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How to improve your focus by closing mental “open tabs”

Posted in: General

January 4, 2019 | by Alexis

Student life can be full and exhausting. There’s so much to think about. You have classes and are overloaded with information on a daily basis. You need to read textbooks, work through assignments, study for tests. You also need to juggle eating, exercising, sleeping, doing the laundry, and all the other tasks associated with being a human adult. Just finding the time and trying not to forget tasks can be mentally exhausting. Having so many worries on the go, so many “open tabs” all day, makes it difficult to focus, pay attention to lectures, and actually complete any of your myriad of tasks. It’s easier if you have a system.

Here are some tips to help you close your “open tabs” so that you can work through one task at a time.

  • Buy a day planner, and schedule. If nothing is written down, and you try to just remember due dates, activities, schedules, then you’ll get overwhelmed, fast. Buy a day-planner, take one of the free ones you often get at orientation, or find a digital planner, and use it. Jotting down a schedule takes minutes a day. If you write down due dates, and promise yourself that you’ll check your schedule every morning, then you have less to worry about. You’ll find so much more mental free space.
  • Keep track of all tasks, not just due dates. If you want to open up even more mental space, then write down everything you need to accomplish in a week, including groceries, laundry, exercise, social activities, etc. If you know that it’s in your book, then you won’t have to stress to remember.
  • Find focus through flexibility. Update your schedule daily. If you find that you haven’t accomplished a task that you promised yourself you’d complete, then just move it to another time. Allowing yourself flexibility will help you to prioritize, and will help you to keep track of the tasks that keep getting pushed farther and farther ahead.
  • Keep a to-do list with you during the day. Whether on your phone or in your day-planner, keep a to-do list. That will keep you on task without having to think about looming deadlines or activities again and again. You can also use the to-do list to write down the new activities or deadlines that you’ve come across that day, so that you can record them later.
  • Make studying a habit or routine as much as possible. Try to accomplish the same tasks at the same time every week, so that you don’t have to think about them, make time for them, or plan them. For example, you can work through one class’s reading every Monday in your break, or you can start another class’s problem set every Tuesday when you wake up. If you do the same thing at the same time consistently, then you won’t need to remember it, you won’t need to psych yourself up to do it, and you can trust yourself that you will get it done.
  • Give yourself social media break times. When you’re working, make sure that you really work. If you have a phone nearby and are constantly checking social media, then you won’t focus, you’ll slow yourself down, and you’ll find yourself affected by other people’s concerns. Put away your phone or use a social media blocker for key times during the day.
  • Give yourself real breaks. Just as you should really settle down and work when you promise yourself to study, you need to put your studies away when you’re on a break. When you’re exercising, socializing, etc., try not to think about course material at all.

In order to succeed in university, you need to find a way to focus on all of your tasks as you complete them. You need to clear up mental space taken up by all the “open tabs” of adult life. It’s possible, if you work at it, if you find a system, and if you ask for help when you need it. As an additional resource to help you succeed, check out Prep101.

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Biol 241, Biol 311, Chem 351
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2013–presentPrep Instructor, Mechanics 
2013–presentPrep Instructor, Statics
2012–presentTutor, Statics, Mechanics, Mechanics of Materials
2012–13TA, Engineering Mechanics II
2012–13TA, Mechanics of Solids 
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