How to Concentrate on Studying (for Long Periods)

Alright, I know you’re here because you’ve studied for a long time, tried to focus, but you really just can’t.

Not only does it feel totally draining, but it also makes you easily distracted!

You poor thing, let me help you get over your procrastination.

In this post, you’re gonna learn the exact strategies I used back in College that will make you work smarter, not harder.

Specifically, you’re going to learn 7 scientific ways to improve your concentration that will allow you to study for long hours without getting distracted.

On top of that, you’re gonna be able to do it while avoiding burnout, reducing stress, and accomplishing more.

I want to share this with you because most of the tips I’ve learned out there back in College only added to my stress!

Those 101 pieces of productivity advice only made me more confused than ever. But the moment I read books on productivity, that’s when I started getting the big picture; what really works.

There’s a bit of biohacking in here (but not really) but I really recommend you put these 7 strategies on your to-do list so you can implement them right away.

With that, let’s get started!

#1. Form Better Sleeping Habits

Problem Solved: How can I focus for long periods of time without getting distracted?

It’s a common misconception that your tasks are the only ones you should manage. In truth, we also have to manage our energy if we want to focus for a long time without getting distracted. Forming a habit of sleeping 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night makes you ready to focus for long hours the next day.

In the book, Why We Sleep, by Neuroscientist Matthew Walker, we can further improve the quality of our sleep by meeting two conditions: Dark, and Cold.

A dark room, or the absence of light itself, increases the production of melatonin, a neurotransmitter-like compound that “signals” the brain to sleep.

This means you’d want to turn off your gadgets or put some electrical tape to cover some LED’s in your room at least 1 hour before bed.

He says that you want your room to be at the optimal temperature: 68 degrees Fahrenheit or 18.5 degrees Celsius.

Lastly, caffeine intake must be managed. Caffeine has a half-life of 5 to 6 hours, so your afternoon cup of coffee may be doing you more harm than good.

Here’s a simple guideline: Don’t drink caffeine 10 hours before sleeping.

By doing the things above, you essentially make forming a better sleep habit EASIER.

#2. Remember the 6P’s: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Problem Solved: How do I not distract myself while studying?

If you’re easily distracted when you’re studying, chances are, you experience a lack of clarity in your schedule. Ambiguity causes procrastination, you know.

A clear goal in mind prevents you from deviating to the nonessential tasks, i.e. distractions, that cause you to lose progress when studying.

In the book, Eat that Frog! by success expert Brian Tracy, he gives a multitude of ways to avoid procrastination and get things done.

Of course, this doesn’t only apply to work, but also to studying–and in a perfectly suited way, too!

Brian Tracy states the 6P’s: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

I found this to be true , especially when I was able to plan deliberately on my next actions rather than on individual tasks only.

Instead of listing down “study math”, I list my next action: “Go to [book] and answer [chapter] problems”

Having this extreme clarity of what to do next helps me concentrate better, and estimate how much time I need for a certain task. This also helps me have a “top view” of the free time that I really have in my schedule.

#3. Eat the Biggest, Ugliest Frog first thing in the morning

Problem Solved: How can I concentrate on my studies?

Concentrating on your studies require that you not only put time into it but also your attention and energy. You can do this by studying first thing in the morning, where your energy and attention levels are at their highest.

Studying is your priority, after all.

Coincidentally, studying is the only major task that you can do to improve your grades, besides doing your requirements; and it’s also the one you’re more likely to procrastinate on.

Metaphorically, studying is like eating a big, ugly frog.

The best way that I found to avoid this procrastination is to push yourself to study first thing in the morning. Here’s why:

  • You still haven’t used energy and attention for anything else
  • Your willpower is at its highest in the morning, so you’re more likely to push yourself even when you don’t feel like it
  • You avoid decision fatigue, because you’re not yet making enough choices to impede your judgement
  • You set a huge momentum for the day because you’ve finished the most important task that’s also a major contributor to your goal
  • You can afford to spend time with your friends later on in the day because you’ve already finished important work

Mark Twain said it best.

Once you’ve completed your most important task that you’re likely to procrastinate on, your mind anchors on its difficulty and makes your other, less important tasks seem incredibly easy to finish.

Personally, when I do this, I gain a sense that I’m “in control of my day” rather than the “being controlled by my day”, and for me, that’s a thousand times more rewarding than procrastinating.

#4. Work on your peak times

Problem Solved: What do you do when you feel sleepy when studying?

When you feel sleepy when studying, you can energize yourself by having a cup of coffee, taking a nap, or both. By strategically doing these when your body’s energy level is at its trough, you can avoid the lethargic feeling in the middle of the day.

There might be 4 reasons why you feel sleepy when studying:

  • You didn’t get enough sleep
  • Poor quality of sleep
  • Both of the above; OR
  • You’re working at times where your energy levels are naturally lowest

Let’s focus on the last one, as I’ve already addressed the first ones previously in this list.

