Sleep, exercise, and log off
Five tips to focus at home
First, let’s answer the question of what concentration really is. ‘Concentration is focusing your attention on a task you want to complete’, says Monicque Lorist, professor of psychology at the UG. ‘At the same time, you suppress any and all information that is irrelevant to the task at hand.’
If you’re motivated enough, it’s easy to complete your task. ‘Take gamers, for example: they can lose all sense of what’s happening around them’, says Lorist. But focusing on tasks you enjoy less is a bit harder. ‘You have to consciously use brain power to suppress extraneous information.’ How can you make sure you’re able to focus?
1. Make a to-do list
Set clear and attainable short-term goals, like a set number of pages you want to read. Lorist: ‘Make a to-do list consisting of easily manageable tasks you can check off. It works well and can help to motivate you.’
You can determine what a manageable task is for you by timing how long it takes you to do things. ‘If you have to get through a book, sit down with it for an hour and see how much you read in that time. It will help you set realistic goals.’
Come up with a reward whenever you meet one of your goals. For example: I get to play with my phone once I’ve written two paragraphs. ‘Make sure you don’t end up playing a game for three hours, but this will help you set more concrete goals than just saying you will study’, says Lorist.
2. Create a rhythm
Try to have roughly the same schedule every day to make your body get used to it. ‘That’s very important. Your body has its own internal clock that anticipates when you eat and sleep’, says chronobiologist Roelof Hut. If you want to focus, you’d be wise to do that at roughly the same time every day.
If you stick to the same rhythm for two or three days in a row, you’ll start noticing the difference, says Hut. ‘You’re fully in control of your own rhythm during this quarantine situation. Add some structure to your life.’
Make sure you eat at set times, ‘because your bowels prepare for that.’ Also go outside for a bit every day. ‘Sunlight regulates when you’re asleep and when you wake up, so it’s wise to go outside during set times as well.’ Sunlight also makes you more alert, which can help you concentrate. It’s a win-win situation.
You also have to make sure that the place you study at gets enough light. If it doesn’t, it could mess up your rhythm and your focus. ‘Let in the light’, says Hut.
3. Log off
Turn off your phone to avoid getting distracted by your notifications. ‘Every time you switch between tasks, you expend energy, and that takes time. You have to decide what you want to focus on’, says Jelmer Borst, assistant professor of artificial intelligence. He studied the concept of multi-tasking.
‘Since there is a lot more happening in the world than there usually is, you also get notifications of newsworthy events’, says Borst. His tip is to read everything at once. ‘Don’t let the news drive you crazy. Read it once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once at night, rather than every ten minutes.’ If you really want to make the most of your time, just turn off your internet connection.
When you’re studying at home, you don’t get as much exercise as you usually would. ‘At the library you get up to walk to the coffee machine or the bathroom, but the distances in a student room are just too short,’ says Lorist. However, alternating studying and a little exercise will help you focus. ‘Go outside every once in a while, take a walk or go for a jog in the park. It really helps.’
Going outside also means you get sunlight, which, as we said, will also help you stick to a rhythm. Should we really go into lockdown, there are other ways you can keep busy. ‘Cleaning your windows is a physical activity’, says Lorist. ‘The most important part is to truly get away from studying for a while.’
5. Get enough sleep
‘Sleep deprivation is a focus killer’, says Hut. His tip for a good night’s sleep: Don’t study at night. ‘Mentally stressing yourself at night will prevent you from shutting down during the night, which interferes with your sleep. That will in turn mess up your ability to focus the next day.’
People who don’t get enough sleep are also more susceptible to infections. ‘Sleep deprivation is downright dangerous’, says Hut. ‘Missing just an hour of sleep each night increases your chances of getting a cold threefold.’
Whether it makes you more vulnerable to the coronavirus, we don’t know, but just to be on the safe side, make sure you’re well-rested before you go outside for a walk.
Translation by Sarah van Steenderen