The effectiveness of your study time is only as good as your ability to focus and concentrate while studying. Choosing a quality study environment, decreasing any internal or external distractions, and limiting your multitasking can help make your study time even more productive and effective.

  1. Choosing a study environment

The environment you study in can have a huge impact on your ability to concentrate, and choosing an environment conducive to concentration is a proactive step towards monitoring possible distractions. Consider the following factors when evaluating a potential study location:

  • Are you unlikely to be interrupted or distracted?

  • Is the environment (lighting, temperature, etc.) comfortable enough to work within, but not so comfortable that you'll fall asleep?

  • Are you able to either tune out the ambient noise, or do you have control over the noise levels?

  • Can you take productive breaks — is there space for you to walk around,windows for you to look out of, water for your to access, etc.?

If you find that your go-to study space isn't actually all that helpful for your concentration, consider these other options, and keep checking in with yourself: are you able to focus, or are you getting easily distracted?

  1. Distractions and interruptions

Distractions come in all shapes, sizes and sounds. External distractions can include things like general noise, other peoples' conversations, TV or movies, music, phone alerts, app alerts, and anything else that diverts your attention from the task at hand. Internal distractions like hunger, fatigue, illness, stress, worries, other distracting thoughts (things you should be doing instead, things you’d rather be doing,  etc.) can interrupt your concentration as much as external distractions.

As much as we may sometimes like to, we can't just shut our brains off or put them in a drawer so they can't disturb us. And every time that we're distracted, it takes precious energy (that we should be using to study, memorize, and master content) to refocus and return to our work.

To minimize this energy suck, and to make the most of your study time, do what you can to remove your external distractions. Take time to recognize what those distraction triggers are for you, and then take action to remove them from your workspace. Shut off those alerts. Turn your phone to do not disturb mode. Let your friends know that you'll be working and unable to reply until the time that you're finished.

For your internal distractions, consider having a piece of paper nearby for you to jot things down. If you're worried you'll forget, make a note so you don't. If you can't stop thinking about something that's happened, maybe take a break to walk around, or write about it, or do something to help lessen its presence in your head. And don't forget to have snacks and water. Learning is hard work, and you need to feed your brain.

  1. Multitasking

When it comes to studying, multitasking is ineffective, and a myth. While it may seem like multitasking would be a good thing, research has shown that people who are multitasking are actually not doing two things at the same time. Instead, they're switching back and forth quickly between tasks. The result is that performance on both tasks suffers, and those who do this task-switching are less likely to remember information later on (Dzubak, 2008). While there may be other areas of our lives where multitasking is useful, studying and problem solving are not one of these. Learning and mastery require deep concentration, and the interruptions and distractions that come from trying to do more than one thing at once make it harder to focus and decrease your chances of recalling that information later.

What's your typical study session look like? Check out the ideal study session below, and then consider the tips that come afterwards. What are you already doing to increase your concentration, and what do you want to try?

​​Now: what concentration tips resonate for you?

  • Evaluate your study locations.  If one location isn't working effectively, make adjustments to that location or investigate other locations as options for studying.
  • Identify your distractions. Whether they are internal or external distractions, note on a piece of paper what distracts you from studying. If there are consistent distractions, ask yourself how you can limit those and if any personal choices or adjustments could be made to keep that distraction to a minimum.
  • Put away obvious distractions. If you know your phone or laptop is a distraction for you or that the alerts on it will interrupt your studying, turn these off.  Make a choice or commitment to a certain period of time studying without those distractions.
  • Make a list. If you consistently have random thoughts pop into your head about other tasks you need to do or other commitments, keep a list as you study.  Don't dwell on the other task you thought of, but write it down so that you do not forget it but can refocus on your studying. Set up your study time so you minimize internal distractions. Get enough sleep, eat healthy food, exercise, monitor caffeine intake, and monitor mental fatigue.
  • Schedule breaks. Unfocused studying can be a sign that you need a short break prior to trying to refocus. Having breaks scheduled reduces the chances of your getting off track between the breaks.
  • Vary your study strategies. If you lose focus when studying in one way for a long time, vary the ways you study.  Try studying in one way for 20-30 minutes and then study using a different strategy. The variety can help refresh your focus.
  • Use rewards to motivate yourself. Make small goals for concentrating for a specific amount of time, or accomplishing a task, and reward yourself when you complete it.

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