I think we’ve all been in a situation where we sit down to study, only to give up a few hours later after achieving nothing. It’s hard these days with technology constantly notifying us of every new happening. Social media just sitting there at our fingertips, offering sweet relief from boredom. Even if you don’t use social media much, you can still encounter various distractions when trying to study. These can be both internal or external, and are generally things such as hunger, what you’re doing on the weekend, stress, music/pets, etc.
My main motivator for this came from me being quite lazy. I don’t like studying. There are a lot of things I would rather be doing with my time, so I did some research on how to maximise my efficiency while studying. Now there’s a LOT of possible distractions you can encounter when studying, but here’s a few little tricks I like to use to avoid the most common ones, clear my mind, and get things done.
Setting your environment is very important for focus. You want to be somewhere you can concentrate, somewhere with minimal distractions. You want the temperature to be just right, and you want to feel comfortable (not too comfortable!). I found studying and getting work done at home was very difficult, as I had too many distractions at home that would divert my focus. A nice corner in a library, or after hours in the office, someplace where you know you’ll get a few hours without being distracted.
Are you a morning person? A day worker or night person? Your lifestyle, commitments and work schedule will most probably determine this, but it pays to try and get your study done in a time where you are alert and awake and not sleepy.
2. Physical Needs
Physical needs are important to consider, as there so many things that your body/mind can throw at you when you try to force it to sit down and study. Comfortable clothes are a must, but not too comfy! No bed clothes or you’ll get tired. You’re going to want a bottle of water at the very least, and maybe something small and nutritious to snack on. Nothing heavy on sugar if you can avoid it – I like to eat rice crackers or nuts, something dry but filling. You will want to be close to a bathroom, so your breaks don’t take up too much study time.
I’m a half visual /half kinesthetic learner, so I always find myself fidgeting or trying to do something with my hands. I know a lot of people who use fidget cubes or little gadgets with clicky switches and knobs that they use to keep their hands busy. I prefer just clicking the lid on and off my pen or wrapping a lacky band around my pen/fingers. It may seem weird, but I find it definitely helps my focus.
(There are plenty of online tests/quizzes that will help you evaluate what type of learner you are. There are much longer ones than this, but I found this to be accurate when tested by myself/coworkers: https://www.chegg.com/play/student-life/quiz-what-type-of-learner-are-you/)
3. Getting in the ‘Zone’
Getting in the ZONE. It’s a tough one for sure, there are just so many distractions and things I’d generally rather be doing than studying. Getting in the right mental state for studying can be a challenge, but if you’ve set yourself up by following the first two stages, and your environment is good, and your physical needs are taken care of – that’s half the battle won!
Getting in the zone for me is all about being isolated in my mind. I usually put some music on, something upbeat with a good tempo to keep me awake. I tend to avoid songs with lots of lyrics, as I find myself listening to them more carefully rather than allowing the music to take the backseat in my mind. Some people advocate for not listening to music while studying – it’s all personal preference. I personally like it because it drowns out sounds of other people, traffic, phones etc.
Make sure you are prepared on what you will be doing/studying. If you know you have 3 hours to study, take the first 15 minutes planning what you want to go over, or if you’re working on an assignment, try to allocate what parts/sections you are going to complete there and then. It will allow you to make sure you have the resources you require ahead of time, so you can cruise through the ZONE with minimal distractions. (I once went to University late at night to work on an assignment, realised I didn’t have one of the files I needed, spent close to an hour trying to source it.)
My final “getting in the zone” method is the big winner here, and I believe it to be so crucial it’s going to get its own dot point.
4. The Pomodoro Technique
No exaggeration, the Pomodoro Technique single-handedly got me through university. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s. It works by breaking your time down into intervals, or sprints. Once the first interval is over, you take a short break. What you do in the break is up to you, some people stretch, think, play a quick game, get up and walk a bit, go to the toilet, whatever it is. Then after the short break, another interval and repeat. After 4 ‘sprints’, you take a longer break (I call this half time), and then start the process over again.
There are plenty of apps available for phones/computers that can control all of this for you. You can set your time limits, break limits, and are notified when an interval or breaks time is up.
This technique helped me greatly with my flow and my focus and reduced my procrastination drastically. For me, it was that the initial dread of “I have to do this for the next 3 hours” shifted to “only 15 minutes and I get a break!”.
Here’s the complete workflow I used to use in University. I studied only in 3 hour blocks, as I used to study after work most of the time, but this could be run back to back for 6 hours (as long as you take a bigger break in the middle).
TOTAL DURATION: 3 hours (180 Minutes)
I found that this technique, combined with setting my environment and taking care of my physical needs allowed me to get a lot more work done (even while taking so many breaks). I use it often, and find it especially helpful when I have a big task at hand that can seem daunting to get started on.
Best of luck with your studies!