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Hocus Focus: Six ways to concentrate better
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Hocus Focus: Six ways to concentrate better

Written by Astrid Roest on 19 May 2020 for Tech Graduates

Trying to cram for your June finals or are you working from home and struggling to focus? You aren’t alone. According to a study by Microsoft, the average person’s attention span is just eight seconds – less than that of a goldfish!  The culprit? Digital connectedness. Living in an ‘always-connected’ world has made life more demanding and stressful than ever, with infinite diversions nothing more than a click or tap away. But this isn’t going to be a tech-bashing post; too much tech is only part of the problem. Here are six research-backed ways to turn the tide and boost your concentration!

Hocus Focus: Six ways to concentrate better

#1 Create a ritual

Ever wondered why you always sit in the same seat in lectures? Or sleep on the same side of the bed? It’s something called environmental psychology and it explains everything from why you choose a certain machine in the gym, to why you choose a certain side of the plane when you fly. You see, we humans are territorial by nature and choosing the same spot or position makes us feel comfortable and helps us focus.

You can use this trick to boost your concentration by developing a study or work ritual – a set of actions that you do before you get to work. This can include things like sitting in a certain seat, decluttering your workspace, getting a drink, putting on your headphones and making a to-do list. Having a little ritual helps train your brain to transition into ‘work mode’ and makes it easier to focus and concentrate on the task at hand.

#2 Avoid multitasking

Ever found yourself battling with a million thoughts whirring around your mind, unable to choose which one to deal with first? Most of us have tried to multi-task at one time or another and guess what? It doesn’t work. The latest research shows that the brain can only do one thing at a time. Doing more than one task creates a bottleneck and reduces our attention and decision-making ability. This is fine for low cognitive tasks like, say, ironing while watching TV. But when it comes to revision and study, trying to multi-task is a waste of time.

 

The solution? Try the Pomodoro Technique. Split your study sessions into 25-minute chunks of time and set a timer. Work on one thing for a solid 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break when the timer goes off. Complete this cycle three times before taking a longer 30-minute break. This technique will help you concentrate much better on your work and see you tear through your to-do list in no time!

#3 Stop – hammer time!

If you scoffed at the idea of taking regular breaks, consider this; your mental performance drops if you don’t take them! A 2013 study profiled by the Wall Street Journal found that students who needed to memorize facts, dates, names and other important information benefitted from up to 60 minutes of rest. But the time you rest for isn’t the only factor; what you do during that time is equally as important.

This study from Princeton University found that physical activity is better than going online during breaks because it causes your neurons to emit more of a neurotransmitter known as ‘GABA’, which helps lower stress and anxiety. Conversely, going online stimulates the release of more dopamine – which makes it easier to become distracted. That’s why it’s important to use your breaks wisely. Go for a hike for example. Use your break as ‘no screen’ time. And if possible, chat with someone in real life. This makes your body release more calming oxytocin – something that connecting with people online doesn’t.

 

#4 Eliminate distractions

There’s no question that apps, smartphones, and wifi have made our lives infinitely easier, but then can also be incredibly distracting. And when it comes to studying, this can be deadly. Research shows that on average, it takes 23 minutes to refocus on your work once you’ve been interrupted. After blocking your agenda into chunks of time, it’s important to have a way of ‘turning off’ and not having to worry about being disturbed.

Fortunately, there is a range of apps that can help you focus and block distractions. If you don’t need to use your PC to revise, Cold Turkey Blocker lets you lock yourself out your computer entirely. If you need your computer to revise, Hocus Focus lets you view one window at a time on a Mac and stops you from getting sidetracked. Another helpful app, Focus@Will, lets you track your productivity while giving you lyric-free audio to aid your concentration!

#5 Unplug for 30 minutes per day

Even if you live and die by email and social media, it’s good to completely ‘unplug’ once a day, either in the morning or the afternoon. You won’t believe how much you can get done and it will help you cultivate a healthier relationship with tech. Jan Bruce, co-author of meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier recommends turning off all devices and logging out for at least half an hour daily to avoid interruptions and aid concentration.

#6 Train your brain to deal with longer tasks

There will be times when you’re studying that you simply can’t work in short ‘chunks’ of time. You might be working on a complex programming task, taking a test, or completing a mock exam paper. Luckily, you can train your brain to work better through these longer tasks. But you’re not going to see results over night.

Your brain is a muscle and just like any muscle you can train it, but you’re going to have to be patient before you can notice results.

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That’s a wrap. We hope this made your upcoming finals a bit easier and if this was your final hurdle before graduation, you might want to check this blogpost out next

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