How to improve your focus and find more time

The more we can focus during our study time the better we can learn and the more information we will retain.

The ability to be able to sit down, concentrate and just get on with it is something that is getting harder and harder. Especially with the advent of phones, laptops, tablets and the like built to send you popups, adds and notification after notification.

It can be so hard to concentrate with all this technology around us, but if we can, this will accelerate our learning and help us reach our goals even faster.


How to concentrate

The first piece of advice I would give is to carve out a designated time to learn the language every day.

This can be 30 minutes, it can be 2 hours, just go with whatever time you have and make sure it's sustainable in the long term.

Once you do something at the same time EVERY DAY, it starts to become a habit. The habit becomes automatic and procrastination stops altogether.

If like me you have a short attention span, or at least I did when I started, it is best to start with a small time slot of half an hour or so. Then the more experienced you get, and the less foreign the language becomes, you can start to increase the amount you do each day.

For me, I like to dedicate 45 minutes to an hour before work every day, between 7 and 8 am, and then another 45 minutes to an hour when I get back from work.

First thing in the morning really is ideal. I wake up and my phone has it's internet turned off. I have managed to get into the habit of not even looking at my phone until after I get my work done because as soon as I do, the floodgates open and before I know it 15 minutes are gone.

This leads me to my next point, turn off all distractions.

If you are using a book or physical resource that doesn't require your phone or laptop, then turn them off! Don't even give yourself the opportunity to look at them, just get away from them all together.

If however, like me, you store all your audio on your phone for ease of access, then you can't just lock away your phone. I like to use an app called Speater (Clone replayer works for Android), which sets the audio or track I am listening to or studying on loop. Then once it's on loop, I turn my phone into flight mode and leave the audio playing and don't touch it.

While it's not quite as good as getting rid of your phone altogether, I find that not having to reset the audio track and find the right place every time really makes everything much much easier, and helps me to focus and just get on with things.


The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is a time management technique to increase your focus and get more done during your study time.

It works off the principles of the brain operating in two modes, the focused mode and the diffuse mode.

When in the focus mode we can concentrate on problem-solving and getting through complex tasks, and this uses the frontal cortex part of our brain.

However, if you come across a new idea or concept or just get fatigued we can shortly become stuck. This is when the diffuse mode comes into play.

In the diffuse mode, the ideas and concepts we were working on before subconsciously bounce around the rest of our brain forming links with past experiences and memories. This means that when not concentrating our brain is still working in the background the entire time.

Switching between these two modes is the best way to increase your focus and your problem-solving ability and the Pomodoro Technique utilizes this.

Let's take the time frame of one hour as an example.

First, you study for 30 minutes, listening and reading to a difficult text and trying to make heads or tails of it.

Then after 30 minutes are up, have a 5-minute break. The key here is to rest completely, or at least use a different part of your brain to what you were using before. If you turn on twitter or facebook in this time, then not only will this make you lose focus after the 5 minutes is up, but it will also probably take you well over the 5-minute mark.

Sometimes I even just set a 5-minute alarm and take a small nap on my bed while I wait.

Then get back to studying for the remaining of the 25 minutes.

As I said before, the trick is to try and really focus during the study time, clear yourself of distractions. Then during the breaks try and take your mind off it completely and do something unrelated or just relax.

This is where my trick comes in. Usually, around my house, I have lots of 5-minute chores that I put off for way longer than I like to admit. But these are remedial, and can easily be done with little effort, so what I like to do now is to mix in the Pomodoro technique with chores around the house to help me get focused and stop procrastinating in other areas of my life as well.


A practical example


Let's give an example of me waking up in the morning, just getting out the shower and having eaten my breakfast, and then sitting down to study.

For this example, I will say I am a beginner learner of Spanish and am using a dialogue from my beginner's textbook.

7:00 - 7:10 - Listen to the dialogue's audio many times over and try to understand as much as possible.

7:10 - 7:20 - Listen and read to the text at the same time, try to follow along and pick out the sounds I couldn't with just my ears

7:20 - 7:25 - Wash up my dishes from breakfast

7:25 - 7:45 - Read through the text slowly, look up all of the unknown words in either the glossary of the textbook or in a dictionary. Try to read over a few times.

7:45 - 7:50 - Brush my teeth

7:50 - 8:00 - Read and listen to the text many times over, try and understand everything

8:00 - 8:10 - listen to the audio by itself and see if I can still understand everything. If not refer back to the text.




Notice how in the last example, not only are we combining the science behind language acquisition (comprehensible input) with the science behind how our brain works to help us concentrate. On top of this, we are adding in small activities or chores in the break time to help free up more time later.

And remember, one of the most important things you can do is to turn off all possible distractions and study at the same time every day.

This will help ingrain habits that will make your learning more and more automatic and sustainable, which will inevitably lead to success in the long term.

Did you have problems in the past with focus like me? How did you get around them, or are you still dealing with them now? Let me know in the comments below!