Maintaining attention can be challenging at the best of times, but studying online brings additional challenges, so you will have to reflect on it. Here are some strategies to help you improve your attention:
- Observe yourself and reflect:
How do you actually spend your time? Before you make any changes, keep track of your activities for a week. You can use a paper Weekly Schedule or free apps such as Clockify, Rescue Time, or Toggl. After a week, analyze how much time you really spend on different activities. Reflecting on how you use time can bring surprising results and will help you decide what changes to make.
How do you know which tasks deserve your attention? You can use the Eisenhower method to help you sort through a multitude of tasks, decide what is important and urgent, and create a plan. Revise your priorities and plans regularly.
- Remove distractions:
How do you stay on task? Negotiate rules for sharing work space, and control connectivity by removing digital distractions. If you share study space with others, create a schedule that allows each person to do what they need to do. If your cellphone is a source of distraction, leave it in another room, work on a computer, and turn off notifications. If your computer is a problem, use two different browsers: one for schoolwork and one for personal use.
- Create effective routines:
Do you have a daily routine? You can “wing it” only when you perform simple tasks but reaching long term goals will require self-discipline. Fortunately, when you create a routine, you don’t have to force yourself to become focused – you start functioning on auto-pilot. Even when studying at home, keep the same schedule every day (or week) and study in the same physical space.
- Separate planning and doing:
Do you take time to plan? Planning may feel like a waste of time, but it will keep you on track. Spend some time every day planning what to do even using a simple to-do list. Save some time for checking instructions, writing to teachers or classmates, prioritizing tasks, and checking on your progress. This will get you in the habit of directing your attention to what is really important.
Other Useful Tips
Multitasking makes it harder to focus. Avoid doing multiple things at the same time. If you have a short attention span, plan a lot of shorter study sessions, with breaks in between, switching between tasks. Make these tasks smaller so that you can complete them before starting another. For example, don’t do a lab report for Chemistry, practice test for Math, and message your teacher all at once; instead, finish one question or activity at a time before moving on to the next.
Fifteen minutes of focused attention is better than nothing! If you dread the task ahead of you, do it for fifteen minutes. It is easier to start doing something you dislike if you know that you will not be doing it for long, and all those short sessions add up.
Take breaks! Get up from your computer regularly, or when you start losing attention or feeling tired, to move physically. This will give your brain time to process the information and prevent mental tiredness.
Stick to people who help you stay motivated and focused. Form study groups with classmates with similar goals to yours. You don’t have to be friends to work together on a small task, but you will motivate each other to stay on track.
What if I can't start?
Make a list of tasks, start by dividing them into important and urgent.
What if I have a very short attention span?
Plan a lot of short study sessions with breaks, switching between tasks.
What if I can't focus at home?
Organize your physical space for learning and removing distractions. Create a routine.
What if I get overwhelmed?
Go back to prioritizing your tasks and make sure you do not try to multitask.
What if I am anxious?
Reflect. Start simple, focusing on what has already been done.
Attention management and time management are linked, but they are not the same; therefore, even if you have the best planner, you can still struggle to start your activities or maintain your focus.