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How can I improve my focus?

Jamin Koo, Attorney, MIT Graduate

I had been a mediocre student. My attention span was short. Whenever I finished reading one page of a textbook, I had to turn to the last page assigned for that day and counted the remaining number of pages. Then, I sighed. Every so often, I had to check my phone and Facebook page, and I had to take a coffee break. I say I “had to” because I could not resist the temptation, nor did I know it was possible. I justified it by telling myself, “I studied a lot already, so taking a short break or watching one YouTube video is okay.” (Of course, I couldn’t stop after one video.) Even when I was sitting with a book open, I couldn’t focus. With my eyes I read a book, but my mind wandered around everywhere, but the book.

My busy minds had been like a swamp, making me unable to focus and to get out of my routine filled with distractions. At the same time, my desire to do things well had brought me stress and anxiety about the uncertain future.

For those like me, I can share three methods that have changed my concentration level (and life). These methods carried me to MIT for engineering and UPenn for law and allowed me to do well there and now at my job. I want others to benefit from these methods and succeed in life.

First, I turn off my phone and keep it out of my sight. There have been numerous studies and articles discussing how the mere presence of a smartphone reduces cognitive capacity even if one is not actively using it. (How Your Cell Phone Distracts You Even When You're Not Using It; Hide Your Phone When You’re Trying to Work. Seriously.) To eliminate the temptation of checking my phone, I keep my phone outside of my reach and sight.

Second, I set a deadline for completing tasks and treat it as a firm deadline. We all know that we become exponentially more efficient closer to a deadline. In his bestselling book “The 4-Hour Workweek,” Timothy Ferris recommends setting a tight deadline. This method gives me a boost to my productivity as long as I am able to treat a deadline as a deadline. Before starting to study or work, I take a brief moment to think about how long a particular task will take, set a tight deadline, and do my best to abide by it.

Finally, I meditate. The first two methods are ways to trick my brain: removing distractions and giving a sense of urgency. Requiring me to be determined, they are much easier said than done. This final method—meditation—has been more accessible and has had lasting effects on me. It has helped me eliminate distractions and mental baggage holding me back. I have become free from worrying about results and being diverted to something happening elsewhere. Now I can focus. My mind stays where I am. Due to my meditation routine, I can read a book, study or work hours at a time without being distracted. For those struggling to concentrate, I strongly recommend this YouTube video—the best tip I can share. I sincerely hope you can declutter your mind and improve concentration!

If you'd like to learn how to improve your focus, join a free online introduction.

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