Getcha head in the game 

A person writing in a notebook.

Finding a way to stay focused.

Back in high school, it wasn’t hard for me to stay focused with my studies. Sure, I did the occasional (ok maybe more than occasional) chit chatting with my friends and procrastinating my homework, but I would always get them done despite the distractions before me. Partly because I pretty much had my weekdays scheduled to the tee – wake up, go to school, come home, have lunch, do homework/study, go to tuition or extracurricular classes, come home and repeat. On top of that, I had adults who would make sure that I got things done. 

Now that I’m my own adult and I don’t have such a meticulous daily schedule anymore, it’s been quite the challenge trying to stay focused. And I don’t mean staying focused in class – I’m pretty good at that actually, mainly because if I don’t actively try to be present in the lecture theatre or seminar room I will zone out and end up in dreamland. Focusing is a bit harder outside of the regular learning times, though. In other words, I have to try extra hard when I’m studying. 

For these past three years, I have learnt a handful of things about myself and one of them is I can’t, for the life of me, study in a quiet space. I came to that realisation when I used to study in the Barr Smith Reading Room in my first year. My visit lasted about 3 minutes because I spent more time worrying that my typing was too loud and distracting to others than making my notes. I also get very restless when I’m studying in an empty room/space. Those blank walls always make me feel claustrophobic and I get bored. I end up going on YouTube to make up for the lack of human presence and movements. 

Knowing these two things has helped me find a good study spot for myself. I try to avoid the 'dungeons' as I call it, aka the lower ground study areas where it’s mainly just walls. I like having some sunlight filtering in and a view of the outside outside world so when I feel myself losing interest in whatever it is I’m studying, I can spend a minute or two people watching. Because of that, I love sitting at those desks near the big Barr Smith windows overlooking the lawn.

I also find that I focus better when there are some noises around me but nothing too busy or noisy, of course. If the space I’m studying in is particularly quiet that day, I’ll play some brown noise or instrumental music in my headphones. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake never fails to make me feel like an 1800s scholar frantically writing their magnum opus in a locked-up tower and boost my productivity. 

Oh, and because I lose focus so easily, I steer away from the pomodoro method because I find myself constantly checking my phone to see when the timer will go off and you know what happens when you go on your phone. My fingers suddenly slip from the clock app to TikTok and Instagram – I really don’t know how that happens.... Instead, I let my stopwatch run and put my phone away. Without even realising, one hour has gone by and I get to reward myself with a short break. 

It has definitely been helpful learning that my attention span can be easily challenged. I’ve saved so much time and stress tailoring my study routine to myself rather than forcing myself to follow that of other people’s. 

Tagged in What messes with your head, study, focus, library, study routine