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Focus Better And Defeat Homework Distractions

Article by:
Natalie Lim
MEd – Developmental Psychology, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
BA – Psychology (Honours), National University of Singapore

You’ll be amazed how much your life can improve just by paying attention to your attention 

Research shows that even a 3-second interruption (like the time it takes to glance at your buzzing phone) has the power to completely derail the task you’re working on, and makes you more likely to mess up

You have a big exam coming up next week, so you know it’s time to hit the books and really focus

It can be hard to focus on the work in front of you – especially when it’s something you don’t want to do

But some people are able to do it

The question is: why them and not you?


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You Need Good Grades For Every Exam

You really want to get better grades.

Your parents have put the pressure on, or you promised yourself you would do better.

But you keep getting distracted!

When it comes to mastering academic content, the number of hours itself doesn’t mean much.

What matters is the quality of study you put in.

Research has shown that individuals with a scatter-shot attention span will only be able to experience one plane of existence – he can skim across the surface of the world’s vast knowledge and wisdom, but is unable to dive deeper and discover the treasures below.

The student with an iron-clad focus can do both; she is the boat captain and the pearl diver – and the world is truly her oyster.

If you have a goal to learn and understand as much about the world as you possibly can before the next big exam, strengthening your power of concentration is not an option, it’s a necessity.

It's Possible To Focus Effectively

Want to defeat homework distractions once and for all?

You will be able to better concentrate on what you need to do in order to reach your goals.

Here are some effective interruption busters to help you study long hours without getting overly tired or drowsy.

Establish Today's Study Goal

Prioritize your studying by setting a main goal.

When you have an exam coming up, it’s easy to panic and think that you need to study everything.

Breaking things down and establishing just one primary goal makes things more manageable and you will be less prone to becoming distracted or anxious.

For example, if you have a Science exam coming up that covers three chapters, you don’t have to cram everything into one study session.

Try focusing first on the parts that give you trouble, like that subsection on Photosynthesis.

After getting that out of the way, work on the “easier” chapters, and very soon, you will have completed everything faster than you expected.

Often, just getting started on a task is all you need to gain momentum.

Shift / Move Around Your Subjects

You’ve got homework from different teachers across multiple subjects.

Who says you have to finish your Science worksheet first, before moving on to Mother Tongue?

When your mind starts wandering or you’ve just had enough, it’s ok (and often very productive!) to move on to work on another subject first.

You may end up shifting subjects a few times before your assignments are completed – and this is an effective (and more enjoyable) way to ensure that all your homework gets done.

Remove Physical Clutter

Unnecessary clutter is a significant form of visual distraction.

Everything within our sight subtly pulls at our attention at least a little.

And the more clutter we remove, the less visual stress and distraction we experience.

So, clear your desk, your walls, and your home of unneeded possessions. You’ll be surprised at your newfound ability to focus.

Conserve Your Mental Energy

It is important not to dissipate your energy by letting your mind wander into debilitating, irrelevant thoughts.

Examples can be:

“Why was she so rude to me this morning?” or

“What if I can’t get into the school that I am aiming for?”

A good way to get rid of the first type of thoughts is to recognize them the moment they cross your mind.

There is no value in wasting mental energy over the actions of those who only value their own self-interests.

And stop feeling bothered because of the opinion of people who don’t matter.

Breathe deeply, count up to three, and consciously divert your mind elsewhere.

You may have to do this several times, but you will be gently reminding yourself that you want to focus on the task at hand.

It is not easy to control such wandering thoughts – but if you do this consistently, you should find that you gradually spend less and less time being distracted.

If you frequently have the second type of thoughts, give yourself a “worry break”.

Life can get really stressful, so it’s no surprise if you find yourself distracted from studying by thoughts about everything else.

Rather than acting like all of those other needs and concerns don’t exist, give yourself an outlet.

Spend 5 minutes thinking about everything that’s on your plate, but then tell yourself it’s time to focus on the main task for now.

Think Of Your Mind As A Muscle

The parallels between strengthening your body and strengthening your mind are in fact so close that it’s really not so much an analogy as it is a description of reality.

So let’s hit the mental gym and create your brain’s workout plan.

Increase The Strength Of Your Focus Gradually

If you decide you want to physically get in shape, but have not been exercising much these past months, the worst thing you can do is to throw yourself into an extreme training program – you’ll end up injured, exhausted and discouraged.

And you’ll quit before you even really get started.

Similarly, if your attention span is currently quite flabby, it’s best to slowly build up the ability to focus.

So, start out with an easy goal first – and work your way up from there.

Set a timer for 5 minutes and focus completely on your homework/reading for that time period.

Then take a 2-minute break before going at it again for another 5 minutes.

