I didn’t have much trouble doing well in high school. Unfortunately, this meant that I never felt much pressure to develop focus skills. I regularly zoned out in class and procrastinated on my homework. In my senior year, I even won the yearbook award for Most Likely to Fall Asleep In Class.
Enter UC Berkeley, known globally for its competitive student body and academic rigor. I was thrilled to be in such an enriching and challenging environment, but I struggled in freshman year to keep up with everyone around me. I simply couldn’t sit down and pay attention, even though I loved what I was studying.
I’ve gotten much better at it, but I still have trouble focusing now and again. Fortunately, over the years I’ve come up with a set of go-to remedies:
- Switch tasks. I often find that a lack of focus is just boredom in disguise. Changing assignments, books, or subjects can sometimes provide enough variety to shake it off.
- Move to another table, room, or study space. Sometimes changing tasks just isn’t enough variety to wake me up. Other times, something in my room is distracting me without my even noticing it. Moving to another spot can often solve both problems.
- Make a really detailed to-do list. For instance, if I need to write a short paper, I’ll list “come up with a title”, “write introduction”, “first draft”, “edit”, and “conclusion” as separate items. Once I see all my work listed out, I feel less overwhelmed by it—plus, I get the simple but sweet satisfaction of checking off items as I finish them.
- Grab a healthy snack, go for a run, or take a nap. Focus problems can come from physical problems. I tend to semi-consciously eat less, sleep less, and exercise less when I’m really swamped in work, so a brief check-in with my body can work wonders.
- Turn off the music. I try to work to music sometimes to keep myself awake and energetic, but other times it’s distracting.
- Turn on a song. If I just need a brain break, I’ll sometimes choose exactly one fun song, promise myself that I’ll get right back to work the moment it’s over, and spend a few minutes lost in the music.
- Turn on SelfControl, if I find myself drifting onto Facebook or surfing the web instead of working. SelfControl is a fantastic study app for both Mac and Windows that lets you set up your own custom website blacklist and then block access to those sites for however long you need to study.
Keep these things in mind and you’re bound to find success while studying. Best of luck with your finals this semester!
Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.