Staying focused during stressful times

Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros

Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros

Everybody thinks they have focus issues.

The slew of distractions we face daily are undoubtedly detrimental to our productivity. When exams roll around, it may seem impossible to escape the vortex of social media and procrastination. However like every other problem, there are simple solutions to staying focused during stressful times.

Find your study spot

Many of you will resort to the library on sheer principle that a place filled with books must be able to enhance your intelligence, but contrary to popular belief, sitting there for hours on end will not automatically fill you with knowledge.

Sure, some people really do study better in dead silence, but there are also others who prefer a bit more hustle and bustle.

This is where on-campus study spaces like the Concourse and the 24-Hour Lounge come in handy. Sure it may get a little loud at times, but sometimes being in an environment where other people are also studying can do wonders for your own productivity.

For those who like to get a bit cozier with their books, places like Veritas Café, Second Cup or even Coffee Culture in uptown Waterloo are worth a try. The perpetual aroma of coffee will keep you refreshed while their selection of meals and desserts will keep you happy and fed during study sessions. After all, everyone knows those complicated theories are just that much easier to understand with a slice of cake by your side.

Productivity apps

No matter how hard you try, you will end up on Facebook.

Luckily, just because you can’t resist doesn’t mean technology can’t resist for you.

Cold Turkey is an app available for download on PCs that allows users to block websites for a set amount of time. Much like its Mac counterpart, SelfControl, once the timer has been set for a certain website to be blacklisted, you will not be able to access it until the timer is up. Even if you restart your computer or delete the app, you still will not be able to access the website.

Set the mood with music

The effectiveness of music as a practical study tool has been debated for years.

Some argue for it while some argue against it, but for those who do prefer to study with music, it is imperative to find the right type of music to study to.

Research shows songs with lyrics have a significant negative impact on concentration so ditch those top-40 hits — that new Adele album can be put on hold until exams are over. Instead, opt for some classical or ambient instrumental tracks. Film and video game scores are especially good for studying. Go on YouTube and sift through some “best film scores” compilations, press play and dive into those textbooks.

My recommendations: The Journey soundtrack by Austin Wintory and the Romeo and Juliet score by Abel Korzeniowski. You can move mountains with those albums.

Create a realistic schedule and stick to it

Don’t start with a vague goal of studying for whatever exam is coming up. Instead make a concrete and viable schedule for everything that needs to be done. Prioritize your assignments and then break them down into feasible chunks of work to be accomplished each day.

The key word here is feasible. The main obstruction to productivity is unrealistic goals. Guilt resulting from unaccomplished tasks will often create a snowball effect that will stop your motivation. Instead of harbouring the expectation that you’ll review 12 weeks’ worth of work in one day, break it down into manageable, bite-sized chunks and throw in some menial tasks like “organize fridge” or “do laundry.” Studies have shown taking short breaks can boost productivity and improve your ability to focus. You’ll be giving yourself much needed downtime by allotting time for breaks to take care of other chores, plus it’ll make you feel much more productive when you get to cross a task off of your daily to-do list.

The inevitable cram

Unfortunately, no matter how well you plan out your schedule, sometimes you just can’t help but resort to all-nighters. For those who are pressed for time, don’t fret, there is a method to this madness.

Start with the toughest material as it requires the most brain work. Save the easy work for the morning hours when you’re much more tired and less motivated. If you find yourself dozing off, taking short walks or relocating will help with the exhaustion.

Around 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., you will likely feel the desire to take a nap as your biological clocks kicks in. If there is time to spare, a quick 10 to 20-minute power nap should suffice. Prior to napping, have a caffeinated beverage or snack. As caffeine takes about 20 minutes to kick in, the intake before a power nap means it will start working when you wake up. Just make sure someone is there to wake you up in case your alarm fails — we all know how tempting that snooze button is.

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