Your Student Life: Strategies to Improve Attention
April 6, 2021
“A clear vision, backed by definite plans, gives you a tremendous feeling of confidence and personal power.”
Brian Tracy, author Focal Point.
With increased time spent on remote and hybrid work/school environments many people are increasingly experiencing more difficulties with attention/focus.
In the book Answers to Distraction, Dr Edward Hallowell and Dr John Ratey discuss several strategies to improve focus. Some of them include the following, with my comments in “[italics]”:
- Establish a structure, and routine. [Consider incorporating breaks, and a variety of tasks periodically throughout the work period].
- Make use of frequent lists [To do, and NOT to do lists can be helpful].
- Color code your physical environment, files, text, schedules etc. this can help make things more memorable.
- Rituals [Or routines around work/studying can be helpful for some people].
- Reminders [Using calendars, sticky notes, timers etc.]
- Develop a filing system [This can help minimize clutter in your workspace, as clutter can be distracting].
- When possible, only handle it once (OHIO), this can be helpful with small tasks because an ever expanding to do list can increase guilt, anxiety, resentment in some people.
- Build in some buffer time for projects and obligations to account for the unexpected.
- Embrace challenges. [If the work you are doing is not interesting enough, identify an activity, task, or project of your own choosing to spend some time on each day. This pre planned time can help reduce excessive social media usage, web browsing, email/message checking etc.]
- Make deadlines. [In some instances, make them ahead of external deadlines, in other instances create them, this can help focus. I often suggest to students to ask themselves, “what is one thing (outside of daily routine/obligations) that you choose to do today that will help you feel accomplished?”].
- Break down large tasks into smaller ones WITH deadlines attached to them. Larger tasks can feel overwhelming, which can lead to anxiety and procrastination. [For a student struggling to work on a paper due next week, a smaller goal of writing a paragraph each morning may be more doable].
- Prioritize rather than procrastinate. [When you get the feeling that you have a lot to do, identify the most important activity you need to do today or most pressing deadline, can help you channel your focus].
- Identify the physical environment, and conditions where you do your work best. [For some this may be a noisy café, or while listening to background music, for others, it may be a decluttered, quiet, space with little background noise].
- Identify tasks or activities that you are good at doing, and those you enjoy. [This could help you identify roles in team projects, type of job you choose, types of classes to take, selecting an appropriate major, etc.]
- Take breaks. [Taking frequent breaks during the day to look at your schedule and re-organize for the next time block can be helpful. One such strategy is the POMODORO technique].
- Having a notepad [or a note taking app readily available whenever possible] taking notes on a fleeting thought or idea that comes to mind can help clear the mind to improve focus.
- Taking notes when reading can help improve focus but also reduce the “cascade of ‘other’ thoughts.”
Other strategies to improve attention/focus:
- Improve your nutrition for better focus. Fruits, vegetables, protein, from whole foods, along with omega 3’s can help improve focus.
- Get enough sleep, as sleep deprivation can negatively impact focus.
- Use digital tools (smart phones, computer, etc.) in healthy ways to improve focus.
- When possible reduce/avoid elective (vs required for work/school) high frequency media usage.
- For all Americans, the CDC recommends 20 to 40 minutes of moderate physical activity per day, this can help improve focus, check with your doctor first to make sure that exercise is safe for you.
- Reduce caffeine intake to improve focus.
- Meditation can improve focus.
- De-cluttering your workspace can improve focus.
- When possible, minimize/avoid multitasking can help some people improve focus.
- Answers to Distraction by Dr Edward Hallowell and Dr John Ratey
- Focal Point by Brian Tracy
- The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey
- Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
- Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Dr Russell Barkley
- Consider improving study skills through the Dennis Learning Center.
R. Ryan Patel DO
FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist
Counseling and Consultation Service
Office of Student Life