When we’re going through our day, you’ll notice that there’s some time after lunch (if you wake up at 6 am) that you’re feeling lethargic.

Surprisingly, your classmates also feel the same!

It’s because you’re at the trough of your daily energy cycle.

Because this varies from person to person, it’s recommended that you track each hour of the day that you feel lethargic and/or sluggish, and then do lower-value tasks during those times.

This goes hand-in-hand with the last tip I mentioned, which is to study first thing in the morning

That way, you’ve already finished your high-value task before even experiencing that feeling of sleepiness.

However, with this kind of information, it’s highly likely that we can use this as an excuse to NOT do work.

Luckily, I’ve found a quick, smart hack that helps us power through this problem, and that’s taking caffeine on late mornings just before lunch.

Whether it be tea, or coffee, it doesn’t matter. Just take whichever one you enjoy.

Otherwise, if you’re in total control of your schedule, take naps in these periods to restore your energy and attention.

Or do both.

It’s totally fine. Just don’t do it in class.

#5. Make your Habits work FOR you, not against you

Problem Solved: How do I study when I don’t feel like it?

It’s normal to sometimes feel unmotivated to study. However, when that’s always the case, it usually means that you don’t have well-established study habits. Establishing study habits allows you to concentrate on your work immediately even when you don’t feel like it.

Habits are actions that we do without even needing to think or motivate ourselves.

Habits, however, are activated by cues:

  • Feeling bored activates the “need” to get your smartphone
  • Feeling thirsty activates the “need” to get soda
  • Feeling hungry, stressed, or both, activates the “need” to eat junk food

So how can we take advantage of these cues in order for our habits to work for us, not against us? Here are some ideas:

  • Only turn the lamp on IF and only IF you’re going to study
  • Assign a work area that’s ONLY for doing work
  • Put your smartphone in another room, or simply put your phone in “Do Not Disturb”

By simply creating cues that reinforce our work, we avoid getting distracted by cues that activate other non-work habits. In addition, we also activate our “work mode” habit when we experience these cues that we built.

#6. Improve your Presence using Meditation and Externalization

Problem Solved: How can I train my brain to focus?

Training our brains to focus involves practicing some mindfulness and removing internal distractions. The best way to do this is by practicing mindfulness meditation, which increases our awareness of our thoughts and allows us to concentrate better.

There are two ways that I primarily incorporate this into my work schedule.

First, I do a little bit of meditation in the morning. About 30 to 50 deep breaths, focusing on just the breath and nothing else.

When I notice that my thoughts deviate from thinking about the breath, I immediately “re-focus” it back there. This way, I’m training my ability to re-focus on the current task when I get internally distracted.

Because I meditate every morning, (not perfectly, though, I miss on some occasions) I am able to externalize disruptive thoughts when I finally get to work.

This brings me to my second point: Externalization.

In the book, Getting Things Done, author David Allen says that our brains should be freed of mental space dedicated to our work, instead of just “holding thoughts there”.

He’s famously quoted for the quote, “The brain is for having ideas, not holding them.”

When we think of potential tasks in the middle of what we’re doing, it’s probably better if we list them down first and then forget about it.

If we “hold on” to these thoughts, it causes unnecessary stress.

In addition to that, if a task is something that “just came up”, it’s probably not urgent.

Because of this, we can schedule some time later to process our list that we collected, decide if they’re actionable or not, and then re-schedule them accordingly.

By the way, once you’ve blocked out a time to process your list, and you found that some item only takes less than 2 minutes to do, then DO IT IMMEDIATELY.

If you want to know more about this system, I recommend you check out David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

#7. Remember the Deep Work Equation

Problem Solved: How many hours a day should you study?

Recommendations about how many hours to study differ from person to person, but on average, it’s recommended that you study between 25 to 50 minutes, and take a short 5 to 10-minute break for optimal results. By studying in chunks, you prevent burnout and increase your ability to concentrate on studying.

I do this by incorporating the Pomodoro Technique.

Studying in chunks, when done without distraction, also allows us to do Deep Work, because of the increased intensity of focus put forth in the task.

By doing so, we learn better, we build chunks, improve our problem-solving skills, and many more brain benefits.

As stated by Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work, the Deep Work Equation is as follows:

High Quality Work Done = Intensity of Focus x Time Spent

When I first learned this equation, I immediately thought that we can decrease our time spent in a certain task by increasing the intensity of focus. (algebraically speaking)

Also, this also motivated me to work while avoiding distractions.

You’ll NEVER hear anyone say “Focusing deeply ruined my life. I never get any work done”

Now that you know this equation, I think you’ll start giving enough importance to increasing your intensity of focus and avoiding distraction to produce rare, and valuable work in less time.