As a graduate student, I know how it feels to be frustrated, overwhelmed, and lost. Welcome to the freshman year. I got used to that feeling in the sophomore year. You have so much homework to do and no idea where to start from. But when in junior year I bought the book that is called “Your brain at work”, the situation had changed entirely. In this article, I combined the views of a co-founder of the Neuroscience Center and my personal experience of how to focus better on homework. So, be sure it is going to work.
Your Brain Knows How to Concentrate on Homework
The key factor in being unfocused on homework is a mind-wandering. What should I do with my money? Do I need to be a cowboy or a CEO? Do I need to write her first? How to focus on homework? Millions of questions are tearing your head apart, while you have to focus on really important assignments. Now here is the problem.
Our brain consists of neurons. They constantly change the connections as we think. When you are starting a brand-new task, new synaptic connections are being built up in the brain. The more unfamiliar task is, the more difficult a process of building the new connections. That is why it is easier for us to concentrate after 10-20 minutes of study than at the beginning. At the beginning of your study, the brain has to create new connections of neurons. But within a few minutes, most of the necessary neuron connections will be built up and you will be more focused.
How Long to Study to Stay Focus?
Different countries have different approaches to homework and studying. For instance, Italy has an educational system with 13 years of study and in China kids are on school holidays only for one month. So, an often-asked question is how much time I need to spend to do my homework? The more is the better? What if we look at this in a worldwide aspect?
In Australia live the smartest kids on the Earth. When the average time for compulsory instruction is 749 hours per year, in this country kids spend 1010 hours in the classroom. At the age of 5 Australian kids start to attend primary school. Moreover, they spend about 10 hours per week on homework.
England has taken another position. When it comes to homework, students of Great Britain spend only 3,9 hours on take-home assignments. But their innovative education system does not prevent students from scoring extremely high on the international test. Is it their answer on how to focus on homework?
France also stands out in that context. This country has managed to take a break in the middle of the week. For ages, Wednesday was a day off for students. Moreover, their lunch break at schools is 90 minutes long (perhaps, to pay tribute to the great French cuisine and repast in no hurry). So, we do not have to work longer to stay focus, right?
But which of these approaches is the best for our brain and focus? Do we need to spend so much time on homework as the Australians do? Or we should take long breaks as French people? Let’s clarify once and for all the best ways on how to stay focus on homework.
Tips on How to Focus on Homework
These tips on how to get focused on homework are not in an increasing or descending order of their effectiveness. Each of them is good enough to be in the first place. So, what to do when you can’t focus on homework?
Start with the Toughest Tasks
American scientists have found that our brain activity reaches its peak within 4-5 hours after awake. That is why students in college can study at maximum capacity and efficiency only within the first two lectures. The rest of the time they just listen to all the information without understanding.
So, when you have some important, tough or maybe creative homework to do, the best time for it is at the start of your work, when your brain is in the most active stage. Actually, our brain is like a new t-shirt, every time we wash it, make decisions, the image is fading. Fortunately, we are able to “change t-shirts” every day. So, start with something big and move on to easier tasks.
Say No to Multitasking
The new project is coming, the homework is not done and all of a sudden, the phone is ringing, you are asked to reply to the emails, etc. Has it ever happened to you? It is throwing you off and because of that you can’t focus and have to spend more time to get engage in the homework. It is like driving a car, constantly brake and accelerate. Fuel consumption is enormous, the average speed is poor. The same thing is with homework. We get tired and do less than we can.
Most scientists agree that multitasking does not really work. On the contrary, when you start doing your homework, ask friends and relatives do not bother you within an hour, switch off your phone, do not check your mail, avoid chitchat, do not surf on the internet or any social network (it is probably the hardest part). In some cases, I have just unplugged the Wi-fi router if the homework does not require it. When you feel tired, it is a sign to make a change – to answer your phone, to check your Instagram for a moment, to eat a piece of fruit. The less you are distracted, the easier it will be to focus on homework.
Think of What Do You Do Next
It is my personal way to concentrate on homework. When I have a hard task to do and I can't keep my thoughts together, I think about the movie I am going to watch, friends I will go for a walk with, tasty apple pie I am going to make after I finish up with my homework. Such thoughts make the brain work faster and generate ideas in minutes. Reward yourself with pleasant thoughts (and make it happen, of course). It is really one of my favorite tips on how to concentrate on homework.
Manage Your Time
Try the timer. Be sure that until time expires you will do your homework without any distractions. Timer work strengthens self-discipline. If you do the same thing every day, the time of maximum efficiency of your study will be the same and you can already know the approximate time you will get tired after. For me, the time of maximum productivity in writing articles ends in about 40 minutes. I put my timer and after 40 minutes I change the subject. Of course, you can do it without a timer, but it is easy to confuse your unwillingness to do the homework with fatigue. You can’t trick the clock. If you see you have been working for 10 minutes, you just couldn’t get tired.
Yes, there are some kinds of distractions that can actually help you to focus on homework. I am not talking about messenger’s chats or hilarious video on YouTube. It is about mixing up biology homework with history tasks, a writing assignment with reading. Probably, you want to say it is the multitasking we talked about that I said to avoid. But feel the difference – when you change or interweave the subjects of your study, you USE another part of the brain. When you are watching a movie or chatting, your mental function is not involved and you are just can’t focus on homework.
So, when the homework is to learn the poem by heart, in the middle of the process I can do my presentation or solve inequalities.
The key point of being focused on homework is attention span. It depends on every person for how long you can pay the attention. On average, it is about 20 minutes. That is why there is a famous technique of taking a break for 5 minutes after every 25 minutes or every 15 minutes break after an hour of doing the homework. If the break seems to you very often, you can choose a technique of unplugging every 90 minutes for a longer term (15-20 minutes). Use a timer to figure out what is more suitable for you.
While taking a break, try to use not the brain, but your body. Stretching, lunges, twisting suit perfectly. You can also try to empty out your head. Try not to think about anything so that you do not have any thoughts at all, not a single one. It is harder than it sounds. Stare at distant objects also work for me.
Train Your Brain
The most genius idea in David Rock’s book is that you can actually train your brain like a muscle. If you want to get fit, work on it. Start running, stop eating McDonalds’ food, and devote special time for training (by the way, all of these things will help you to increase the brain’s activity). The same thing is for staying focus on homework. Our brain has the ability to quick adaptation. So, if you practice intense study for 30-40 minutes every day, a week later the study won’t be so tough anymore.
There are so many practical tips left like add greenery to your study place, get enough sleep before the important task, do not eat too much sugar, etc. Do you know what do I do to stay focus? Close your eyes and imagine being at the end of the cliff under the see-through isolated dome where all your thoughts are focused. There is no rush, no people and no time. You are under the dome on the edge of the globe. No one knows where you are. Did you focus on that? Now, open your eyes, it is a perfect time to work.