Effective study can only be achieved if you’re able to focus your complete attention on what you are trying to learn. If you are unable to concentrate fully on what you are doing because you’re constantly being distracted, or your thoughts are going elsewhere, your process of learning will be interrupted.
Concentration is the ability to focus all attention on the activity at hand and block out all other unnecessary thoughts and distractions. Taking your mind off all other things and completely focusing on the task at hand. According to researchers at the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task following a distraction.
So, what can we do to increase our concentration and levels of focus? Luckily they are skills that can be developed, you just need to know the right techniques.
In this guide we will show you multiple ways of improving concentration by utilizing various concentration techniques, and learn how to stop distractions from getting the best of you.
By the time you’ve finished this guide you’ll know exactly what to do to focus better, boost concentration and avoid distractions. You can use the quick links below to jump to a particular area of interest.
How to Improve Concentration
A rested mind studies best. Therefore get a good night’s rest before you attempt to study. This should consist of at least six hours sleep. Most people require at least 8 hours per night. Sleep is important as it allows your brain to recover and to help remember information more effectively. A good period of rest beforehand will refresh and relax your mind and enable you to concentrate easier.
Research has found that sleep plays a fundamental role in our ability to memorise information both before and after studying. Not only that but a lack of sleep and tiredness has a direct impact on our motivation and mood. It will affect our judgement and perception of events.
Regular exercise is a great way to help improve your concentration when studying as it speeds up blood circulation to the brain. As a result, your brain gets the nourishment it requires while getting rid of unnecessary waste products.
Physical activity will improve your ability focus and improve attention, as well as provide you with a mental boost even if it is just done for a period of 15 to 20 minutes.
Breaks are an important aspect of effective learning. It is essential to stop at set regular intervals and go for a short walk, do some yoga or exercise, breathe deeply or have some food. Do something different from what you’ve been doing and in a different area. This can be done for 10 to 30 minutes and will allow you to refresh your mind.
It is important to take longer breaks, maybe twice during longer study days, where you can properly rest the mind and have food. Schedule a break period every 50 or 60 minutes as you will not be able to maintain focus for longer periods of time.
4) Make learning interesting
To keep yourself motivated it is a good idea to approach learning from different angles. This can be done reading from your textbook and then studying your own notes. You can read the topic out loud, try to teach the topic to someone else or even test yourself on the topic you have been studying.
Other study methods include:
- Listening to audio on the topic and write down some key notes on what they are saying that can help you better understand what you are attempting to learn.
- Watching videos on the topic. There are many useful videos of people explaining complex topics on youtube.
- Making your own notes from what you have read in the textbook.
- You can write questions and the answer them later. These can be questions from your textbook or even questions that you think is likely to come up on the exam. This is a good way to test your understanding of what you learnt and help you remember it, especially if you leave it a few days to answer them.
- Past exam papers. This is great for not only testing your knowledge but also familiarising yourself with the exam format and structure which will help you settle into the exam much quicker and easier on the day.
- Mind maps. Mind maps can be a great way to break down information into a simple diagram that can be remembered more easily. There also a good way to test whether you know the subject matter. You can redraw the diagram and deliberately leave blanks to see can you fill them in again or whether you can discuss the topic in more detail by only looking at the key headings on the mind map.
By doing this you are studying the same material but are using alternative methods that will require using different brain pathways. This will enhance your learning ability and help retain the information much better. It also decreases the likelihood that you will become bored while studying the topic.
Fueling the mind is an essential element of increasing focus and concentration. Research has indicated that students learn much better when they’re well nourished. How often you eat can also have a powerful effect on your energy levels.
Be sure to eat the right foods and begin your day with a proper breakfast as this will significantly enhance alertness avoid fatigue. Foods with a high protein, carbohydrates and low sugar are a great way to fuel your mind for learning. Foods containing a high sugar content can lead to poor concentration levels.
What foods are good for boosting memory and focus?
- Green, Leafy Vegetables
- Green Tea
- Coconut Oil
- Fatty Fish
- Bone Broth
- Flax Seeds
- Egg Yolks
- Dark Chocolate
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Oats and fiber
- Nuts, walnuts and seeds
- Beans and Lentils
- Wild Salmon
Check out our guide on the best study food you can eat in college.
