Everyone gets sidetracked from time to time, even when it comes to important tasks. As a college student, I had to learn how to balance my free time with coursework. Here are a few of the tips I discovered to help maintain focus when you would rather be doing something else.
1. Set Time Limits
Try working for 30-45 minutes straight, and then take a 10-15 minute break. A study from Kansas State University recommends giving yourself a specific amount of time for each subject. That way you will be able to stay focused on one topic, knowing you will still have time to work on another. Give yourself those breaks to get the social media cravings out of your system but when time is up, push yourself to get back to work. Crank out as much as you can in half an hour and see how far you can get.
2. Drink Water
It’s amazing how focused you feel when you drink water. Staying hydrated genuinely does wonders for your brain. Don’t forget to eat a snack occasionally, too. Attempting to work when all you can think about is your empty stomach is not going to help keep you on task.
3. Tackle the Little Stuff First
Once you’ve made a list, start with the little tasks and work your way up to the big ones. It is motivating to see stuff getting crossed off, and once the little things are out of the way, the big stuff doesn’t seem quite so bad. Also, by letting yourself be productive in smaller ways, you are warming up to being productive in your large projects. When you gain that sense of completion, you will have a desire to keep going.
4. Stay Organized
Keeping all your materials in one place is a key element of success. When there is a mess in your work environment, it makes it harder for your brain to focus on what it’s supposed to be doing. Above all, make sure you’re comfortable in the atmosphere you are in. While some people can stay focused in their own “organized mess,” truly knowing the best environment for yourself is key.
5. Take Breaks
If you find you have been sitting at your desk for six hours straight trying to work on something but you just can’t get yourself to focus, take a break. Walk around for a while to stretch, or go eat a snack. If you just can’t seem to get your brain to focus on your work, give it a rest.
6. Remove Distractions
Phones are distracting, so go ahead and put yours away when you are trying to focus on something. Put it somewhere you can’t see it. Better yet, give it to a friend and tell them to not give it back until you are done with your work. If your friends are the distraction, don’t try to get stuff done around them. If you know you will struggle with paying attention to your work while they’re around, don’t attempt to work around them.
7. Use Rewards
If you are trying to read 20 pages of a textbook, tell yourself that at the end of each page you can eat a treat or check your phone for a minute. You don’t have to force yourself into working nonstop without breaks and rewards. If you constantly push yourself to complete something without any positive reinforcement throughout the process, your brain will have a harder time making it to the finish line.
8. Listen to Music
Sometimes working with background noise can make it feel impossible to get anything done. Occasionally, it is nice to work in complete silence. However, that can get to be too much, and a little background noise is helpful. Don’t try to work with an album by your favorite artist playing if you tend to sing along. Try listening to a new artist that you might not have heard before (so you won’t know the words) or listen to the soundtrack of your favorite movie.
9. Make a List
Making a to-do list might feel like overkill, but it can be a very useful tool to help you get stuff done. By physically writing down a list of all the things you need to get done, you are setting goals for yourself. Those goals are easier to achieve if you can see them all in one place. Purdue University Global recommends tackling the list in an order that reflects your mood. If you are feeling very on top of things, then you should work on one of the bigger projects on your list. If you feel a little flighty, try getting a few of the easier things crossed off. Make sure to remember which item on your list has the highest importance so you don’t accidentally overlook it.
10. Don’t Procrastinate
Procrastinating can make you feel flustered when trying to finish a project. It leads to forgetfulness and mistakes, which can stress you out even more. If you organize your time before it’s too late, your whole working process will flow more smoothly. Make sure when deciding which project to work on, you take the time to prioritize as well. Prioritizing the items you need to get done will help you avoid procrastination.