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Can't Focus On Studying

Updated on September 23, 2011

If you're like me, you're one of those people that just can't seem to focus when studying. It's not that we have ADD (although sometimes I swear I do) it's just that either the content is really boring, or that there's just so much else that you think you could be doing. My biggest problem is that when I'm studying, I feel like it's a waste of time. Everything else all of a sudden seems like it's important to me. I feel the need to look through my spam e-mails, clean my room, or text random people about random things. I feel like whatever I'm studying is pointless and probably won't be tested anyway, so why waste hours looking through it? In fact, I'm writing this article right now as a way of procrastinating. However, over time I've learned ways to help myself get into study mode. Right now it's fairly late and I should be sleeping if anything so I won't bother, but here are a few things that usually help me concentrate while studying.

How To Study

Start Studying - Seems like a no-brainer but this is probably the most common problem with students out there. Starting is the hardest thing to do. Just settling down, and opening up all of your books that you need isn't enough. Often times, you just know that you have a long way of mind numbing work ahead of you. You know that once you start, it's all downhill. You're going to have to think, read, think again, read again, pull out some hairs, maybe even cry a little. If you're like me though, usually once you get started, it doesn't seem so bad anymore. For me, as long as I understand what I'm doing, I'm good to go. The moment something even remotely confusing comes up though, I start to get frustrated, and that's when I take "breaks" from studying.

I'll get on to the breaks in a bit, but let's get back to starting. Just sit down, and start your work right away. Don't beat around the bush by checking your Facebook one last time or organizing all your books or anything. Just take out what you need, and start. Ten minutes into it you'll have officially switched into "study mode". Trust me, that's all it takes. The first ten minutes is all you have to get through, afterwards you can successfully stay on the study train for a good hour or so at least.

Take Breaks - This may or may not be obvious to you. Breaks are important because they help refresh your mind and body, and let you absorb everything you've studied. If you weren't really studying but were simply doing homework, a break is a good time to relax and it still helps your brain strengthen itself in whatever skill you were applying. However, there are some things you should keep in mind about breaks:

  • Take them every 45-60 minutes, for no longer than 15 minutes. Once you go over 15 minutes, you're "study mode" starts rapidly deteriorating.
  • Be strict, don't start your break 5 minutes early because you don't want to start something new. If you just finished a chapter and have 5 minutes left before your designated start time for your break, review the chapter.
  • Don't eat a lot during your break. Preferably something like fruit or yogurt would be good, but anything snack sized works as well. If you get your body digesting a lot of food, it takes blood away from your head and tires you out.
  • Don't eat things that are really sugary. You might get a spike in energy but you will crash, so avoid things with refined sugars like chocolate bars and such.
  • Don't go on facebook or check your e-mails or anything. A break is meant to be relaxing, not distracting. If you switch your mind over to other things, you'll be less inclined to start studying again, and it'll be just as hard to get to back to studying as it was to start.
  • Get fresh air, it's probably the best thing you can do during your break. It's good for the mind and a nice change from the cluttered feeling you get from studying.

Where To Study

I don't care what anyone says, but the best and most efficient way to study is alone. I have, far too many times, tried group studying. It's re-assuring yes and makes studying a lot less stressful, but the quality of studying just isn't that great. If you're with your friends, you'll always end up taking to one another about something. It starts off small, but before you know it you just had a whole conversation about a totally unrelated topic. If one of you is hungry, you all feel you should grab something to eat. When one person takes a break, everyone feels inclined to take a break. Some people may read out loud or tap their feet which can distract you without even knowing it.

As for the place itself, make sure it's spacious and well-lit. Gloomy places can be hard to concentrate in and make you feel more tired and depressed than you actually are. A nice quiet place usually works for me, however background noise isn't all that bad. Usually once you start studying you can drown out background noise, unless it's actual conversation or something relevant that you can hear. To play it safe, just find a quiet place. Away from the TV, away from people, away from everything. Study in the same spot every time you study so that you can quickly shift into study mode whenever you study; over time it becomes easier.

When is the best time to study

There isn't really a best time. Find whatever works for you, some people are night owls and like to study when the world is at rest. Others really get their energy from the sun and like to study early in the morning to late afternoon. I'm more of a late night person if I had to choose one. Make sure you are well rested when studying. If you keep yawning while studying, make sure you've had a good nights rest. If you slept well but still feel tired, so some quick pushups or something to get your blood going. Sometimes you just need to get out of that lethargic state. Make sure you've eaten well, but not over-eaten. Having a bloated feeling is the worst when studying. A common problem is that we tend to munch a lot while studying, thus getting full and not being able to concentrate. Instead, drink some water. Even then, don't drink a lot or you'll have to keep going to the bathroom. Same goes for coffee, it may help keep you awake, but the bathroom trips are an annoyance and keep you from quality studying. In the end, nothing works as well as exercise, sleep, and nutrition.

Is Music bad for Studying

This is a bit of a personal preference area. I personally can't stand any sort of music when I want to study. Not classical, not instrumental, nothing. I love listening to music and am constantly playing it when I'm walking, driving, showering, and usually before I go to sleep. As such, it's just too much of a distraction for me when studying. Sometimes I get really into it, even when it's instrumental, and start playing the notes in my head. It's weird because it doesn't happen to most people, but for me I consider listening to music and doing anything else multitasking. For some people, music helps them relax when doing more mathematical work where you simply follow formulas and such. Studies have also shown that classical music is good while studying or doing homework. My opinion is just to keep music a separate thing. Music usually evokes some sort of emotion, whether happy, sad, energetic, etc... Any sort of an emotional imbalance while studying is detrimental to your learning and overall just takes away form the quality of studying. At the same time, music helps others feel grounded and calm while studying. So yeah, if you really are one of those people where music helps you study, then I guess go for it. Otherwise, keep it away.

I can't focus and I've tried everything

If you've tried:

  • Studying in different environments
  • Studying at different times
  • Studying while well-rested
  • Forcing yourself to study with short breaks

And you still can't study? Can't seem to focus? Can't retain what you studied? Seek help from a counselor or a doctor. You might have some sort of psychological condition. It doesn't have to be something terrible, maybe you just have something on your mind or something is subconsciously keeping you from concentrating. See a professional and don't feel bad about it. Your future is at stake and many, many people don't seek the help that they should. The key to developing a good studying regime is figuring out what the problem is.


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    • RanaKm profile image

      RanaKm 3 years ago

      Lovely, informative and full of details ! Love how you've organized this. Voted up, interesting and useful :)

    • profile image

      Johnk334 3 years ago

      Magnificent website. Lots of useful information here. Im sending it to some friends ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thanks for your sweat! dcaadecebbde

    • profile image

      sof 3 years ago

      this is realy a good experienced based advice.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      This was very good. I think "starting" is sometimes the biggest problem for a lot of things, not just studying.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Ahh yes, the days of studying. I understand your experience. It took me a while to really get into a rhythm. Ironically enough, that included pop music especially when I wrote papers. Even now, I get into a really creative mode when I listen to music and start doing something. Awesome hub!

    • ThePracticalMommy profile image

      Marissa 6 years ago from United States

      This is a well written guide of tried and true study habits. Voted up and useful!