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Study skills: Top tips for improving concentration

Students and workers across the UK are gradually adapting to their new home working routines but it can be easy to struggle with focus and concentration. Between family distractions, current events and the constant draw of your phone, it can be hard to settle down to one task. First of all, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, these are unparalleled times and we will all have our good and bad days. However, if your lack of focus is hindering your daily activities, we’re here to help. We spoke to Study Skill Co-ordinator Sarah Hall for her advice for beating procrastination and improving concentration.

Stay on target

We’ve already suggested that you draw up a timetable to identify when you are going to complete your work or study hours. To improve focus during this time, try adding some clear targets to this. What do you intend to achieve during the week? Add a review session into your timetable so that you can assess whether or not you have met the progress targets you set yourself. If not, then work out why. Importantly, be honest with yourself. Were the targets over ambitious? If so moderate them.

 

Put your phone away

It can be incredibly tempting to have our phones near us while we are working and to check it regularly. This might be to keep in touch with friends, listen to music or podcasts, or to keep up with the news. Put your phone on silent and keep it in another room if you can but if you need it nearby don’t allow it to become a distraction. When you’ve scheduled a work slot, try to put yourself in a ‘work bubble’. Build in 10 minute slots between work or study periods in which to catch up with personal e-mails, social media and news on your phone and limit it to that. Once this new routine becomes a habit, it will become much easier to maintain.

There are some great personal organisation apps that can help you segment, track and optimise your time. One of these is Toggl, a great time tracker that helps track your time manually or with one-click timers, whether for a single user or a group. With this app, you can start, stop, and log times and tasks on your mobile phone or computer with data syncing on two platforms.

Another useful app is Rescue Time, a personal analytics service that shows you how you spend your time and provides tools to help you be more productive. It can even block social media apps, YouTube and anything else from breaking your concentration. A similar app is Focus Booster, this app helps you to implement the pomodoro technique. This time management approach was developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks to improve your concentration. Lockdown could be the time to beat that procrastination habit once and for all.

 

Schedule in quality down time

No one can work or study all the time without a detrimental effect on their wellbeing. If that’s what you are trying to do, your productivity will fall off a cliff. Ensure you have regular virtual meet ups with friends and family, using video apps to make you feel closer to your nearest and dearest. There are a plethora of apps out there that can be downloaded for free to your phone, tablet or PC, such  as Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Houseparty, Google Hangouts, etc. 

Work out new ways to continue activities that keep you happy. Such as:

  • set up a virtual book group with friends
  • organise a virtual movie night once a week
  • meet friends for virtual drinks
  • study a new subject online via a massive open online course (MOOC) platform like Coursera or FutureLearn
  • join an online fitness class or virtual runs with friends. You could even compare stats on apps like NikeRun, Adidas Runtastic or via a Fitbit 
  • try your hand at something creative like writing, painting or music. You can email it or send photos or recordings of your efforts to friends and family for constructive feedback to keep yourself motivated
  • enjoy reading for pleasure in your free time
  • pay a virtual visit to the theatre or opera house – the Royal Opera House and the National Theatre are streaming some of their productions for free
  • visit an art gallery or museum online

 

Exercise to boost your energy levels

It’s really important to exercise your body in order to keep your mind engaged. Exercising at the gym or leisure centre isn’t possible at the moment but there are still plenty of things you can do to get active and keep fit. Make the most of your daily exercise period outside to do something that raises your heart rate. Go running, take a brisk walk or go for a bike ride (unless of course you are under doctor’s orders to the contrary). Think about things you can do at home – useful and relatively cheap fitness equipment for working out in a small space includes a skipping rope, a yoga or exercise mat, a resistance band, some weights or dumb bells. Or if you prefer to exercise without any equipment at all you can do press ups, planks, squats or running on the spot at regular intervals during the day. Dancing to your favourite music can also be really beneficial (don’t deafen the neighbours).

 

Try some mental relaxation, mindfulness and meditation

As the Romans used to say, “means sana, in corpore sano” or for those non classicists among us, “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. We often worry about our physical health and forget that mental health is just as important, whereas it is difficult to have one without the other. If you have never tried meditation or body scanning techniques before, now is the perfect time to give it a go. Try using the HeadSpace app to get started, it is a great introduction to mindfulness techniques and provides guided exercises, videos to help you get healthier and happier.

Some people find that keeping a daily gratitude journal is a good way to focus on the positive. Before you go to bed, write down three things that you have enjoyed and appreciated during the day. It not only makes you feel good but gets you in the right frame of mind for a good night’s sleep. This is another important factor in getting the most out of life, whether in lockdown or not.

 

Be kind to yourself

You are working at home at a time of global crisis and each of us will cope with this differently. Don’t compare your productivity with others and accept help which is offered by universities, your local community or employer support services. We’re a community and if we care for each other we’ll get through this together.

 

Get more advice from the ULaw Study Skills Team with their top tips on studying from home.