you need to keep going.
What keeps me motivated is imagining the final destination. Being a leading doctor in my field of choice, helping as many people as possible, with as much knowledge as I can possibly get. Ticking off those task boxes couldn’t sound any better right now.
13. Review and Adjust
Continuing with a routine that isn’t giving you any gains is a plan for failure. You must review and adjust your progress at least monthly to ensure you are putting your efforts into good use. Sit down and assess where you stand and how well you’ve done the past few weeks. Check your shortcomings (if any) and plan to do even better in the future.
“Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable” – John Wooden
All in all, maintaining focus during study takes a lot of self-discipline,a clear vision of success, and steady improvement. There are no quick fixes, therefore you must use trial and error to find out what works best for you. Integrating some of the tips mentioned in this article into your daily schedule will help you become more productive. Take them one at a time each day, you’ll find that you can easily (and happily) sit down and focus to get all your tasks done in no time.