Every day, add another 5 minutes to your focused work time, along with an additional 2 minutes to your break time.

In 10 days, you should be able to work for 60 minutes straight before you allow yourself a 20-minute break.

Once you get comfortable with this routine, you can work to lengthen your focus sessions a little more, while keeping a reasonable rest schedule throughout your study sessions.

Give Your Brain A Break

Our brains and bodies aren’t wired to keep doing the same thing for too long.

You should take breaks for two reasons – it not only relaxes you, but it also restores your waning concentration.

Your concentration starts dropping after 50 minutes or so, and if you keep forcing yourself to continue to plow through even more chapters, you’ll be studying with less concentration, which is the same as wasting time.

If you’re working on a complex task, it takes an average of 90 minutes to accomplish anything worthwhile – and as much as 30 minutes just to get your mind on the task and ”be in the zone”.

Once you are in the flow, set a concentrated period of time – and when the time runs out, stop.

It’s easier to stay focused when you have an end in sight.

Attempting to complete a complicated Biology problem in one sitting could end up frustrating you and make you want to give up.

Therefore, take a 5-10 minute break every 50-odd minutes of focused studying, to refresh and restore your focus.

Walk the dog, or do household chores – to get the blood flowing and the brain moving.


Researchers have found that exercise primarily helps our brain’s ability to ignore distractions, although they aren’t exactly sure why.

Scientists have also found that physical exercise boosts learning ability and long-term memory, and controls anxiety and depression.

The benefits of exercise go beyond – it also improves concentration, alertness, and motivation.

When you exercise, neurotransmitters are released in the brain keeping you awake and alert.

And the effects of exercise are visible almost immediately.

After engaging in moderate physical activity, students are able to concentrate better on academic tasks, which enhances learning.

Many studies find that vigorous, sweat-inducing cardiovascular exercises that last around 30 minutes each session are the most effective.

Do note of course that not all exercises are suitable for everyone.

Before you start a new exercise regime, please take into account factors such as flexibility, strength and overall health to determine what is suitable for you.

Prioritize Your Schedule

Take up difficult topics early in the afternoon or early evening when you are at your best, energy-wise.

Such scheduling matches your energy with the difficulty of the task at hand.

As a result, you leave the less challenging topics to later at night, which is when you have dissipated most of your physical and mental energy.

And when the tendency to slack is at its highest.

For the same reason – to the extent possible – schedule your low-effort, non-academic activities such as socializing, making calls, and daily chores later in the day.

Some students pick the easy chores to do first, to get a false sense of progress – which many procrastinators do.

You will be more likely to succumb to procrastination, and give up later in the day when your energy and determination start to fizzle out.

Organize Your Study Space

Take a look at everything you have to do and gather up ALL the gear you’ll need to complete your study session.

Reading a chapter for Biology? Make sure a highlighter is handy.

Have an Accounting quiz? Grab your calculator.

Going on a search all over your home for supplies is a surefire way to derail homework and exam preparation.

Take A Nap

In a study by NASA, the pilots who took a 26-minute nap reduced their lapses in awareness by 34 percent compared to those who didn’t nap.

The most important aspect of nap, as observed in the case of NASA pilots, is that performance slacks much less than when you don’t nap, which means you can study at a high intensity even late in the evening if you have had a nap in the afternoon.

Limit the nap to 30 to 40 minutes, to avoid going into deep sleep and feeling groggy after awakening.

Besides, a longer nap can also keep you awake late in the night.

Try to nap at around the same time every day as it helps stabilize circadian rhythm.

Eat Properly To Maintain Energy Levels

Although your brain constitutes only 2 percent of your body weight, it consumes 20 percent of your daily energy intake.

Studies have shown that non-pleasurable mentally exhausting tasks – and studying or doing homework will fall into this category, for most of us – drain our energy very quickly.

Therefore, it is important to eat in a way that sustains your energy level.

Your energy levels go down in 2 to 3 hours no matter what type of food you eat.

This implies that you need to replenish your glucose level every three hours, if not two, in order to maintain your energy.

So, eat small portions every 2 to 3 hours.

Oats, yogurt, soups, salads and most fruits release sugar slowly into the bloodstream, and help maintain energy levels for a longer period.

Pizza, white bread, cake and sugary beverages have an opposite effect – your energy levels rise fast and crash quickly. This results in fatigue and drowsiness.

Practice Being Focused

Your ability to stay focused is more than just a worthwhile habit to cultivate – it is a critical factor in your success or failure.

You’ll need to make a deliberate and committed effort to stay on task.

Getting things done is imperative, and focus is the key to getting things done.

I hope these tips will help you in your quest to become a happy and successful student!

Article written for Star Tutors.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this article are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from Star Tutors or its editors.

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your own healthcare provider.


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