6) Avoid clutter
It is important to have a clean and tidy work area when you are trying to study as a cluttered workspace can negatively impact your mood, ability to concentrate and process information effectively.
Organisation is key to improving focus and, not to mention, enhancing productivity levels.
Motivation is another element that can affect our learning ability. Having a clear understanding of why we want to learn a topic provides us with a why. Why you are doing it. What are your end goals and rewards?
For example, if you are learning german because you intend to go and live there for a year or two, you are likely to have more motivation to learn it and a greater desire to continue when you may be finding it difficult.
Clearing establishing your goals for learning topics can enhance your motivation and improve your learning ability.
How to Focus Better
1) Stop Multi-tasking
Multi-tasking is never a good idea when attempting to study. Playing with other things or texting while studying steals your full focus. These assignments take longer to complete and don’t have the quality that your projects do when you’ve devoted full attention. Make your learning goals simple, clear and precise rather than attempting to accomplish multiple goals at once.
This way you will be able to devote 100% full attention and concentration on the topic at hand, learn it faster and how to focus better.
2) Completely Clear Your Mind
When you’re thinking of other things while trying to learn a topic, you won’t be able to focus fully. This affects your ability to learn effectively, therefore, it is important to have a clear mind when you sit down to study.
If you have an issue or irrelevant thought that you keep fixating on, you should attempt to resolve it prior to studying. Obsessing about the particular issue will cause you to stress which will decrease your ability to learn and concentrate fully. In order to keep better focus, you need to make sure that the only thing you’re thinking about is your studies.
3) Prioritize What’s Important
To help you study more efficiently, it is a good idea to prioritise your activities. Your mind is unlikely to settle if you are unsure if you’re learning the right topic, or correct subject, at the right time. You will spend much of your study time contemplating and worrying about whether you are learning the right subject.
To help avoid this list all the topics you need to learn and rank them in order of importance. You can start with the most important subject or topic and give it your full attention and then move on to the next most important topic. You can then create a timetable which will provide you with a plan to follow and more structure.
You can even break down the subject you are focusing on into a list of tasks to learn. This will provide you with something to check off as you finish and increase a motivation and sense of accomplishment which will help you progress forward with your study plans.
Asana.com is a web-based tool that can be very handy when you are trying to plan your work activities and organise tasks. It allows you to conveniently manage projects and prioritise tasks.
4) Minimize Distractions
Before you begin to study you should attempt to eliminate as many distractions as possible. These can include your phone, facebook, emails, television, etc. The aim is to avoid having these things absorbing your attention while you’re trying to learn. By making your study area distraction free and quiet, you are enhancing your ability to increase your study focus and concentration.
We’ll focus on ways to do this further on in this article.
- Count backwards from 100 to 1 in your mind. You can increase this to 500 or even 1000.
- When you have mastered the first technique you can make it more challenging by doing the same again only, this time, skip every fourth number.
- Begin by getting a book. This can be any book you like, it does not have to be any book in particular. For example, a novel or textbook would be suitable. Begin by choosing a paragraph and then count the number of words in that paragraph. Then count the words in the paragraph to ensure you have counted them correctly. You can do this a few times before moving on to the next paragraph. When you find this too easy move on to counting the words on the entire page, or even 2 pages. You must do the counting without pointing your finger at each word ie mentally, only using your eyes.
2) Drawing & Colouring
They might sound like activities for children, but research has shown that colouring is almost as effective as meditation in improving concentration. This seems to growing in popularity as several of Amazon’s best sellers are adult colouring books.
Other creative activities such as sketching, painting, or creating pottery, are also great for improving your levels of concentration.
3) Eye to Eye
This exercise is a little different. Stand in front of a mirror and make two marks, level with your eyes, that represent a person looking back at you. Try to maintain focus by staring at these marks without blinking or moving your head. Also, empty your mind of thoughts and try to hold complete focus on the ‘eyes’ looking back at you.
Breathe deeply and keep your concentration. It will break easily at first, but after some practice you will be able to do this with full concentration for minutes at a time.
4) Being Present
This technique involves a physical object such as a piece of fruit or furniture. For example, you could choose to use an apple or a chair. It involves taking note of its characteristics and texture.
If you decide to use a piece of fruit you can hold it in your hand while examining it. As you examine it, keep your full attention on it, examining its shape, smell, feel and taste.
