How to Focus Better: Alternatives when Bullet Journals are Abandoned
Image Credit: Nadia Mokadem
You might have piles of notebooks and planners. Some are empty, others partially filled in with your dreams of productivity. Sticky notes and brightly colored highlighters are scattered on your desk, remnants of the last time you tried to be an organized person. Maybe you’ve tried rearranging your desk for the umpteenth time already in an effort to create an inspiring environment.
Paying attention can be hard, especially when all the self-help books give you the same advice in big blocky paragraphs.
Here are some things that can help.
Mindfulness meditation strengthens brain cells to an attentive state. Setting aside a little bit of time to practice for several weeks can change the neurological structure in the brain. It can be rewired to deactivate the default mode in your brain, which is the state in which the mind wanders.
Read more effectively
It may be painful to read long blocks of text with no breaks, bold/italic text, or anything that distinguishes from the monotony. Making words more attention-grabbing or employing certain learning techniques may improve focus.
Consider a tool like BeeLine Reader, which uses color gradients to color text. Readers can track words better and focus on understanding what they’re reading. Colors can be customized from bright, dark, blue, or gray gradients.
Due to schools being shut down, BeeLine Reader is now giving their software out for free to students and instructors.
You can read along with an audiobook, if possible.¹ Reading with multiple sensory inputs can help retain attention. If audio-visual reading doesn’t help, try different combinations of the learning styles, like audio-kinetic or kinetic-visual.
To read or study audio-kinetically, listen to an audiobook while drawing. Doodle the scene and characters or chart the diagram of a process while it’s being explained.²
Another technique would be to move along with the book. Follow along with gestures and hand movements.
As for kinetic-visual learning, try making hands-on art projects that explain what you’re reading. Interact with the material in any way that involves touching, building, or moving. Try a mind-mapping app such as MindMeister.
Can’t figure out which technique works for you? Take the self-assessment test to figure out your learning style
Try Sans Forgetica, a font designed to be slightly more difficult to read, so that it can help with memory retention.³
Parse your writing! Split up paragraphs into smaller chunks of sentences. Make as much writing into bullet points and lists as possible. This is called “chunking.” It helps working memory.⁴
Fidget to Focus
Some people can perform better when they are mindlessly moving in some way. ⁵ In other words, if they can focus their hands on one thing, it is easier to focus their brains. It provides background stimulation that may be beneficial for people who have trouble focusing.
Effective ways to fidget can vary by the person. If it takes up too much brain power to do it one way, it would be better to fidget in a manner that is less obstructive.
Having a standing desk might help. One study shows that standing desks helped students pay better attention, even though they fidgeted more than when they were sitting.⁶
In the end, it’s okay if you’re not as focused as you want to be. Your productivity is not tied to your self-worth. There will be times when distractions are unavoidable, and there will be times where you can get everything done and more.
Kožárová, J. (2020, July 30). Current research and teaching strategies for the writing, reading and literary education of the pupils with ADHD - Multidisciplinary Journal of School Education - Issue 11 (2017) - CEJSH - Yadda. The Central European Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities. http://cejsh.icm.edu.pl/cejsh/element/bwmeta1.element.desklight-898f43a5-65ad-458f-bf06-cffd840553ab
Andrade, J. (2010). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(1), 100–106. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1561
Yirka, B. (2018, October 5). A font that helps you remember what you read—Sans Forgetica. Tech Explore. https://techxplore.com/news/2018-10-font-readsans-forgetica.html#:%7E:text=A%20team%20of%20researchers%20at,has%20been%20written%20using%20it.
Thalmann, M., Souza, A. S., & Oberauer, K. (2019). How does chunking help working memory? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 45(1), 37–55. https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000578
A Trial by Trial Analysis Reveals More Intense Physical Activity is Associated with Better Cognitive Control Performance in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. (2020, July 30). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675699/
Swartz, A.M.; Tokarek, N.R.; Strath, S.J.; Lisdahl, K.M.; Cho, C.C. Attentiveness and Fidgeting While Using a Stand-Biased Desk in Elementary School Children. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 3976.