• Janelle Montemayor

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.

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Colored Text

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.

Combined Sensations

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

Write differently

Try Sans Forgetica, a font designed to be slightly more difficult to read, so that it can help with memory retention

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

  • Bullet points

  1. Lists

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

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

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.

Cultivate good habits and learn to productively express emotions. Part of the struggle against distractions is a lack of control over emotions and underlying stress.

#focus #meditation #attention #wellness #lifehacks #productivity


  1. 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

  2. Andrade, J. (2010). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(1), 100–106. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1561

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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/

  6. 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.