How to study and focus better

  Studying can be a tricky process.  Often people expect to sit down and be able to magically focus for long periods of time, and are surprised when they end up being distracted after just a few minutes or retain little of what they read.  This article aims to look at some of the greatest distractions to studying, and how to prevent them before you even start, as well as some general aids and tips to studying better:            

Things you can do before you sit down:

 1)      Come with an empty mind.  This is the number one distraction that can happen before you even start!  Don't carry what your girl/boy friend said, your social life, your work, and your favorite movies to the studying room.   If there’s something really bugging you, jot it down and put it aside for later, making a commitment to worry about it later when you can give that your full attention.  

2)      Clear your environment of distractions.  You can’t study effectively while the TV and computer and a million other things are competing for your attention at the same time.   This is why I'm not a big proponent of group studying.   Some people can do it, and for group projects where discussion is needed, it's fine.  However, usually well meaning group studying degenerates into chatting that have nothing to do with the subject at hand, and end with a quick trip to the local coffee shop and a wasted afternoon instead.   It seems like in the end, like life, the hard work must be done alone.   

 3)      Find a well lit and comfortable spot.  If you’re writing or reading excessively, it’s good to have a source of soft light coming from the shoulder opposite your dominant writing hand.  This reduces shadows and puts minimal strain on your eyes.   On the note of comfort, while it’s popular to lie on your bed or sprawl on your sofa while studying, this can often become an invitation to sleep instead of studying.  A comfortable chair where you’re sitting but not sprawled has been proven to be the best position to study in. 

 4)      Studying after a big meal can equally invite sleepiness.  If you know you’re going to get hungry, prepare some slow release carbohydrates and have it at the ready (fruits and salad are great, especially oranges, apples, pineapples, blueberries, and salad).  This way, you won’t have to go off for food, and they’re much easier to digest.

 5)      Have a plan of attack.  You can get far more done if you can identify exactly what you're going to be studying, and more importantly, where to find them!  I can't tell you know many times I've sat down to read a book, only to realize I didn't know where it was.  Or I've decided to go over my lecture notes, to realize they were so disorganized that I had to spend time organizing them instead.  So know what you're going to read, and have them ready and prepared before you start.   

6)      Start on the most important thing first.  It's easy to start on the easy subjects (hey, that's why their easy), but your focus is sharpest at the beginning and this time should be spent getting the most important thing out of the way.   Often, the encouragement you feel from getting that out of the way will propel you through the rest of your session. 

So all the above things can be done even before you start studying.  I want to say one last thing which can help you to focus while studying: 

7)      Take breaks, but don't wander off!  While all of our attention spans differ, it's quite common for retention rates and focus to start dropping after about 30 – 50 minutes.  While I'm a huge propoent of training attention just like a muscle,  it's good to take study breaks as well.  The key is to limit these breaks to 10 - 15 minutes, and limit them to simple things like doing light exercises, stretching to get the blood flowing, going for a quick walk outside for a breath of fresh air, or just drinking some water.  Longer breaks, especially one that include stimulating activities like watching TV, playing games or surfing the web will often draw you away completely.

These were the tips that got me through college, and I hope they might help you in the future as well.