Tuesday, October 13th, 2020...12:51 pm

Finding (and Keeping!) Focus

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By: Georgia Maxwell, Gradlife Ambassador

photo of a desk with a plant, laptop, pen and notebook that has "Help" written across its page

It’s approximately five weeks into the semester and my focus has left the building. To be honest with you, I don’t know when, or how it happened—I was reading like a machine, taking notes, making points, you name it!—but now, my concentration has dwindled big time.

I can no longer get through a paper without opening instagram, checking twitter, and when I’m really desperate for a distraction, even checking my email. So in an attempt to help myself regain my focus (and you know, maybe help you too) I’ve rounded up all my favourite ways to keep focus and get through that mid-semester slump (I know it’s not actually mid-semester but it feels that way ok?)

1. Turning off my wifi when I can

I know this sounds simple but I find it to be actually really effective. Although basically all the work I do is online (sound relatable?) when I’m reading papers I try to download them as PDFs. That way, I can read them and take notes without the temptation of endless distraction. And yes, even though I could easily just turn on my wifi if I want to go on twitter, sometimes I find that having that extra half-second buffer makes me ask myself, “do I really need a break right now?” and usually the answer is “No, you’ve only read 2 paragraphs since the last one.”

2. Noise cancelling headphones

Personally, I get distracted very easily and I am a very nosy person (I love to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations), so I like how noise cancelling headphones remove the temptation. What I’ve found also works really well if you don’t have/ like noise cancelling headphones is listening to classical music or rain sounds. That way you get some nice background noise without it being too distracting.

Here’s a good classical music playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIYzp5rcTvU

And a rain sound play list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jX6kn9_U8qk (This one is 10 hours!)

Photo of a desk with a plant, notebook, pen and laptop with sticky notes on it that read "Stop getting distracted" and "I dare you to focus."

3. Writing myself slightly aggressive sticky notes

My current favourite phrases include “You HAVE to do this today” and “STOP GETTING DISTRACTED.” I typically keep them on the front of my laptop, but when I’m really desperate I’ll stick one on the top right corner of my screen. That way the time is covered and I enter a sensory-deprivation zone of pure focus.

4. Changing out of my pajamas

It is very, very tempting to stay in my pajamas all day, and then throwing on a sweater when I have class. As comfortable as this is, I definitely feel far too comfortable to be doing any serious work. Now I’m not saying put on jeans or anything crazy like that, but even a nice pair of sweatpants or leggings seems to wake me up more than pajamas ever could.

Photo of a desk with a plant, pen, notebook and watch on it

5. Hiding my phone in another room

I know, I know this one is obvious. But my unique twist is if I’m doing work that doesn’t require a laptop, then I keep my watch on my desk. Since I have not a single clock, half the time I justify going to look at my phone/ laptop to “check on the time.” But haha! The Watch Method™ thwarts such an excuse and keeps me focused.

6. The Pomodoro technique

I’m gonna level with you: I’ve never actually used this technique before. But people are always telling me about it and I feel like this post needs at least one science-based tactic. If you’ve never heard of it, the Pomodoro technique helps you to manage your time (and focus) by having you do work for 25 minutes, and then giving you a 5 minute break. After about 4 of these cycles (called “Pomodoros”) you get a 20-minute break as a reward!

If you want more information, check out this cool article that explains the technique in detail: https://www.themuse.com/advice/take-it-from-someone-who-hates-productivity-hacksthe-pomodoro-technique-actually-works

Photo of a girl holding a book and a highlighter who is sitting at a desk and taking part in an online grad writing group

7. Join a Grad Study Group

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Student Life runs online Grad study groups and writing groups that provide structured time for Grad students to focus on their work, be productive, and hold each other accountable. It’s a great way to actually work from home, as the tagline goes. Between the two groups, there’s at least one session running every day, and is bound to fit your schedule!

For more information, or to sign-up, check out:

I hope my post has inspired you to get past that First-Month-Slump. If you have your own methods for keeping focus that you’d like to share, sound off in the comments below! Now, I guess I’ll go do my reading I was putting off by writing this post… 

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