Become a student affiliate
Discover the accounting and finance world by signing up as a Chartered Accountants ANZ Student Affiliate. It’s free and just takes a few minutes.
Sitting down to focus isn't always as easy as opening your computer or workbook and completing a task with no interruptions.
Your mental state, environment and time allowance can all play a crucial role in how focused you are able to feel, and the quality of work you produce.
Here are 7 simple tips that you can apply to your own approach to study and work to boost your ability to focus and therefore your productivity.
1. Set goals & get clear on your priorities
Setting goals each day may seem like a tedious task, but it can make all the difference in the quantity of tasks you achieve and quality of work you produce each day.
SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals ensure that when you do sit down to complete your task list, your expectations are set, the time frame is measured and the specific steps that make up each task are understood.
Prioritising truly urgent tasks and setting aside enough time to get them done is key in allowing yourself to be fully focused on the task at hand and limit the distractions of other less important tasks that may be vying for your attention.
If you're struggling with understanding how to rank your priorities, use a tool like Covey's time management grid which can help you to compartmentalise urgent important tasks (like deadlines, exams and emergencies) from non-urgent but important tasks (like planning and learning), from unimportant distractions (social media and TV).
2. Declutter your workspace
Working in a clean and functional workspace may do wonders for putting your mind at ease and increasing your ability to focus on immediate tasks other than the state of your messy workspace.
Having a designated space that is yours and yours alone can allow your mind to feel more open and willing to relax and focus when necessary. Research shows that a cluttered workspace can have a direct impact on productivity, sacrificing the brain power required for focus.1
3. Get rid of distractions
Distractions such as mobile devices, loud environments, and chatty companions are all competitors for your attention - and ultimately - your ability to focus. Eliminating this competition not only highlights the importance level of the task at hand, but ensures that you are in control of its overall quality and delivery on time.
Consider closing/pausing/muting the apps or tabs on your device that aren't essential during your focus time, or directly remove yourself from situations where you are likely to be deterred from your work. For example, if you typically study or work in a common area of your home with the TV on in the background, consider moving to a quiet room with a door that you can close while you're in focus mode.
Apps such as AppBlock, allow you to block out time where you don't have access to social media sites. That way even if you get tempted to visit your favourite Facebook page you won't be allowed access. Limiting your exposure to distractions allows you to control the content your mind is absorbing and therefore focus on what's most important.
4. Set manageable deadlines
Remember those goals we mentioned in tip #1? Well, here is where they come into play. Understanding the expectations involved with the completion of each task allows you to appropriately map out the task with a realistic deadline, and focus on achieving it.
Focus and stress often don't mesh well. So eliminate the worry associated with having adequate time to complete a task by mapping out a timeline to completion from the outset, including making note of the resources you need and time it will take. Then (if possible) add in some buffer time just in case life interferes. Thank us later for that...
5. Fuel your body
Just like you should set-up your desk for optimal performance, fuelling your body with everything it needs in order to perform can result in improved focus. And you know, a rumbling tummy is one of the first things likely to pull you away from a task to the pantry...
Try your best not to delay or skip your regular meal schedule - whatever that looks like for you personally. Break time could even be considered a reward for getting through a focus block. And if you like to snack while you work, reach for healthy ones and keep hydrated too! Water bottles marked with time increments are a life-hack for those of us prone to forgetting to get our 6-8 glasses in when we're busy.
6. Tune into your individual needs
For some people, music can be helpful in stopping your mind from wandering to other distractions in the space around you. If this suits your studying or working style, grab your headphones and select some suitable music to help foster your focus zone.
If music doesn't work for you, think about what else in your environment could help you to feel comfortable, relaxed and focused on your task - for some people this might be lighting a candle, opening a nearby window for fresh air, or perhaps standing rather than sitting. Cultivate some focus habits and rituals that are unique to you.
7. Remind yourself of the ultimate goal
Whether you have a vision board at your desk or say a motivational mantra, it's valuable to have ways of reminding yourself of the ultimate goal when struggling to focus on a task.
Even though the task at hand itself may seem annoying or dull in the moment, think of it in terms of how it will get you to where you want to be. Use that as your motivator to get into focus mode and continue striving towards producing your best work.
Focus isn't something everyone can command at will, but with the use of these tips and tricks over time you should be able to better understand how to carve out focus time for yourself and improve your ability to hone in on the task at hand and get it done - to quality and on time.