We know what it’s like. You’re sitting in your fifth period class, trying to figure out what your teacher is talking about and how you got here, but you just can’t stay on track.
It’s hard to stay in the moment at school, and sometimes, it can be just as difficult at home. In this article, we’re going to let you in on some hot tips to help you feel more in control of your attention span, regardless of where you are.
Improving your focus at school
Not focusing at school is a slippery slope. It’s easy to start daydreaming for as little as one minute, but this is enough to throw you off for the rest of the lesson. Once you zone out, zoning back in can feel impossible.
But hey, no need to dwell on it – we’ve got some ideas on how you can feel less distracted in the classroom.
Pick out exactly what you don’t understand – even if that means everything
If you start getting lost during a lesson, it’s all too easy to walk out and say, “I don’t even know what I don’t know”. This isn’t a productive mindset to have, and it’s not going to help you begin working towards starting to understand the content.
Let’s think up a scenario. You’re in class, and your English teacher starts mentioning something ridiculous like soft onomatopoeia. No matter how many times she says it, you just don’t understand what she’s talking about, or why it’s useful. Now you’re getting distracted on TikTok again, because at this stage, is there even any point in trying to listen?
It’s important to note that a lack of focus can often stem from, or at least be worsened by, not understanding the content. It’s very difficult to pay attention when you don’t know what your teacher is saying.
As always, your first step is to ask questions to figure out what’s going on.
But we get it, there’s a lot of reasons why you might not want to ask for help. Maybe your teacher is awful at explaining things, or they’ve already explained it and it still doesn’t make sense, or you just hate talking. That’s cool!
Here’s where the stuck list can help.
A stuck list is essentially a list of things you’ve read or heard that don’t make sense. You could include one word terms, like mitochondria in biology or torque in physics, or big ideas like the male gaze from media studies. It doesn’t matter what it is, chuck it on the stuck list!
When you go home, pull your stuck list back out, and work through it. Research every term and concept on the list, using YouTube videos and online guides (oh hey, StudyTime has those!) to your advantage. When you head back into school tomorrow, and your teacher starts using the same terms, you’ll know exactly what they mean, and it will be easier to keep up.
Not to mention, writing a stuck list means you have to listen to the lesson to find out what you don’t understand. That brings us to our next point:
Actively engage with the lesson
Even if you don’t understand what’s happening, where those numbers came from, or why you’d ever need to know any of this, keep going. Force yourself to take notes, read what your teacher is writing, and aim to have a set number of terms written on your stuck list by the end of the lesson.
- Using colours is a great way to improve how much you’re engaging with the content, too. When note taking during class, grab your coloured pens, highlighters, and fluorescent sticky notes, and spice up your work. We bet you paid that much more attention to this sentence, just because it was in a blue rectangle.
- Don’t believe us? Dzulkifli and Mustafar (2013) proved that using colours when learning improves attention and memory.
The key here is to make sure you’re using colours as you’re note taking. Use the colours to break up different ideas, and emphasise important points. Simply highlighting a few phrases long after class isn’t enough to really make things stick.
Improving your focus at home
With online school more common than ever, it’s important to be able to focus at home as well as school. Obviously, your first step is to make sure you’ve got a quiet place where you won’t be distracted, even if that does mean heading out to a library.
However, most students need a lot more than simply a quiet environment to really concentrate. Let’s discuss.
Start revision with a YouTube video on your topic
Oftentimes, the hardest part of studying is getting started. To set a good tone for the rest of your study sesh, we recommend finding a relevant YouTube video that discusses some of the topics you plan on studying.
Not only is this a great way to learn some key terms and get a strong grasp of big picture ideas, but it’s a great way to ease into it. Instead of worrying about where to start, you can find some aspects to the video that you’re uncertain of, and begin with revising those. Choice.
Work at the right difficulty level
We’ve all had those days where we sit down to revise some really tricky material, and despite our best efforts, we just can’t hack it. Usually, this leads to us feeling frustrated, distracted, and our studying is ruined for the rest of the day. Not fun.
While revising hard concepts is always necessary, we need to make sure we’re going about it strategically. To put it simply, our brains like winning. It’s easier to focus when we get the satisfaction of getting the odd question right.
The trick here is to start with easier questions, and introduce progressively more difficult content. By revising questions that are challenging without feeling impossible, we can make progress and keep our brain engaged.
Think outside the box
There are a lot of ways to improve your focus beyond the generic advice your teachers give. Here are some quirky ones to try:
- Pause is a Chrome extension that, in its own words, “breaks the cycle of distraction and mindless browsing”. So, instead of being able to access websites at the click of a button, you will be interrupted by a screen that asks you to really consider if now really is a good time for Instagram.
- Another Chrome extension called Just Focus works in a similar way by restricting access to your personal list of distracting sites. While it does take some initial willpower to set up, it will help keep you on task by reducing social media temptations.
- Schooltraq is an online planner to keep all of your due dates in order. Boosting your organisational skills is a great way to make sure that your overall school life is focused. Not to mention, ticking off all of the tasks you’ve completed is always satisfying.
Address your lifestyle
We’re sure you’ve heard this before, and for good reason. Your daily habits have a massive impact on how well you can focus.
Engage in daily exercise
Even if it just means biking to school instead of taking the bus, or spending the odd lunchtime playing rugby with your mates, exercise is known to improve focus and memory. According to Harvard neurologist Dr. Scott McGinnis, “regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions”.
To break this complicated sentence down, we see a physical change in parts of our brain by doing something as simple as walking for 15 to 30 minutes daily. With this “physical change” comes a whole range of improved focus and thinking skills. Especially in a time where being shut inside is so common, it’s crucial to devote time to getting up and moving. Your brain will thank you for it.
Get strategic with your caffeine intake
Perhaps the most tried and true concentration-boosting method yet is our old mate, caffeine. The good news is that caffeine’s ability to improve focus is well documented, and generally, we see a positive impact on focus with a low to moderate caffeine consumption. By this, we mean that about one and a half cups of coffee are generally fine for most of us, and any positive effects last for 3-5 hours.
Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing. Having excessive caffeine (beyond two cups of coffee, and generally, any more than one energy drink) can have some nasty effects. Instead of an improved focus, we see anxiety, tremors, and agitation.
So, while you don’t have to give up your morning coffee, we encourage you to dial back your caffeine intake where possible. For very obvious reasons, agitation and focus do not go hand in hand.
To wrap things up
If you’ve managed to pay attention long enough to make it to the end of this article, well done! We know focusing isn’t easy, and it’s a skill that requires time and patience to develop.
Nonetheless, we encourage you to work hard to start using a few StudyTime approved tricks in your day to day life. Whether it’s creating a stuck list during lessons, or adding some new extensions to your browser, we’re sure you’ll be paying attention like a pro in no time.