How to improve your focus and study without distractions

A university student studying online

There is so much that demands our attention these days. When your phone is pinging with text messages throughout the day, your friends on social media keep reminding you of all the exciting activities you’re missing out on, and your breaking news app is regularly blaring with updates, how can you possibly expect to stay focused on your study? 

Learning to concentrate on the task at hand takes a bit of effort, especially with so many temptations enticing us, but it’s central to achieving success in postgraduate online learning.   

So, how do you develop laser-sharp focus while studying online? Here are five tips that will help your mind to pay attention to the right things.  

List your distractions - and remove them

According to American video game developer John Carmack, “Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.” So, start by doing an audit of what lures you away from your study and take steps to ignore them.

If technology is your biggest weakness, unplug from all of the devices you would regularly use for the duration of your study. This is crucial because every time you look at your screen, your productivity is impacted. In fact, a UK study found that being inundated with a constant flow of messages and information dents our IQ more than marijuana.

A simple solution is to pop your phone in another room, or better yet put it on aeroplane mode. However, if you need a virtual disciplinarian to help you stay away from the technology wormhole, there’s several  apps you can use to aid this process. 

For instance, if you’re writing an assignment, you can tap into Mac’s Write Room and Windows’ Dark Room, with both apps designed to help you concentrate on one task alone: writing.     

Don't multi-task

“Be here now,” advised academic and clinical psychologist Ram Dass back in 1971. This principle and practice can be applied to your online studying to sharpen your focus. By being present in the moment, you’ll have the greatest opportunity to increase your personal effectiveness. This approach also requires you to manage your time to maximise your productivity. For instance, you could use the Pomodoro method to keep your mind from wandering by working in bursts – knuckling down for 25 minutes, then taking a break for five minutes.

If you look at the modern workplace, 40 per cent of knowledge workers never get more than 30 minutes straight of focused time as most spend their time bouncing from one task to another. 

So, taking a leaf out of those statistics, while you may choose the Pomodoro technique, avoid multitasking and only do one thing at a time until it is complete. Multi-tasking will extend your study time and disrupt your productivity. 

Additionally, schedule the time you will be studying for when you will be the most alert – this will vary depending on whether you are an early bird or a night owl. And remember to be realistic with your timeframes – studies show that we can’t really concentrate for longer than 90 minutes before needing a break.

Set goals & practice 

As American actor Mike Hawkins once said, “You don’t get results by focusing on results. You get results by focusing on the actions that produce results.” 

That means you need to take steps that will lead you to your goal. 

So, set study limits and break down your overall goal into bite-sized manageable chunks. Rather than trying to do everything all at once, set out to achieve two or three objectives and then chip away until you get there. A good way to do this is to set S.M.A.R.T goals – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. 

It’s advisable to start by focussing on the most challenging aspects of your study. There are a number of learning methods that can help you grapple with tough subject matter, such as the Feynman Technique. Developed by Noble Prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, this technique can help you deeply understand a complex idea in just 20 minutes.

Like most things though, while goal setting is excellent for postgraduate online learning, you need to follow it up with practice to get more efficient at what you do. One way to do this is by creating a mind map which can help you work out what areas of your study you may need to work harder on. 

There’s an app called SimpleMind that can assist you with that. It’s designed to allow you to organise your ideas, remember things and generate new ideas. If we accept that the human brain is like any other muscle, you need to train it every day for it get better at what you want it to do – improving your focus.

Go on a walk

While study rituals are key to staying focused for online learning, decluttering your mind by giving yourself a brain break is just as important. 

One method that experts agree on is to exercise regularly. Exercise helps you to think better – so, perhaps take a gentle stroll around the park, do some yoga stretches or maybe hit the treadmill. 

Researchers have found that regular exercise changes the brain and improves memory and thinking skills. Dr John Ratey, author of Spark - The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, claims that exercise improves your brain in the short term by raising your focus for two to three hours afterwards. 

Fuel your brain 

You really are what you eat when it comes to staying focussed on your online learning. Your diet will affect the way your brain functions, so it’s crucial to consume what’s considered brain foods, such as broccoli, nuts and blueberries. 

Eating the right foods will keep your energy levels up while you’re immersed in your study and help you avoid the dreaded brain fog. Hunger is the enemy of focus – it will become your biggest distraction, so make sure you fuel your body with the right foods throughout the day.

Learn more about our online postgraduate courses. Get in touch with our Enrolment team on 1300 701 171.