Midterm Overload: Strategies for Staying Focused

By Kareem Carr

Midterm season is upon us, and one of the main challenges students face is staying focused for the long hours needed to complete assignments, take-home exams and studying. Some distractions, like Hallowe’en or Friday night, are large enough that you make a conscious choice to procrastinate or stay focused on work. But what about the rest of the time? If you’re like me, there are a million and one things that are vying for your attention at any given moment – dishes to do, blogs to read, friends to chat with, the list goes on. With these little distractions, you may think to yourself that they’ll only take a few minutes and you’ll start working or studying soon. But then, minutes turn to hours and next thing you know it’s one in the morning and you’ve barely gotten started.

Recently, I’ve been trying out different ways to deal with these little distractions, and one of the most useful ways I’ve come across is also one of the most simple. In a word, the timer. The basic idea is to set a timer for 1 hour, or half an hour, or however long you can concentrate in one sitting. Start the timer, work until it goes off, then take a timed break. It sounds fairly obvious, and perhaps seems too simple to work, but the trick is that this method turns those small little distractions into finite decision points. Now, when the timer goes off, you have to make a conscious choice between stopping work and setting the timer for your break, or resetting the timer and keeping going; between ending your break and getting back to work, or resetting the break timer and procrastinating. Plus, knowing I have a break coming up helps keep me focused on the task at hand – when I start to get distracted, I tell myself that I’ll just finish studying for the last half hour on the timer and then do the dishes, or check that website, or whatever; it actually reverses the problem of procrastination.

What solutions have you found effective for combatting procrastination?

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