Sunday, September 1, 2013

How to Stay Focused on Studying: One-Item-To-Do-List

Focus (Photo credit: Michael Dales)
by Mark Abella

Students continuously ask me how to stay focused on studying. The first step is to expect distractions.

Let's use this article for practice and act now before distractions appear.

Write on a piece of paper, "Finish focus article." Then write the date.

When you finish reading this article, draw a line through what you wrote and a check mark. Doing this exercise proves to yourself you can focus on studying.

If you haven't written down "Finish focus article" yet, do it now to get the full benefit of your time with me. We will return to this One-Item-To-Do-List towards the end of this article.

When we study something new, our focus is on something unfamiliar. This lack of familiarity makes us feel uncomfortable. When an area is unfamiliar and uncomfortable, we generally want to avoid that area. It's at that point we can make anything into a distraction. Seriously, anything.

For example, I was studying to take a test used for entrance into graduate programs (GMAT). It was getting late. I began rubbing my neck and noticed some facial hair. It didn't bother me before. While studying, it became an annoying distraction. "How is a man supposed to study with neck facial hair!" I could have shaved but then it would have just grown back. So I decided to stop studying and pull out the tweezers.

To further prove we can make anything into a distraction, go ahead and pick anything ("anything" referring to a person, place, or thing, that is real or imaginary). Now make it into a distraction.

If creating a distraction out of thin air was easy for you, don't worry most of us do it all the time to avoid areas that are different, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable like studying new subjects.

Now let's explore areas where people can focus well. These areas can give us clues on how to improve our focus while studying.

When my brother and I used to play video games, our eyes would turn red from staring at the screen for so long. When we closed out eyes, they would burn like sand paper. The trick is: don't blink.

Our grandpa would boil water and the pot would whistle, "Woot!" And it would keep whistling. It was literally 10 feet away from us. Once it whistled so long, it ran out of water.

So this is the extreme focus. We were so focused distractions didn't matter. This is the kind of concentration most would like have while studying (with more attention on health and safety than my brother and I).

Ever get into a trance state with where it's like the whole world disappears? It happens when you are watching good movie or lost in your favorite music (all you have is that moment).

This is a cool state to be in when you're doing something productive. Many feel this way when they are doing something they love.

Think back to the last time you were doing something productive and could say, "I could do this forever." You might have been totally passionate about that activity. Maybe nothing could faze you. Distractions came and then they went. They came and then they went and you kept on going.

All new areas begin as different, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. With time and practice you may be able to reach a trance-like state in that area. With the right tools you can get there more quickly and easily.

The tool we used to practice our focus while you read this article is called the "One-Item-To-Do-List." You can pull that out now and draw a line through "Finish focus article." Congratulations!

If you read (or skimmed) this article online, distractions were just a click away. You were able to stay focused and finish. You exercised your focus muscles.

If you took action and wrote down that one to-do item, you did something different. That is also worth celebrating. To change the results in our lives, we have to do something different. Use this technique to help you concentrate and complete your next task.

If you would like more tips how to stay focused on studying, check out the study skills webinar. Get 5 proven game changing tips to help you get higher scores more quickly and easily at

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