The goal here is to avoid your attention being taken away by other irrelevant thoughts and straying away from what you are trying to give your full attention too.
Another useful technique which is quite similar to that of the above is to visualise the piece of fruit rather than physically holding the fruit in our hand.
Begin by holding the actual fruit in your hand for a few minutes and observing its shape, feel, smell etc just like you did in the previous technique.
To make this exercise more challenging, close your eyes and try to imagine the taste, smell etc. Do this by trying to create a clear image in your head of the fruit.
If the image becomes blurred or you find it too difficult to create the image in your mind just open your eyes again. For a few minutes, examine the piece of fruit and then try it again.
This technique involves finding a chair, preferably one that you find comfortable. You begin by sitting on the chair and trying to remain completely still. It may sound easier but it actually can be quite difficult.
The technique essentially involves you focusing your attention on remaining completely still and ensuring that you are not making any involuntary muscular movements.
With this exercise, it is best to start off with a target of 5 minutes and gradually increase the time to 15 minutes. This is a great way to relax the entire body.
7) Complete Relaxation
This exercise will allow you to fully relax, starting from within, and moving outwards. Lie down somewhere you will be comfortable and will find it easy to relax. Now focus on your heartbeat only, listening to it beating. Start to visualise your heart pumping the blood to all areas of your body. Imagine the blood entering your heart, moving through the chambers, before exiting to move around the entire body.
With practice you will begin to feel the blood moving in the areas you are focusing on.
8) Inspiring Mantra
Another method for improving concentration involves finding a quiet area and then choosing an inspiring word or phrase and repeating it silently in your mind for a few minutes.
You can set yourself targets of five minutes, to begin with. As it gets easier try increase your target. The aim is to achieve a solid block of uninterrupted concentration.
9) The Shape Method
Draw a small triangle, square, or a circle on a piece of paper. This can be about three inches in size, and then colour it any colour you desire.
Place this paper with the drawing in front of you, and concentrate your whole attention on the shape you have drawn without any distracting thoughts.
If this becomes less challenging for you, you can make it more difficult by closing your eyes and trying to visualise what you have drawn on the piece of paper. Again if you cannot see it clearly or it becomes blurry just open your eyes and concentrate on the image for a few minutes before trying again.
10) Still Waters
Take a glass and fill it with water. Then hold the glass out in front of you. Focus your eyes and attention on the glass while keeping your arm steady. Try to keep your arms so steady so that no movement becomes noticeable.
You can try this for one minute on each arm and gradually increase the time as you improve.
Meditating is a good way to train your mind and enhance your attention. When meditating you watch your breath , by simply observing it rather than attempting to control it. Be aware of your body as you are breathing in and again as you exhale.
Meditation teaches you to focus your mind on one thing at a time and allows you to move into a more relaxed and peaceful state. Trying to learn when you are stressed is counter productive thereby learning how to meditate can help ease you back into the right mind frame. Your mind will become recharged and greatly enhances creativity.
It is a good habit to meditate at least once a day, even if this is only for 3 minutes. Your attention is like any other muscle the more you do it the stronger it will get and your ability to focus on other tasks will greatly enhance.
12) Emptying the Mind
The following technique involves sitting for a few minutes without any thoughts. You can begin initially by trying to achieve a period of five minutes and gradually increasing the period.
This exercise can be quite difficult and will require some getting used to. But with sufficient practice, it can be mastered and will become easier. It essentially involves silencing all thoughts and can be a great way to enhance concentration levels and train our brain to focus efficiently.
13) Focus Gazing
Get a chair and sit on it with your head up, chin out and shoulders back. Then raise your right arm up to the level of your shoulder, pointing to your right. Moving your head only look around and fix your gaze on your fingers. While doing this you should keep your arms still for one minute.
14) Sound Focus
Our lives are filled with different sounds and this exercise allows us to use them to increase our levels of concentration. Focus on a specific sound completely for 30 seconds. Then switch to a different sound and focus on that for another 30 seconds. Continue switching sounds every 30 seconds and focus on it fully. This exercise allows you to train your mind to focus on one thing completely and to ignore other goings on around you.
15) Calm Waters
Put a glass of water on the table. Then sit next to the table and observe the water in the glass and how calm it is. As you are doing this picture yourself becoming as calm as the water.
