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How to Focus: 20 Tips to Help You Study and Work Better
Like most things in life, consistency in key.
You know the feeling well. Perhaps you first experienced it as a student, when you had a paper due the next morning and you just couldn’t get your brain to switch on, or deal with it regularly now, as an adult, when it’s Monday morning and you have an overwhelming pile of emails you need to respond to. It’s inevitable: at the time in which you need to focus the most, your brain just isn’t letting that happen.
You start to procrastinate, remembering that thing you were supposed to follow up on with a friend, or the album you’ve been meaning to listen to. But the good news is that procrastination and the inability to focus doesn’t have to be the norm. We’ve put together 20 tips to help you meet your deadline, every time. Here’s what you need to know.
20 Tips to Study, Focus, and Work Better
1. Create a ritual
Just like trying to fall asleep and wake up at the same time each day as a means to train your body, you want to try and do the same thing with your work ethic. Get your body into the rhythm of needing to do the same amount of intensity at the same time each day –– it’ll help your body naturally get used to having to focus at that time.
2. Set goals
Think of this as training for a marathon. At first, maybe you’re only able to run half a mile or a mile at a time without being winded, but over time, if you stay consistent and you keep setting goals for distance or time spent running, you’ll improve your duration and stamina. When it comes to focusing and doing work, you want to do the same thing. Even if you only give yourself thirty minutes to do a project, make it a project that you know you can complete during that time, and focus solely on it. The next day, something longer, or an additional project, until you’re able to devote your brain as long as you need to without feeling too burned out.
3. Try Nootro-Focus
Feel free to give yourself a hand with a cognitive supplement. Nootro-Focus, our signature brain booster, uses a blend of potent adaptogens and nootropics to help you focus immediately while supporting your brain over time. It relies on clinically studied ingredients like Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Rhodiola, Bacopa, Ginkgo, Citicoline, and L-Theanine to help kickstart your brain.
Citicoline is particularly beneficial for focus. An essential brain nutrient, it powers neurotransmitters, fuels the brain, and supports brain membranes, working to energize brain cells while optimizing the neural electrical impulses that are responsible for powering all thoughts. In clinical studies, it has been proven to improve attention and focus within 28 days, increase energy to the brain, increase motor speed, and encourage the formation of brain cell membranes.
When taking Nootro-Focus, you can expect a soft, instant focus, without any jitters or anxiety (thanks to the Rhodiola and L-Theanine in the formula).
4.Get the smaller things done first to clear up time for bigger tasks
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is simply get started. If there are multiple things you have to accomplish or work through, start with the quicker, easier tasks. It’ll help get your brain moving in the direction you want it to, and it’ll make you feel even better about your workload, as you’ll have a few things already crossed off your list.
5. Have a weekly plan
Feel like everything is always getting done at the last minute? Take time at the beginning of each week to go over your workload, making sure to take note of what tasks will take longer than others, and specifically, how long each thing will take. Then organize your tasks in a manner in which your week seems bearable, and double up assignments on days that you have a smaller workload. Space it out so that you’re not feeling burned out –– put more enjoyable work after a particularly difficult one, so there’s something to look forward to. It’s like riding a bike up a hill –– make sure to give yourself space to go back down the hill instead of just continuously climbing.
6. Make a timetable
Schedule things out even further and allocate specific amounts of time for each separate project, a timeline that seems feasible for what you need to accomplish. Not only will this help keep you motivated (it essentially acts as a timer), but it will show you for the future just how much time you need. For example, if you get a project done in less time than you anticipated, you can use that same data for future projects. And, if the opposite is true, that you end up taking more time than expected, you’ll know for next time.
7. Find the right working environment
Remember the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Well, just to quickly jog your memory: Goldilocks goes into the bears’ house, eats their porridge, and then tries to take a nap in one of their beds. She tries each of the beds before finding the one that she can actually sleep in, one that is “just right.”
You want to follow a similar technique for your working environment. Some people need to be surrounded by other focused people in a quiet setting like a library, whereas others love the white noise and soft music of a coffee shop. You get the picture. Whatever that “just right” working situation is for you, it’s your job to find it. Once you do, you’ll find it easier to focus and get work done.
8. Learn to say no to temptations
There are a million ways to talk yourself out of sitting down and getting to work, from wanting to go to dinner with friends, finishing an episode of the show you’re watching, or even just getting up to get another coffee that you don’t really need. All of these things are just ways we procrastinate and avoid accomplishing the tasks at hand. Learn to say no to them by asking yourself each time you start to leave: “do I really need to go to this and get up right now? Why?” Taking this extra step helps to cut back on the likelihood of abandoning your work.
