6 vital tips on how to study with strong focus
A concept called Resistance is discussed in a book called the War of Art, written by Stephen Pressfield:
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. It is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
The key thing that makes us all procrastinate and stops us from doing our work is this evil concept called “resistance.” It is not something that can be seen, and it cannot be fought or shaken off. It can appear at any time without us even noticing and there is no way of getting rid of it forever.
Focus on one singular thing is vital. If you don’t read any further than this, then take this as a message away right now. As we all are aware of, and research shows, every one of our brains is wired to work on tasks serially and not in parallel. We are best to focus on one thing at a time and we are not good at multitasking.
In the world we currently live in, there are so many distractions that have unconsciously trained our brains to be capable of focusing on one thing less and less. Staying focused on one thing at a time when there are so many demanding tasks is increasingly difficult, so what can we do to help ourselves?
Six helpful tips to help with intense focus:
1. Decide on one thing for the next day
“Unlimited possibilities are not suited to man; if they existed, his life would only dissolve in the boundless. To become strong, a man’s life needs the limitations ordained by duty and voluntarily accepted.” – I. Ching.
Consider and focus on one thing you want to get done and could get done the following day and decide upon it at the end of the previous day. To help get this task done, focus on just that one thing in the morning, then if that gets completed, consider asking yourself the same question and get started on the next task.
Of course, this doesn’t mean only working on one thing a day, especially when considering exam sessions. However, it will enable you to get started and build momentum so you work for at least a little bit every day.
2. Create a Weekly Plan
This will help calm a brain that may become anxious when considering how much work there is to do, and it is a process that will help to develop a habit to get organized.
Whether created on a Sunday night, or Monday morning, consider taking 60-90 minutes to map out your week on paper or in a file on the computer. Spend a small amount of time updating this at the end of every day to check and adjust, if necessary, what you want to achieve the following day.
You will have an awareness of how much you can work, what your concentration span is like and how you like to study and learn. Having a key focus of one thing a day that develops into a weekly plan is the principle idea, always focusing on one thing at any given time.
Being able to block out time throughout the week for specific tasks, you should be able to focus on the particular assignment in front of you, as you know you have time set out to work on other assignments or tasks. If you have set out a plan which you believe is accurate to the way you learn and the pace you are able to learn, then you should be able to follow the plan and finish the task in order to have plenty of time for everything else you’d like to do. Of course, over time, you will adjust this accordingly.
3. Keep an eye on your Focus Blocks
A book written by Cal Newport called Deep Work gives a tip for maintaining the deep ability to focus, “drain the shallow work.”
“Non cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”
“Shallow work” may be tasks such as posting on social media, sending emails, grocery shopping too regularly, basically anything which can be done without too much thinking. If we are regularly scrolling social media and checking our phones for notifications, these are a few aspects that will hinder us from having the focus we need to have for the things which are really important. There’s an app called Freedom App for Apple devices and OFFTIME for Android devices, both of which can help block certain websites for a specific length of time, specifically social media, YouTube, and even your emails and will really support you in getting that focus.
4. Protect your Rest
There is another book entitled Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning that suggests that rest (or “unloading”) is the best way to prepare the body and brain for working. Getting 8 hours of sleep, or taking some time out from learning is not laziness:
We all know that it’s not easy to try and go to sleep earlier than you normally would, enjoying that TV program on Netflix or you’re in the deep spiral of social media, it takes huge discipline to switch off and get your rest through sleep.
You are actually doing good every time you rest and sleep, you give yourself the time to recover, recovery that will set you in good stead for tomorrow and the future.
The book entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a personal development book by Stephen Covey, brings attention to the habit of “Sharpening the Saw,” an important quote used by the Honest Abe Lincoln.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself in that rabbit hole of social media when you should be studying. When you acknowledge it, take yourself away from the desk, take a breath and a reset, try again tomorrow, you will be more productive then.
5. Create your own Routine
Considering where, when, and how you are going to study and carry out your assignments needs great consideration, along with the practicalities of your supplies or living situation.
Below are some suggestions and examples of how to help create a routine:
- Create a weekly plan to include time for reading, assignments, etc.
- Identify all deadlines in advance and work backward.
- Keep the same place as your “study space,” whether this is in your dorm room, library, or coffee shop, then you will know exactly where to charge your devices.
- Have a variety of radio stations or playlists ready on your home screen so you can switch music over as you like with ease when studying. “The more routine a stimulus is, the less it interferes with rival stimuli.”
6. Your Lifestyle has to play a part
“Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead, take breaks from focus.” – Cal Newport, Deep Work.
Consider an example such as wanting to lose weight to fit into your outfit for a specific occasion or event. Would you expect to be able to achieve this if you were to eat takeaways and drink coke throughout the week, and only have vegetables and whole foods on the weekends? Probably not; you’d try to eat vegetables and whole foods as much as possible throughout the week and takeaways and coke on a treat day.
If we want our minds to be in shape, we need to try and keep our mind in a state of focus, rather than in a state of distraction and frantic thoughts. We need to take breaks from our specific focus in order to clear out our distractions, rather than taking breaks from our distractions in order to focus.
A great way to start off is to make sure that in your weekly plan, you block out specific times with no distractions. Perhaps starting your day with 15 minutes of reading before you even check your phone. It could be worth putting your phone on Airplane mode before you go to sleep; that way, you know there will be no notifications coming through, helping you get your well-needed rest.
Reading fiction is an ideal way to take your mind off things, so when possible, carry a book or your kindle with you and read instead of scrolling through your phone. Once you do this for a while, you will find that you enjoy the mental clarity this brings compared to tirelessly scrolling through social media. You will find you have more energy to do other activities!
“Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.
As we build momentum against resistance, it becomes a little bit easier every day. Focus on the most important work and prioritize this in order to help us with resistance, put yourself in the winning team against resistance by doing this.
Recognise when you have a great day full of productiveness and a few of these days in a row is really when it begins to be conquered. Try your best to put a few of these examples into place today and make sure you get that all-important rest in tonight, to get through another day of resistance tomorrow!