The key to these concentration techniques is to practice them frequently. The more you practice them the easier they will become and your attention will get stronger and stronger.
How to Avoid Distractions
Precommitting to a task essentially involves reducing the ability to distract yourself. This can be achieved by doing something that essentially commits you to completing the task at hand.
A good way to do this is to create a list of the topics you would like to get done in a certain period of time. Then tick them off as you complete them. It sounds simple and it is. But it can be extremely effective because at the end of the period of study you can establish whether or not you have achieved your targets.
So, for example, you could set yourself a time period of 2 hours to get your essay wrote. At the end of the period, you will have either got the easy done or not and therefore you haven’t achieved your goal.
It is a good idea give yourself a reward when you achieve your target. Although the sense of accomplishment in itself can provide many with the motivation they need to try hit another goal. The thought of a reward after completing your task will increase your productivity and help you avoid distractions. Rewards can be as simple as taking a break or stopping to do some exercise, but they are a proven way to enhance productivity.
However, when using this method it is important to establish realistic goals. If you are constantly not hitting your targets it may indicate that the goals you are setting yourself are too hard and unachievable. It is essential to consider what is a realistic period of time to complete the particular task and allow yourself adequate time to effectively learn the topic. Look at past results to determine what is appropriate for setting goals for yourself that are unrealistic will have an adverse effect on your motivation and mood.
It is also a very good idea to break a particular task down into stages, particularly if it is a long task. People often tend to get overwhelmed at the thoughts of learning a huge amount of content. By breaking it down into multiple stages it can really simplify it and make it easier to learn.
Additionally, each time you accomplish a stage within that particular task you will feel like you have had a breakthrough and are likely to feel more motivated as you can see clearly the progress you are making. Learning will feel a lot quicker and will encourage you to keep moving forward.
When you commit yourself to undertaking a particular task you must remove anything that will affect your ability to complete the task in that period. This can be achieved by removing all items that could pose as potential distractions. Basically, you are attempting to remove all other activities and so that you are ultimately only left with the task at hand.
This could involve setting yourself up in a room that is silent, where there is less chance of others distracting you, no television, no phone or social media etc that could potentially prevent you from working on your task.
At the end of your study period, it is a good idea to reflect on how it went. This is a good way to monitor whether the approaches that you have adopted for learning a particular topic has been effective or whether you may need to adjust things to make the process more efficient and yield better results next time.
This monitoring of your performance can be done on a daily or weekly basis but it is essential for identifying improvements and establishing where you are in relationship to your goals. It is a good way to end a week and prepare a plan of what needs to be done for the week ahead. It will enable you to assess whether your particular schedule, techniques and place of studying is proving to be effective.
3) List your distractions
While you can make all the attempts in the world to eliminate all potential distractions, your mind can still throw thoughts at you when you are trying to learn a topic. A good way to deal with this is to have a sheet of paper beside you so that when a distracting thought comes into your head you can just write it down on the piece of paper.
This way it removes the thought from your mind and you can research it later rather than stopping what you are doing to look it up there and then. It essentially allows you to return back to what you were doing much quicker and allows you to stop fixating on the other issue that your mind has thrown up.
If you need to use your computer for what you are learning but find it difficult to stay off social media sites, there are a number of apps available that will prevent access to websites such as Facebook for a set period of time.
These apps are also available for your phone, so you can bring it into the study room with you bt they block certain social media website for a certain period of time or prevent you from using the phone for a set period.
Example of apps that can help avoid distractions:
If you are looking at a lot of information, particularly information that is not related to the topic you are learning about you are causing your brain to become fatigued. Every time your brain sees the information you are causing it to make decisions relating to what to do with that information. As a result, this uses your brain’s resources and ultimately reduces its effectiveness when it comes to focussing on the topic at hand.
Therefore it is important to avoid browsing the internet when attempting to learn a topic as it as reduces your ability to concentrate and an increases the chances of becoming distracted. When we browse a news site our brain sees so much information and attempts to make decisions as to what to do with that information it see.
If you have to look up information in relation to what you are studying you must be more intentional about what you are doing and avoid reading unrelated things.
