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Getting Organized and Staying Focused

  • Get Into a Routine - It’s been shown that routines can improve focus and allow you to accomplish more. Part of this is because it allows you to assert a sense of control and to regulate your time to be more productive. Using a calendar to help you map out your day and set homework blocks, can help with this.

  • Set Goals for Yourself - By setting tangible goals in advance, you can better hold yourself accountable. These can be targeted to productivity, “I want to complete all projects two days before the deadline,” or correcting bad habits, “I will not play video games until all of my homework is done.”

  • Set Your Own Deadlines - Many students want to work on independent projects, like self-studying for AP exams, doing projects, or getting involved in more advanced extracurriculars. But sometimes, they struggle to make progress, because these things tend to be independently drive and long term. For this reason, there are no deadlines and it can be hard to hold ourselves accountable. Setting deadlines for yourself, in your calendar, for both big school projects and independent ones, forces you to plan your time and provides an accountability mechanism. It’s also good to set internal deadlines for your assignments that are a day or two in advance of the official ones. This helps you finish projects earlier, get feedback from teachers or mentors, and prevents procrastination.

  • Use Tools to Stay Organized - There has been a technological explosion around organization and productivity. Consider using technology to help you take notes, organize, and plan. Google Calendar and To-do are pretty powerful, but do a little research and find the ones that work for you.

  • Don't Multitask - Multitasking can seem to be helpful, because by working on more than one thing simultaneously, it feels like you’re accomplishing more. However, studies show multitaskers spend 50 percent more time trying to accomplish a task. Focus on one assignment at a time, and only turn your attention to the next task when you have completed the first.

  • Remove Distractions - When you study or work on projects, it is very easy to distract yourself -- social media, your phone, staring out of the window. When you need to focus, remove as much distraction as you can. Perhaps this means setting your phone out of reach, using a program on your computer to block programs other than the one you’re using for home. Even things like music with lyrics can be distracting - so use instrumental songs instead .

  • Take Organized Notes - Notes will only be useful to you, if they are organized and easy to read & navigate. Find a system that works for you, and force yourself to use it consistently across your classes. The Cornell method is perhaps the most famous, and requires you to revisit your notes after class, helping with information retention.

  • Color-Code - This applies to all areas of your studies, the calendar system you use, the tasks you set for yourself. Associating a color with a course or concept can help you remember it better and navigate your organizational systems more quickly.

  • Break Down Big Tasks Into Smaller Ones - By looking at everything you need to do for a big project, it can seem overwhelming and even induce anxiety. By breaking it down into easier to manage parts, you can work step by step over time and not feel overwhelmed. Essentially, it allows you take control of the process.

  • Focus on the Moment - It can be hard to recognize this sometimes, but you choose where you put your focus. If you are worrying about the past, or thinking about the future (and likely, all you need to get done), it can be difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. Make an effort to let go of past events and anxiety towards the future. Your mind will go in the direction in which you choose to focus.

  • Take Breaks - Research has found that we tend to ignore sources of constant simulation -- you quickly forget a bad smell after a while in a room with it, or a constant sound in the background. Taking a small break when you feel blocked or stuck can be helpful. There are many people who believe you should focus intensely for a period of 25-45 minutes, then take a break. This is often called the Pomodoro method.

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