Saturday, April 15, 2006

Concentrating, The Gravy Way

I was wondering to myself: Why don’t you have more titles that go "Verb-ing (Gerund), The Gravy Way"? Not only is that creative, but it is hilarious. Hence, the title.

Back to good stuff...


I find that concentrating is one of the biggest barriers to learning. Given that the course has a learnable amount of content, we should be able to handle it. So we sit down, get out those mechanical pencils and multi-coloured pens (only the finest will do) and we start working.

But first we’ll just check our email. Oh, we’ll leave MSN Messenger on. And a little music will be nice. Hey, someone added some pictures of us on Facebook! How much money do we have left in our bank account? Time to check.

You know the drill. Four hours later, you’ve only managed to open your book, and it’s not even on the right page.

I’ll start out with some fundamental tips to keep you focused, then I’ll move on to some specific techniques that have worked for me over the years.

Concentration Basics

Eliminate all distractions.
People don’t seen to like this one, but it is the most important thing. Turn off your instant messaging program, set that cell phone to silent and let the voice mail take it. Either no or light music. If your roommates are loud, kill them or leave. Pee, etc. before you start working. You know what distracts you, and I know you can figure out how to stop it.

Outline what you will accomplish.
We all need goals, even for the short term. Let say you are reading some history text. Set a goal to read two chapters before you move. Don’t get up unless you finish. Seriously.

Take small breaks.
I have to emphasize small here. We all need to cool off after studying for a while, but when this rages on for 4 hours, there’s a problem. Try to do something that’s relaxing, but not too enthralling. And if you know something usually pulls you in for the long haul, avoid it like a Chinatown garbage bin. Yesterday, I thought I was going to watch TV for 15 minutes, it turned into 3 hours (Lord of the Rings). Today, I didn’t turn on the TV.

Switch it up.
Sometimes if I get sick of a subject, but I still have a good groove going, I like to switch to other subjects or sometimes just other aspects of the same subject. Sometimes I move from reading lectures to answering problems or even making cue cards (depending on the subject). There are a lot of differing views on this though. Well, just two I guess: a) Some people think it’s best to switch it up, while others think b) We should stick to one subject and just plow through it. You should experiment to see what’s best for you. It seems that the second option is better for assignments, while the first is better for studying.

Specific Concentration Techniques

Make a worry list.
If you are anything like me, then you remember silly things that you have to do only when you are studying. Instead of breaking your flow, quickly jot these things to do on a piece of paper, then go back to working. I do this with my sticky notes, and when I take a break in studying I try to do them as quickly as possible. I think it took me 15 minutes to email four people, call someone, transfer some money, and message 2 people about some random stuff. This is probably faster than the cumulative time it would have taken me if I had interspersed it with my studies. And best of all, I kept my flow.

Be conscious of where your focus lies.
There are many variations on this. One I’ve heard is trying the Buddhist koan “Be here now.” Just tell yourself where you need to be. Steve Pavlina tells us to tell ourselves “Do it now!” (BTW, Steve Pavlina is an insane genius.) An idea that I got from 43 Folders [via LifeHacker.com] is to simply relax and focus on your work, when you feel your attention slipping, take note and gently turn yourself back on track. I really recommend you take a peek at it, I’ve been trying it and it has worked nicely so far.

Create a role that forces you to study.
I’ve taken this from Steve Pavlina as well, I don’t know which section though. You can create a study group where you have to teach one section of the course. Since you don’t want to disappoint people with shoddy work, you’ll study very hard. As well, you can simply pretend that you have to teach this to some others. This only works if you can trick yourself well. But give it a shot!

Give yourself some incentive.
Often times it is easier to continue running if you dangle a carrot in front of your nose. So reward yourself if you complete a set of tasks. If you finish 3 lecture sets, you can watch a movie or maybe go for a nice walk. Try not to make it anything too destructive like binge-drinking or a pie-eating contest. You might just end up in a world of hurt.

Those are the tips I have for you guys so far. If I think of any more, I’ll be sure to post them. So, good luck studying and focusing. Remember: like most things, concentrating becomes easier with practice; so start today!



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2 Comments:

At 10:46 PM, Blogger Natasha said...

Good advice Joshy poo. I hope you're not embarassed that I called you that publicly. Anyway, you have officially earned some respect from me, which is quite an achievement. Thanks buddy, this is awesome!

 
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