Studying is critical to your academic success, and yet it’s notoriously difficult to do efficiently. 

Unlike other sorts of schoolwork, studying is exactly that: reading and processing for hours at a time, trying to absorb as much information as possible. 

There is no one to help you retain what you read or organize your notes. That can make a study session quite exhausting — and if you didn’t do it well, you’ll be even more stressed about your exam or presentation.

Focus is the key. Once you’ve achieved focus when studying, your brain takes in more information and stores it properly. This is important regardless of what you’re learning, whether you’re participating in the Power MBA or taking online writing courses.

So, how can you achieve maximum focus when studying, and get more out of your session? 

Get yourself ready

As with any successful endeavor, the first step is to prepare yourself. 

When you sit down to work but something else is nagging at your mind. you absolutely won’t be able to focus on studying. It can be helpful to set a designated time for studying. Then, be sure you allow yourself a buffer beforehand to set up your notes, use the bathroom, and so on. 

You’ll also need to set boundaries with both yourself and others. When you’re studying, nothing else should come into your space or mind. 

Follow these steps to fully benefit from your study session. 

Plan your day first

Clear your desk to help you focus on studying

If you know what you’re doing any given day, it’s much easier to find time and energy to study. 

Then, you can focus on studying more easily because you’re confident that the rest of your tasks will get done. 

Try using a block schedule to map out which times of day you’ll do certain tasks. Every morning (or better yet, the evening before), list the tasks you will accomplish. Mark out your study session so you can mentally commit to it when that time rolls around. 

Tell friends/family at home you’re studying

With modern technology, it’s easy to stay plugged in 24/7. There’s no reason you should, though. 

Set some boundaries and watch your productivity rise. 

If you live with others, give them your study schedule and tell them you are on “do not disturb” mode during that time. 

Be sure to disable notifications and turn off any distracting apps as well. An app like RescueTime or FocusMe can help you block social media, games, and other non-essential programs. 

Optimize your study area

As creatures of habit, we humans are highly susceptible to environmental influences. 

If you’re trying to study in a crowded living room or messy bedroom, how strong do you think your focus when studying will be? 

Find a dedicated study space and leave pets (and your phone) outside the door to limit distractions. 

At the start of your study session, clear your desk, get all your notes in order, and mentally prepare yourself to work. 

Obviously, any place that you do fun or relaxing stuff is not ideal for focused work. So, don’t study in bed or on the couch.

It can also help to make your study space soothing. Consider opening a window to let fresh air in, lighting a candle, or putting on some ambient music (but definitely not your favorite party jams).

Maintain your focus when studying

Work through your tasks to maintain focus when studying

So, you’ve prepared your workspace and started to study, but you’re struggling to maintain your focus on studying. 

This often happens when you feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand — or distracted by things you’d rather be doing. 

Remember, the more unfocused you are, the longer it will take you to complete your studying, and you’ll also retain less information. 

Here’s how to fix the focus problem.

Work through your to-do list

Knowing what you’re going to do before you start is crucial to efficient work. 

Before you start your study plan, make a to-do list. This can be a chapter you want to read, a concept your want to study, or even administrative tasks such as organizing your notes. 

Then, check things off your list as you proceed. This helps you feel accomplished and keeps you motivated.

Eliminate distractions

You can use the FocusMe Chrome extension to block websites. The nice thing about this extension is that it also includes a Pomodoro timer. 

Did you know that the human brain can only sustain focus for 45-60 minutes at a time? To reset the clock, you need to take a break every so often. This is the basis of the Pomodoro technique. You work in bursts of focus lasting 45-60 minutes (a Pomo), then take a 5-minute break. After 2-3 Pomos, you take a 15-minute break. 

FocusMe’s Pomodoro timer helps you focus for your entire Pomo, then offers you a breather. 

This structure levels up your productivity because your brain is not constantly struggling to focus when studying. 

During your breaks, you should step away from your workspace. Take a walk, pet your dog or cat, or just use the bathroom.

Listen to classical music

Classical music can stimulate alpha brainwaves that are associated with deep focus. And because music stimulates both sides of the brain, you’re more likely to retain more information. Look for tracks that are upbeat. 

If you’re not a fan of classical music, choose contemporary instrumental pop that has a strong rhythm and ambient style. 

As long as it doesn’t have lyrics, it’s probably a good soundtrack for your study session.

Do you find music too distracting? Silence is golden! If you can’t cut out noise from your roommates/surrounding traffic/etc., try noise-canceling headphones.

Stay hydrated

Once your body starts demanding sustenance, it’s hard to focus when studying for that big exam. 

Have lots of water in your workspace before you start studying. Plus, a hydrated brain is a healthy brain! 

If you need caffeine, try green tea or black coffee. Avoid sugary drinks and alcohol. And of course, drink your beverage of choice in moderation; you want to be hydrated but not constantly getting up for the bathroom. 

Ideally, you can reserve your bathroom visits for your Pomodoro breaks. 

Finishing up

So, you’ve finished studying and you’ve soaked up your big brain with all sorts of information.

Well done! But wait, don’t head off to do something fun just yet.

Here’s how to properly finish up a study session:

Plan for the next day

It’s best to make your next to-dos while your mind is fresh.

Take a moment to review your study plan and identify the next steps. Anything you didn’t have time to get to? Did you bite off too much to chew? Adjust your workload where possible. Note anything you need to go over again.

Once you learn your limits, you can more accurately plan each study session — and ultimately get more done.

When you’re done, put it all away.

What is the point of marking out a study session if you’re going to keep engaging with your work?

Set mental boundaries. Once you’re done studying, step away from the workspace. Don’t keep doing stuff on your computer. Step outside for some fresh air, get a snack, and do something fun!

This mental break helps you set boundaries so when it’s time to pick up the books again, you can dive right back in with both confidence and really focus on studying!