Concentration. Sometimes, it can feel almost impossible…
As many of us juggle various responsibilities in life, our attention can often jump between multiple subjects within the space of a single hour, swinging from topic to topic without a single pause for breath.
What should I cook for…
… what time did we agree to…
Did I respond to…
… I still need to sort out…
In fact, Psychology Today highlights how our ability to focus peaks at the age of twenty, and proceeds to diminish as we grow older.
(No wonder so many of us eventually find ourselves Googling ‘ways to improve concentration’!)
Yet when it comes to studying techniques – and online learning in particular – being able to maintain your concentration and focus are skills critical to completing your course successfully.
So whether you find yourself distracted by wandering thoughts… keep getting interrupted by well-meaning family members or oblivious housemates… or your concentration fractures as soon as that tell-tale social media notification rings out…
Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.
Here, we’ve compiled our top concentration hacks to increase your quality of focus, not only to support your studies but to help you go about your days too.
(And remember, increasing your concentration is like developing any other skill. The more you practice these tips and the more self-disciplined you are, the better the results.)
1. Identify your personal distractions
As you may have already gathered, there are numerous distractions in life. Yet what you might find incredibly interruptive, another may find the opposite.
For example, you may be someone who hates reading whilst music is playing. Whereas for someone else, having background noise may actually increase their focus.
So take a moment to list your personal distractions. Is it social media notifications? TV adverts blaring when a show cuts to a break? Thinking about everything else you need to get done today?
Whatever you identify as detrimental to your concentration, try and find a way to remove or manage it.
Social media notifications? Install an app which blocks notifications coming through to your phone for defined periods of time.
TV noise? Turn it off altogether. And if you’re someone who needs some form of noise, try listening to meditation tracks or nature sounds. Basically, noise which you can tune out to.
Mulling over other life responsibilities? Note down everything you need to get done by the end of the day and then put that list out of sight. You’ll have clarity of what you need to achieve but not feel pressured to complete it all immediately.
2. Structure your environment
There’s a common saying which goes: ‘tidy space, tidy mind’ and the same applies here. If you’re trying to study or achieve anything in a space cluttered with mess, chances are your mental state is going to feel similarly disorganised.
So before you dive into your studies, make sure you’ve organised your space. This may even include asking family and friends to avoid interrupting you or closing your door to indicate you want some space.
Also, ensure that you have everything you need close to hand or set-up in advance. Whether that’s a pen and paper, headphones, a stable WiFi connection, a drink or mid-study snack… whatever it is, it’ll be beneficial to prepare your space in advance, rather than breaking your concentration flow in order to go retrieve more paper.
Occasionally, when faced with mammoth tasks or extensive projects, we can find our concentration or motivation flagging at such a daunting prospect.
So instead of setting yourself up to fail, try chunking your studies down into more manageable bites or achievable goals.
For instance, rather than expecting to sail through a complete Learning Online course in a single hit, it’ll be much more effective to break up your studies into more regular sessions.
Think of it as interval training, rather than starting from zero and expecting to run a marathon straight off the bat. The Pomodoro technique is a popular option for many, with numerous apps available to help time yourself and ensure you’re also getting regular breaks.
4. Vary your diet/stay hydrated
It probably won’t come as a surprise that this piece of advice has made our list. But you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a balanced diet and hydration when it comes to improving your concentration levels.
In fact, Healthline has provided this handy list of foods that can boost your brain and memory functions. Likewise, studies once again prove that dehydration reduces your cognitive abilities and concentration, emphasising just how important it is to keep your fluids up.
Long story short, your quality of concentration and brain function directly correlates to what you’re putting in your body. Relying on copious amounts of caffeine, energy drinks, or sugary foods is not sustainable; it is more likely to cause an artificial high which will eventually lead to – you guessed it – the inevitable crash.
Skip the headache and ensure your diet is varied and nutritional, as this will help to ensure your brain is the well-oiled concentration machine you’d like it to be.
5. Improve your sleep schedule
This leads on neatly from our last point. As in addition to a healthy diet and keeping hydrated, ensuring you have a decent sleep schedule will similarly increase your ability to focus. How? By boosting your overall energy levels.
The typical recommendation is to grab 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Although with the advent of technology and the ability to take our smartphones to bed with us, it’s unsurprising that many of us end up with markedly less sleep.
Yet you shouldn’t underestimate the impact chronic sleepiness can have on your mood, performance and cognitive ability. Excessive sleepiness can impair your judgement, memory, make learning difficult, reduce your responsiveness, reaction times, and ability to deal with stress.
So although you might not consider it a major issue to scroll through social media at the expense of a couple of hours sleep each night, the cumulative effects can be significantly detrimental. By improving your sleep schedule, this will not only benefit your studies and any other professional responsibilities, but it’ll also give you more energy throughout the day to enjoy interacting with others and life in general.
6. Practice attentiveness
This point very much leads on from our earlier discussion, in that reducing the number of potential distractions around you will massively help to improve your concentration levels. However, there’s also the flipside of this. Removing distractions may not necessarily equal increased levels of concentration. Which is why you need to practice attentiveness too.
What we mean by this is avoiding the compulsion to multitask (think, having a million tabs open on your computer screen) and instead committing yourself to a single task or subject of study at any one time. Multitasking can also frequently lead to increased stress levels, which again is detrimental to when you’re trying to maintain your focus.
Another way to think of attentiveness is mindfulness itself, as mindfulness can likewise aid your ability to concentrate on any given task. This 5-minute meditation, suggested by professor Marsha Linehan, can be done anywhere at any time of day that suits you.
If you’re the kind of individual who is motivated or finds they put in the additional effort when they’re being held accountable, then building out your own study plan or calendar system may be ideal. As an added bonus, telling a friend or family member about your commitment to this set schedule can help too.
By committing yourself to premeditated study sessions, planned in advance, this can likewise reduce the chances of you then feeling stressed or guilty about prioritising your studies over other responsibilities.
Why? Because you will have a clearly defined time set aside for your studies and be better equipped to then organise any other responsibilities around these sessions.
8. Ride the concentration wave
And last but not least, accept that your concentration levels will fluctuate over time; they are not concrete or set in stone. There is no real ‘shortcut’ to ensuring your concentration levels are maxed out 100% of the time. Various life factors can influence your concentration levels, mood and motivation.
So make sure to not be too hard on yourself if you do struggle with maintaining your concentration. As we mentioned at the beginning of this blog, it’s a skill that requires commitment and consistent training, not something you can necessarily achieve overnight.
If you do find yourself becoming distracted and stressed-out by your inability to concentrate, take a step back and give yourself a break. Be kind to yourself, go for a walk or spend some time in the fresh air, away from your desk.
Also, you can take this opportunity to question why you may be finding it difficult, or why you’re feeling so worried or pressured. Could it be due to a lack of sleep? Because you keep getting distracted by people swinging by your room? Because your space is disorganised and this keeps catching your eye?
Whatever the reason, the cause is most likely manageable.
And if you ever need additional support or guidance with your studies, please feel free to reach out to the Learning Online team and we’d be more than happy to offer our support in helping you get your studies back on track.
Ultimately, the next time you feel tempted to Google ‘how to improve concentration’ remember this list and try out some of our tips.
You may be surprised the impact these tips can have on your concentration levels.