Beep. You have a text from John, asking to confirm plans tonight. Ding. That’s an email from your professor with the extra coursework you asked for. Boop. A reminder for the exam you have to study for next week. And let’s not forget about the push notifications informing you that the Royal Family is about to have a baby, that you have a comment on Instagram, a like on Facebook, a retweet on Twitter; and Ryanair is having a flash sale on flights. With the ever-increasing influx of information these days, it can be hard to breathe, let alone stay focused. Snappy headlines and saturated news feeds – this information epidemic is having a direct negative consequence on our psyches and attention spans – but there is a way to fight back.
Unplug before you approach a task
Unless you absolutely need the internet for something vital, get rid of it for the duration in which you need to complete your task or assignment. This means putting your phone and other mobile devices in another room (or turning them off completely), switching off your TV and having only the task at hand to focus on. If you’re going to be studying or working on a computer, you can get temporary internet blockers such as Cold Turkey which allow you to block the internet and get work done. This means for a set duration you’ll have no annoying notifications and no distracting messages from friends.
Forget about multitasking
If you want to study for that big exam while cooking dinner at the same time – forget about it. While technically it is possible, dividing your attention between two tasks is going to be detrimental in the long term. It’s not the doing that’s the problem, but rather concentrating concurrently on two tasks. It forces your brain to switch back and forth between the tasks at hand very quickly, meaning you aren’t absorbing as much meaningful information as you would if you focused solely on one task. So next time you want to effectively complete a task, isolate it and put everything else on the backburner. Create lists to help you prioritise your tasks. This will not only tackle one task at a time, but will give you a certain amount of satisfaction each time you accomplish one.
If your mind is abuzz from piling up assignments, social obligations and information overload in general, taking time out away from everything to sit quietly for a few minutes is a very effective way of dulling that overwhelming mental roar. Meditation helps you clear your mind and achieve mindfulness, and can be a massive benefit to students looking to increase their focus, reduce stress and improve motivation. How does one get into meditation? The simple answer is just to focus on your breathing in a quiet environment, but there’s more to it than that. Apps like Headspace can help you get started, guiding you through simple meditation in short sessions every day.