Work for a bit, scroll through Instagram for a bit, do a little more work, then visit the website of your favourite store to browse the half-price sale. A little more work, then it’s time for the sixth coffee of the day (it’s only 11 AM).
If this sounds a bit like you, don’t beat yourself up too much. We’re all guilty of it, in one way or another. In fact, recent studies by Microsoft found that people now lose concentration after just eight seconds (which is one second later than the infamously scatter-brained goldfish).
Now, far from writing a treatise on the effects of digital life on our now-weakling attention spans, we wanted to do something a little more constructive.
So, with that in mind, we’ve put together some tried-and-tested strategies that should help you maintain concentration and build discipline. If that sounds a little stern, don’t worry – we’ve made it fun.
Mediation has now entered the mainstream and is more accessible than you might think. With apps like Headspace and Calm, you can channel your easily-distracted energy from the comfort of your front room.
A leading academic study by the Association for Psychological Science found that just a week or two of light mindfulness training can improve cognitive function. Its results showed a definite decrease in mind-wandering, and a boost in memory capacity.
It’s time to get zen, is what we’re saying. Having to hold concentration, and focusing on the rise and fall of your breath, will prepare you for that revision you’ve been putting off.
Take a break
Contrary to what we said about scrolling through social media, having regular breaks is important. It’s how you schedule those breaks that matters the most.
Whether it’s taking your dog for a walk, watching funny cat videos or just making some food, taking a little time away from your work will give you perspective and prevent you from getting worn-out.
Let’s say, for example, that you work solidly for an hour – you deserve a 15-minute break. In this example, the ratio is still weighted towards study, but you’re allowing yourself a break now and then.
What’s more, Science Daily tells us that brief diversions from your work will vastly improve focus. So, there’s that.
Find a perfect study spot
Define what exactly it is you need from your study space. If you need complete and utter silence, your library will accommodate. Can’t you study without an array of snacks at arm’s reach? Do a supermarket sweep before studying, so that you don’t have to go out later.
Your environment really is important when studying. The smallest distraction could irk your already-dwindling attention span and, before you know it, you’ve packed your stuff up and are out of the library.
This has a lot to do with the distractions of social media, and being online in general. We’ve all been down various YouTube rabbit holes, and having an open tab for your Twitter feed is asking for trouble.
Instead, try going under the radar. Ensure you have all the resources you need, shut down your computer and work like our grandparents did back in the day.
Admittedly, this might not suit everyone. If your discipline is digital-reliant then we’d suggest signing out of all social media. Basically, get rid of anything you think would distract you.
Create mental associations
If you like mind-maps, this one is for you. By summarising your study in a mind-map or spider-diagram, you’ll come to form meaningful connections while working. Your understanding will become far more comprehensive, and you’ll find studying the stuff easier.
This is especially good if you’ve been having difficulty getting to grips with your work. Exasperation and defeat are distraction’s nasty little cousins, so don’t let them get the better of you.
If you have some cool stationery, too, then you’re onto a winner.
Try to get some sleep
Those caffeine-fuelled all-nighters may be tempting, but it’s scientifically proven that a sleep-deprived brain is a dysfunctional brain.
When you’re not getting the required 7-8 hours, your brain works on a short-term memory basis, rather than retaining information long-term.
Try not to cram a semester’s worth of work into a few long-haul nights, is what we’re saying.
Anticipate your physical needs
It’s annoying when you need to go to the toilet halfway through an intense study session. Or if your stomach is a rumbling, cavernous distraction all of a sudden.
Your yogi-like concentration breaks, and you’re forced to submit to whatever bodily whim that comes your way. The secret to this is to anticipate your physical needs before it’s too late.
So, if you know you have a slog ahead of you, then just make sure you eat a little something. Or go to the toilet before setting down to work.
Yes, this probably sounds very obvious, but it’s the thinking behind it that counts. If you know your body, you can pip it to the post.
You’ll soon become immune to distraction. It’s not a student issue as much as it’s a symptom of modern living, so don’t be too hard on yourself.