How can I increase my concentration?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could tune into our optimum brain power so that we can study effortlessly, remember everything, and still have plenty of time left over for doing things we like to do?

It’s not impossible. In most cases, it’s just a matter of implementing a few new ideas into the way we study.

Take a look at these 5 tips and see how you can improve your concentration and manage your study time better than before.

Tip #1. Get to know your brain better.

You can optimize your brain performance by working smarter in less time than you think you need. Here’s a technique yo can try: for one week, keep a log of all mental activities you perform in the morning, midday, afternoon and evening. You will notice a pattern in how your brain works at a certain time of day. Then, adjust your schedule to accommodate the activities depending on what’s right for your brain and when. For example:

  • Mornings can be great for doing deep work, i.e. work that requires a lot of your concentration. Some scientists call this the brain’s peak performance time, and it’s roughly 2-4 hours after we wake up. So, for example, if you wake up at 6, your peak times are between 8 and 10 a.m. Block this time off for your analytical brain to perform the most complex tasks that require a lot of focus: learning new material, reviewing, recalling, problem-solving.
  • Early afternoons are great for collaborating. This covers the 12-4 p.m. time range, when you take a lunch break and the few hours after, when you are more likely to socialize. It’s a good time of day to brainstorm ideas with others and work together on projects where you can provide feedback and get recommendations on your work.
  • Evenings, usually around 5-9 p.m., can be scheduled for strategic thinking. This is when the brain eases into a different tempo when it can be more creative. Use this time to set goals of what you want to do with all the knowledge you’re acquiring. For example, if you’re studying for an exam, think about what you will do after graduation, which career you see for yourself, which jobs you’d like to apply for, etc. It’s a great time for creating and contemplating the big picture.

Tip #2. Make it a ritual.

Rituals are beneficial because they set the tone to your work, they train your mind to get used to doing things at certain times of the day, and they give you a sense of control over your day. Here are some ritual ideas to help you concentrate better:

  • Find a place where you won’t be disturbed. If you’re working from home, it’s easy: it can be your desk, a comfortable couch, or a big armchair. If you’re at the library, it might be a table tucked away in the back, next to a wall, so you’re not disturbed by people passing by.
  • Block away environmental noise with noise-cancelling headphones, and listen to music (it can be classical music or simply sounds of nature). Don’t want to listen to music? Get a good pair of soft silicone ear plugs like these and read in silence.
  • Have a small cup of coffee. Getting a caffeine boost can help increase focus. Keep in mind that it usually takes about 30 minutes to kick in, so time it well by drinking a cup ahead of time before you start working. Don’t drink coffee? Try green tea instead, as it also contains caffeine.
  • Take a walk to boost memory and increase focus. Performing some form of physical exercise, even if it is targeted and short, improves your brain’s cognitive performance, problem solving ability, and even boosts long-term memory. Use your lunch break to walk for 30 minutes. If your neighborhood is noisy, take your headphones with you and listen to music.

Tip #3. Remove distractions that are in your way.

Distractions can easily take you away from the work you are focusing on, and can waste time without you even noticing. Reading email and constantly checking your Facebook or Twitter notification prevents you from focusing and can make you feel overwhelmed. Studies have shown that this multitasking can lower your IQ by 10 points! Make a conscious effort to avoid distractions. A few ideas to try include:

  • Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the daily news early: leave these activities for later after you’ve completed all your important work for the day.
  • Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus without any disturbances, or simply turn the volume off and move your phone away so you can’t see it while you’re working.
  • Set expectations with others by letting them know you won’t be available in the next few hours, so they don’t interrupt you with their requests, questions or comments.
  • Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day. For example, you can check them at lunchtime, later in the afternoon, and in the evening.

Tip #4. Use a timer.

Don’t spend endless hours reading and working without taking breaks; if you do, you will likely lose focus as well as motivation to continue. Learn how to manage your time better with one simple tool: a timer.

  • Set your timer to 60 minute increments to allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way.
  • Try the Pomodoro technique which consists of 25 minute blocks of time, followed by 5 minute breaks.
  • When you’re done with one segment, take a break. Step away from your desk and do something completely unrelated to work to give your brain a chance to rest: get some fresh air, go for a quick walk (even 10 minutes will work), grab a cup of coffee or tea.

Tip #5. Train your brain with some quiet time.

If your day is crammed with different activities that all require your attention, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and be in tune with what is really important to focus on. There is one simple yet very effective practice that can help, and it’s meditation.

  • The benefits: Meditating can declutter your brain of thoughts that distract you from the brilliant work you could be doing. In addition, you will notice better focus throughout the day, more concentration, improved ability to cope with the day’s events, and a greater sense of calm.
  • How to get started: There’s a free app you can download to start training your mind, and it’s called Headspace. Start with a 10 minute session. It’s fun and easy to use, especially if you’re a complete beginner.

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