Here are 5 ways to stay focused on your work

focusIt’s school holiday time. This means a break from running school workshops, but a pile of journal articles to read, an essay to write and an ethics application form to fill in.

Even though I give talks on study skills, I’m no different from any other student. With friends on facebook and msn, I struggle to stay focused and concentrate on the work that needs to be done.

Often it seems so much easier to ignore the pile of articles that I need to read and just pretend that they don’t exist. The only problem is that eventually all that work starts to build up and as the deadlines loom closer, it gets harder and harder to ignore the work. You begin to feel stressed. My aunty, Lidia Genovese (a clinical and counseling psychologist), told me recently ‘Stress makes you stupid Jane’.

She’s right. I can’t think properly when I get stressed. I bet you can’t either. So how can we stay focused on our work so we don’t end up stressed out and unable to do any work?

Below are 5 simple strategies you may like to test out.

1. Get rid of distractions
Have you ever tried to research or write an assignment on your computer with your email, msn or facebook open? How much did you get done? Speaking from my own personal experience, next to nothing got done. When it’s time to study, get rid of anything that may distract you (e.g. television, radio, email, chat programs and phone). Working in a clean environment will also help, as your mind will be clearer and less easily distracted by papers, rubbish, etc.

2. Motivate yourself
Ask yourself, why are you doing this study/work? What is it leading to? What interests you about the topic? How can learning this information help you to become a better person? For me, doing my honours project (on climate change and the law) will make a difference to society. It will also open up opportunities of doing a phD or becoming a psychologist. Reminding myself of these things can help get me into a focused and motivated state.

3. Move your body
If you’ve been sitting at your desk for more than 45 minutes, it’s time to get up and move your body (shake your legs, do some stretches, etc.). Often we find it hard to concentrate on our work because of a lack of blood flow.

4. Don’t eat so much
It’s virtually impossible for me to study after I’ve eaten a heavy meal. I feel tired, my senses are dulled and I usually need a power nap. If you want your mind to be sharp and clear for a study/work session, eat a light meal (free of artificial flavours and colourings).

5. Visualise
What would you feel good about doing today? Take a minute or two to visualise what you would like to achieve in your study/work session. Test it out and see if it makes a difference for you.