9. Come prepared with food
One of the easiest ways to procrastinate? Getting up to make food or go to pick some up. Avoid this by preparing meals beforehand so you can bring them with you as you head into work-mode.
10. Put your phone on airplane mode or turn it off
There’s nothing worse than having your phone go off when you’re in the midst of getting serious work done, pulling you out of that intense focus. There’s actually a term for this, called “switch cost,” which means the amount of time it takes for our brains to switch from one activity to another. When we are interrupted and lose focus to turn our attention to something else, we are essentially losing not only the amount of time we’re now spending on the new focus (in this case, your phone) from the original project, but also have to factor in the amount of time it takes for the brain to refocus. So, in summary –– make sure your phone is in a place where it won’t distract you.
11. Make sure you still get plenty of sleep
A full, restorative night’s sleep is essential for our cognitive health. When we don’t get enough of it, something called our “executive function” is impaired –– meaning that the skills that allow us to plan, focus, remember instructions, and handle multiple tasks aren’t able to function at their full capacity. Set a bedtime and stick to it to ensure an ideal cognitive state.
12. Try the Pomodoro technique
To do this one, you’re going to need a timer. The Pomodoro technique involves training the brain to focus intensely for short periods of time, but then giving it a break in order to reset and get back to work –– effectively breaking up a long project into small, manageable pieces. Here is exactly what you do:
- Pick the project you want to work on
- Set your timer for 25 minutes
- Work until the timer rings
- Take a 5 minute break
- Repeat the process
- At the end of every 4 of these groups, take a longer break (15-25 minutes)
This technique really turns it into a game, where you’re playing against yourself to see how much you can accomplish within the set period of time, and then see if you can beat your score during the next round.
13. Use project management tools like Asana or Monday
Find it difficult to stick to a weekly or daily plan? Outsource your planning with a project management tool. You can organize your tasks and set deadlines so you can look at the week ahead and get regular reminders of what you still have yet to complete.
14. Schedule in downtime
You know that feeling when you feel like you just can’t think anymore, where you realize you’ve been rereading the same page over and over again? An equally important part of working hard is recognizing the need to let your brain take a break and relax. If you keep pushing yourself 100% of the time, you’ll just end up burning out and feeling stressed about the work you feel you can’t complete. Give yourself a break by going for a little walk. It’ll feel good to stretch your legs and you’ll be able to return to your work refreshed and ready to go.
15. Learn your peak brain times and focus work time then
First: identify whether or not you are a morning or a night person. Due to individual body chemistry, it’s true that some people are simply better at accomplishing work at different times of day, depending on their unique circadian rhythms. The sooner you are able to identify yours, the sooner you’ll be able to uncover what time of day your brain works best at. Once you do, make that the norm for when you get all of your studying or important work done (yes, even if it’s 11:30 PM).
16. Find the technique that works best for you (e.g. flashcards)
Do you learn better when information is paired audio or visual aids? How about using flash cards versus rewriting the information? What works for one person may not work for the next, but just like determining your peak brain times, you’re going to want to determine which learning technique works best for you. To uncover this, try doing a series of tests using different types of learning tools (and of course, different information per tool) to see which device allows you to better remember information.
17. Don't forget to exercise
It’s no secret that exercise is key for maintaining overall health and wellbeing, but this is especially true when it comes to cognitive health. In one particular study, conducted by the University of British Columbia, scientists found that regular aerobic exercise led to an increase in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with verbal learning and memory. Physical exercise also has the ability to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation while stimulating the release of growth factors, important brain chemicals that play a role in the growth and survival of new brain cells. Try to make physical exercise a part of your daily routine if possible, or at least a few times a week.
18. Reward yourself at the end of a session
Make getting through the allotted work time something that deserves a reward by giving yourself an incentive to complete it. Perhaps it’s in the form of a dessert or snack, or even just allowing yourself to watch an episode of the show you’d rather have streamed instead of studying. Whatever the reward, it’ll feel worth it by the time you reach it.
19. Find a friend
If you find that you’re having trouble staying motivated and focused, it’s possible that you may actually fare much better working with a partner, to help you stay on track. See if there’s someone else that can either help quiz you when needed or simply work alongside you quietly (if that’s what you prefer), to keep you focused on the task at hand.
20. Eat plenty of healthy brain food
To boost your brain before, during, and after your studying, eat foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants –– all of which help support cognitive function. These are foods like fatty fish (think salmon, cod, canned tuna), leafy greens (kale, spinach, broccoli), berries, and even walnuts, which, in one study from UCLA conducted in 2015, found that a diet high in walnuts led to improved cognitive test scores. This could be due to being high in a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, which works to protect arteries and lower blood pressure.