In this focus section, you’ll encounter tips for working in productive bursts, learning mindfully, studying with a bunny buddy, and more.
Tips from Our Learning Specialists
- Use consistent rewards for focusing to strengthen and lengthen your concentration over time.
- Eliminate visual clutter in your work space and hide your phone from sight.
- Work in productive bursts. The Pomodoro Technique advocates 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break or 45 minutes of work followed by a 15-minute break.
- Practice mindfulness by setting chimes on your phone and tracking where your attention is when you hear the chime. Without self-judgment, note what’s contributing to your focus or lack thereof and adjust accordingly.
Sites and Apps
- Timer with motivational advice, rewards, to-do list, flashcards, stats: Study Bunny
- Tracks and limits your time on social media: Digital Wellbeing
- Website blockers: Freedom, BlockSite
- Meditation, mindfulness, and chimes: Insight Timer, Calm
- Meditation and mindfulness: Headspace
- Online study group for increased accountability: StudyStream
- Sounds to aid in focus: My Noise, SimplyNoise
- Digital countdown with visual cues: Colored Timer
- Focus music and accountability features: Centered
Additional Resources at Stanford
- Sign up for a drop-in session with us! With a Learning Lab Learning Specialist, you can talk about these strategies in more depth, personalize the approaches to suit your needs, and be supported as you practice.
- Join the Learning Lab's student groups and partnerships to promote focused productivity.
- Academic Skills Coaching
- Posner, M. I., Rothbart, M. K., & Ghassemzadeh, H. (2019). Focus: Attention science: Restoring attention networks. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 92(1), 139. Read the article here.
- Attention is not a unitary construct. Using the Attention Network Test (ANT), research has identified 3 attention networks within the human brain that perform different functions related to attention. The alerting attention network readies us to receive and respond to stimuli. The orienting attention network directs our attention to stimuli. The executive attention network performs crucial self-regulatory actions. A variety of neurological disorders are associated with one or more of these attention networks. A potential remedy for attentional difficulties is found in increasing white matter in the brain, such as is stimulated by meditation practices. Understanding the different aspects of attention can help students better understand how to classify their ability or inability to focus and what interventions would be most effective.
- Lee, S., Kim, M. W., McDonough, I. M., Mendoza, J. S., & Kim, M. S. (2017). The effects of cell phone use and emotion‐regulation style on college students' learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 31(3), 360-366. Read the article here.
- This study examines the effects of engaging with a cell phone while trying to learn from a 20 min lecture. The results showed that the students in the no cell phone condition had higher test scores than other students who had some (even limited) access to their phones. These findings illustrate the importance of limiting distractions in order to improve retention of information. This can include actions like putting your cell phone in another room and restricting website access during work hours.
- Ruth M Liprini, & Nicoleen Coetzee. (2017). The relationship between students’ perceptions of the University of Pretoria’s on-campus green spaces and attention restoration. Human Geographies: Journal of Studies and Research in Human Geography, 11(2), 155–167. Read the article here.
- At the University of Pretoria, students were asked to rate their experiences with green spaces on campus using the Perceived Restorativeness Scale (PRS), a 26-component measure of the Attention Restoration Theory. This theory suggests that nature re-energizes cognition in four key ways: by providing a sense of break or “being away,” by engaging the viewer in an expanse that suggests perspective and cannot be digested all at once, by stimulating the imagination, and by being compatible with the individual. The mental reflection allowed by time in green spaces prompts the brain to recharge and be ready for additional demands on attention. Consequently, spending time in green spaces on campus in between academic activities is seen as advantageous for restoration. Students at the University of Pretoria report the highest level of satisfaction with the botanical garden on campus, suggesting the benefits of biodiversity. As their second pick, students like a green space with a water feature. While this study was conducted on one campus, the results of the study are a reminder that nature’s soothing properties can assist the brain when it is feeling fatigued. These responses were not correlated with time; even brief attunement to greenery can be beneficial.