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 Students study near Mozart I, a sculpture in stainless steel by Kenneth Snelson (U.S.A., b. 1927). Outdoor Sculpture - Stanford Images Spring 2017. Photo credit: Linda A. Cicero

Concentration

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A multitude of factors can impact your concentration.  Background sounds, interruptions, stress, lack of sleep, depression, and anxiety are some of the most common.

Strong concentration skills allow a person to:

  • Accomplish tasks 
  • Process and store information
  • Make effective decisions using self-awareness
  • Plan long-term projects and divide them into digestible chunks 
  • Execute a time management plan

Questions for Reflection

  • Think about a time when you were extremely efficient when completing a task; what were the specific conditions (place/work space, feelings, sounds, sights, flavors)?
  • Which places/work spaces, feelings, sounds, sights, and flavors lower your concentration?
  • Let’s optimize your work experience: How can you create an environment that infuses your answers to question 1 and reduces your answers to question 2?
  • Research shows that having a phone (even someone else’s) within your field of vision reduces your ability to focus. If you were to stash your phone out of view while working, where would you place it?
  • What are your favorite ways to avoid doing a dreadful task?  How can you reduce your access to these distractors?  

Basic Strategies to Try

  • Reducing your access to distractions is a great way to amplify concentration.  Eliminate visual clutter in your work space and set up your materials in advance.  Use website blockers or spots with no WiFi access to eliminate distractions.
  • Give yourself positive reinforcement for focusing to strengthen and lengthen your concentration over time; help your mind associate focus with pleasure.
  • Establish timed focus sessions: do 25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break, or try 45 minutes of work followed by a 15 minute break. 
  • Figure out what kind of noise or silence helps you focus.  Use an app to set the mood for concentration and productivity.
  • Remember that multitasking is a myth; you’re actually task-switching, which is burning down your focusing fuel.
  • Take short breaks and move physically to shift your attention away from the task – then come back fresh.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Commit to a sleep schedule and set an alarm on your phone to remind you to wind down at a certain time each night. 
  • Consider adopting regular mindfulness practice to improve concentration.

Questions about how to implement these strategies? 

Email your question to stanfordlearninglab@lists.stanford.edu or attend one of our drop-in sessions.

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