7 Tips to Help You Concentrate

Got a bad case of the procrastinations? Feel the impending doom of deadlines approaching with nothing to show for it because your mind keeps bouncing off from one topic to another, and you end up staring at that blank white page until the computer screen dies and you’re left sitting alone in the dark? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

As a self-proclaimed champion procrastinator, I’ve always found it hard to concentrate on schoolwork. My love-hate relationship with essays stems from this little habit alone. I love writing them – in theory. But in practice, it isn’t always so easy. The rising sense of guilt and panic you get when you’re lining up the next episodes of your latest obsession or reading that guilty pleasure book you’ve already read a thousand times doesn’t help, either – you know you should be doing more important things, but you just can’t bring yourself to concentrate enough in order to actually do them. Fortunately enough, I’ve always more or less finished my essays by the time the deadline rolls around. Once I get going, I usually do alright, but getting to the point where things start chugging along, now that’s the problem. Everyone's study habits are different and what works for me might not work for you, but in case you're having the same issues as I do, here’s a few tips that I’ve found useful throughout the years:

1. Background noises.

What to do if you can’t concentrate in complete silence, but the background noise in actual cafés and libraries is too much? Worry not, my friends. I’m here to tell you that background noise generators are great, and instrumental music is even better. If music is too distracting, there’s a ton of sites that will allow you to listen to ambient sounds without any actual bothersome people distracting you. For instance, there’s Noisli, A Soft Murmur, Hipster Sound and Rainy Mood. But for me, nothing beats instrumental music. I prefer movie and video game soundtracks – nothing gets the blood pumping like the music from a boss-level battle scene, after all. With that in your ears, you’re ready to take on anything.

2. Recognise when you do your best work.

No matter how hard I want to, I just can’t bring myself to wake up at 8 A.M., bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to wrestle the day’s tasks. I’m a night owl, through and through. While I tend to do other coursework during the afternoon and evening, essays are far more time-consuming – which means I have a habit of doing most of my writing at two in the morning. Surprisingly enough, I’ve noticed that that’s when I produce the best work, too. Take note of the times when you feel most inspired and able to concentrate. If there’s a pattern, maybe you should heed it. However…

3. Don’t get too stuck on repeating the same pattern.

A lot of people have told me to set aside specific times for coursework, but for me, that’s just not possible. Telling myself that I should sit down and be productive between the hours of two and five doesn’t work when I start stressing too much about, well, actually getting things done. And then I end up feeling guilty for not meeting the standards I’d set for myself, and it ends up being a never-ending cycle of doom. So if you’re anything like me, recognising any too-rigid habits that end up limiting your productivity might work wonders!

4. Prioritise tasks and chop them up.

It might feel hard to get started if a task feels too daunting, but breaking it up into smaller, manageable parts makes life so much easier. For instance, think of an essay as a whole that's made up of small parts – you have the introduction, the analytic bits and the conclusion. An introductory line here, a concluding remark there. Once you have even that one sentence written down, it’s much easier to continue. However, having multiple tasks can make it hard to concentrate on just the one – hence the prioritising. Recognise which task you should do first, and ignore the rest for the time being. You’ll get to them when you can.

5. No phone, no Internet? I don’t think so.

A lot of people have probably advised you to turn off your phone and to cut yourself off from the Internet in the name of not getting distracted, but if you’re anything like me, that’s not something you can do and continue with your coursework. If you’re like me, you’re constantly online researching some tiny tidbit of a fact or checking your trusty online dictionary (because no, I can’t do that afterwards, I’ll just forget which word I was looking for). If I don't, I'll just end up distracted and unable to concentrate on the smallest of tasks. Of course, this requires some amount of self-control, since you can't really be checking your phone for new messages every other minute if you want to get things done. That said, however:

6. Don’t feel bad about taking breaks.

Really, breaks are great! If you feel like there’s a lull in your inspiration and you feel like your energy is flagging, get some snacks. Check your social media accounts. Stretch your legs. Once you’ve got some more energy, get back in front of your computer and try to get back into work mode. Don’t force yourself to work eight hours straight – concentrating for that long would probably take superhuman skills that none of us have. Breaks (yes, even social media ones!) are okay.

7. Set realistic goals.

Wanting to get everything done in one day is all well and good, but failing to meet your own goals after believing you would can be a bitter pill to swallow. This requires a fair amount of self-awareness, but try to recognise your own limitations. If setting goals for a day seems too daunting, think in hours. What is a reasonable amount of things for you to get done in one hour? Include any possible small breaks here. You might notice that not having to worrying about meeting your daily goals is a boon to your productivity – and your concentration!

And remember, not everything has to be perfect. Aside from being a procrastinator, I’m also a tried and true perfectionist. A lot of my procrastination and ensuing issues with concentration stem from my need to do my absolute best with all of my work, and it’s been a task and a half to unlearn some of that thinking. So here’s a final piece of advice: be kind to yourself. It’s okay not to be productive all the time. Don’t beat yourself up for not finishing a task on time – you’ll get there. Sometimes it just takes a little longer.