For effective study and concentration, it is important to establish a study environment that is distraction free and quite. Set aside a specific time and place where you are going to study every day. You should find an area where there is less chance of people just randomly calling around or coming in and out of your room. You should even make it known that when you’re in this area you are studying and to not bother you during those hours.
Put away your smartphone, tablet, etc. Remove all those obvious things that are likely to be distractions. Place them on the opposite side of the room or even in another room.
You could turn off your internet connection completely to ensure that there is no temptation to browse the internet while attempting to studying. If you require information that is online, see can you download it before you begin the study.
If you find yourself becoming distracted during your studying period you should just take a few minutes to concentrate on your breathing. This is a very effective technique that will allow you to return back to learning sooner than other methods.
So when you find yourself becoming distracted from what you are doing then simply close your eyes and breathe in for two seconds, then breathe out for two seconds. Repeat a few times until the urge to become distracted is removed.
Stay positive. Research has indicated that positive emotions enhance the brain’s executive function, which can yield better levels of creativity and strategic thinking.
Being mindful while studying can help you to remain calm and focused on the task at hand. Mindfulness can boost creativity and help reduce stress. It encourages you to bring your attention back to what you are doing in that moment. It is a great way to help you avoid being distracted by other thoughts and your imagination.
When another thought comes into your head, acknowledge it and maybe even give it a label. Then calmly return your attention back to what you are doing.
To help you remain mindful during your study period you may find it useful to focus on your breathing occasionally or become aware of your posture. These are effective ways of helping you stay present as you try to complete your task.
Some people find that using phrases such as “be here now” or “be present” helps them stay in the moment and focus on what they are doing. Every time they notice that their mind is wondering, they simply repeat the phrase and return their concentration back to the main task.
Harvard Business Review suggests that establishing rituals in your routines can be an effective way to maintain focus and enhance work efforts. They suggest that rituals are about stopping for a moment to give attention to what you’re about to do, and what you’ve just done.
This level of focus can enable you to complete tasks more proficiently and enhance productivity. Research has found that this form of singular focus can increase your efficiency.
Establishing daily routines using an array of techniques which work best for you can greatly enhance your focus, concentration and work levels.
10) Calm Music
Listening to calm music can help some people concentrate and remain focused while studying. Avoid pop music or anything that is likely to get too pumped up as this is likely to cause a distraction and diminish your concentration and focus.
Alpha Wave Music can be used as in the background as you study. There is plenty on youtube that you can listen too, such as the following two videos.
Writing out your notes by hand can be a useful way to keep yourself engaged and focused while learning a new topic. It also aids visualisation. Visualising your ideas and what you are learning is a great way to learn a topic and enhance your memory. It provides a means for visualising ideas, and questions.
12) Be fully present on one task
Focus on one thing at a time. Give it your full undivided attention. Set up blocks of time. Say 50 minutes of remaining completely focused on the topic at hand. Should your thoughts go elsewhere during that period just calmly bring them back to what you are learning.
At the end of the 50 minutes period take a break. During this break, you should do something completely different than what you were learning. You may decide to have some food, grab a cup of coffee, do some yoga or exercise for example. This period of time involves completely stepping away from what you were doing. You may decide to use a block of 40 or 50 minutes of studying on the topic you are learning with a period of 10 minutes for breaks.
Learning to improve focus and concentration can be done, but it takes persistence. Think of your concentration as a muscle. When you first start working out, it’s going to get tired quickly and might even be a little sore afterwards. You might get frustrated at your lack of progress as you don’t see the results as quickly as you’d like.
But think of any fitness training plan, it takes time to see the results but soon you are able to workout for much longer than you were at the beginning.
You lose the parts of your body that you don’t need while your muscles grow and work better than they ever have.
This is the exact same as your focus and concentration levels. As you practice, you will begin to lose the negative thought patterns and distractions that were preventing your from properly achieving focus. Instead the muscle is developing, growing stronger every day and able to go for much longer periods. You start to achieve feats you never thought were possible and before long you’ll wonder why you ever thought this was such a hard thing to accomplish,
Keep this in mind when you are beginning your journey to enhanced focus on concentration. Being able to focus on the benefits before they come will help you to stay committed, particularly on days that seem just that little bit tougher.
If you keep all of the advice in this article in mind, you’ll learn how to focus better, boost concentration and avoid distractions.