27 ways I Focus when I don’t want to Study

“I didn’t feel like studying” is one of the worst (but also most honest) assignment extension excuses I’ve ever heard!

How to focus when you don't want to study

But sometimes we all genuinely feel like we just can’t study because we’re just so tired of studying all day long!

But, there are times you need to keep studying, even if you don’t want to.

If you’re looking for things to do instead of studying, make sure you jump to this post:

Below are all my tips on how to study when you don’t want to!

1. I set Goals.

If you can’t focus right now, I want you to do this:

Write down one thing you want to achieve by the end of the day. Just one.

What might you want to achieve? Do you want to finish taking notes on the chapter you’re reading?

Do you want to complete a full set of practice questions?

Write down what you’d feel proud to have achieved by the end of the day.

Now you’ve got something to aim for. You’ve got something to focus on.

While you’re at it, you could set more short, medium, and long-term goals.

  • Goal 1: What I want done by the end of today.
  • Goal 2: What I want done by the end of tomorrow.
  • Goal 3: What I want done by the end of the week.
  • Goal 4: What grade I want for this course I’m studying.
  • Goal 5: What GPA I want to graduate with.

Make sure your goals are achievable. They can be hard. But they also must be achievable. If they’re too out of reach, you’ll give up.

If you know you’re never going to get a top mark, maybe just aim for a grade one step up from the one you got last semester.

Take it easy, take little steps, and you’ll get there.

2. I Bribe myself to Study

What’s the bet our caveman ancestors did this, too?

It seems like the world’s oldest trick.

But, the art of using bribes to encourage learning became a science in the late 1800s and early 1990s when the behaviourist theorists started experimenting on students.

They learned that bribes are one of the most effective ways for encouraging learning.

While there’s many ways to do this, my favourite way is by using the Premack Principle.

The Premack Principle

You might know it as grandma’s rule:

Eat your vegetables before you can have your dessert!

How do you apply this when studying?

Well, right now, come up with a few things you really would rather be doing.

Here’s a couple of ideas:

  • Playing a video game;
  • Watching Netflix;
  • Reading your book;
  • Going to the movies;
  • Gossiping with friends on Facebook.

Once you’ve settled on one thing that you’ll set as your reward, you’ve created your incentive.

Now, you need to decide how much time you’ll need to dedicate to focused, no-distraction studying in order to receive your reward.

Let’s say you think the longest you can possibly study is for another 45 minutes.

You should tell yourself: I’m going to study for 45 minutes right now, and as a reward, I can spend the rest of the evening guilt-free doing that activity I set as my reward.

3. I Get a Friend to hold me Accountable

Call up a friend, or maybe your mom, and ask them to do you a favor.

Say to them:

I’m going to give you $100 and you can keep it if I don’t study for at least 3 hours today.

You’re going to have to actually give them the money to make yourself accountable.

If you can go back on this promise then there’s no point! So, give them the money!

There are two reasons why this trick works so well.

  1. Personal pressure: You’ve got some skin in the game. If you don’t meet your commitments, you lose something that you really want to keep!
  2. Social pressure: You don’t want to lose face in front of someone you care about. You want others to see you succeeding.

I’ve never actually lost my $100, which is a record I want to keep up! I’d be devastated to lose it, but that’s the whole point.

If it was just $5 I’d probably not care as much and just give up. That’s why it’s got to be a decent amount of money.

4. I Remove Distractions from my Study Space

Is it distractions that are preventing you from studying?

A good study space has several things in common.

One of those things is that the physical space is clear. The other is that the computer desktop space is clear.

Let’s take these one at a time.

Clear Your Study Desk

The first thing to go should be your phone.

Nearly all of us are far too addicted to our phones. It’s not healthy, really.

You should be okay without your phone for the next 45 minutes.

So, turn it off and actually leave it in a different room to you.

If you just place it in a drawer in the same room you’ll be extra tempted to go over, open the drawer, pick it up, and start browsing.

The harder you make it to get access to your phone, the less likely it will distract you!

Next, remove any non-study-related books, music, magazines or anything else that’s distracting you from the desk.

Again, the further it is from you, the less likely you are to try to access it.

Clear Your Computer

How many tabs are open in your browser when you’re studying?

You should minimize the number of tabs open in your browser as much as possible.

You should also close any additional applications like:

  • Your email
  • Your file explorer
  • Word documents not related to your studies

While you’re at it, clean up your desktop. It shouldn’t have any clutter on it.

An uncluttered study space is a productive study space.

5. I Change Study Spaces

There are some spaces that are more conducive to studying than others.

Often times, the reason you are tied of studying is because you just can’t study at home.

Personally, if I can’t focus on studying, I like to go to the library.

I’ll either go to the public library or the university library – they’re both just as good!

I used to go to the university library all the time, but I started running into friends there and that’d distract me from studying.

So, the public library is my current go-to place. That may change in the future, though.

There are two things about the library that make it good for studying:

  1. You’re surrounded by other people who are also studying. This gets you in the zone. They influence me somehow.
  2. You don’t have anything to distract you. At home I can go lie on my bed, pet my dog, chat with my housemates, and play the Playstation. At the library I have one option: study.

Here’s another tip: I often leave my headphones at home. This means I don’t get tempted to chuck on the headphones and start watching YouTube videos (my weakness!)

Other study spaces you could try out include the local café and the local park.

6. I Take Strategic Breaks

Another way to force yourself to study is to allow your brain strategic rest periods.

One of the reasons this works so well is that you can set yourself very clear, unambiguous rules around when you expect yourself to study and when not to.

The Pomodoro Technique

This strategy of taking strategic breaks is often called the Pomodoro Technique.

Here’s how it usually works:

  • Set a timer for 30 minutes. Study hard for those 30 minutes, with the knowledge that you’ll get a break at the end.
  • Set a timer for 15 minutes. Do something relaxing and completely unrelated to studying for 15 minutes.

When I use the Pomodoro technique, I usually find that my focus wanes throughout the day.

That’s why my last few rounds of the Pomodoro technique might be dropped to 20 minutes of studying then 20 minutes of rest.

When I’m resting, I usually try to do activities that clear my mind.

Activities to clear the mind could include:

  • Mediating
  • Going for a run
  • Taking the dog for a walk
  • Doing my laundry

I find it’s usually best to do activities that get me walking around and that don’t take place at my study desk or on my computer.

7. I Create Flash Cards

Sometimes it’s hard to continue studying because your brain is just totally fried.

If you feel guilty about stopping and want to keep going, I recommend moving on to doing some study activities that require less brain power.

One of the nice things about creating flash cards is that you’re not actively trying to remember things.

Instead, you’re simply reading your notes and re-writing them onto hand-help palm cards.

While you’re not actively trying to commit those ideas to memory, you’ll still be reading about them and writing them down on a new piece of paper.

This means that you’re still studying and organizing ideas in your mind, but you’re not straining your brain.

Furthermore, those flash cards can come in really handy for your next study session.

I usually start a new study session by reading over my flash cards to get my mind back in the game. So hang onto the flash cards you’ve created for next time you study.

8. I Study with Friends

As I mentioned in Step 2, friends can make you accountable and force you to study a little longer.

This only works if you have friends that are committed to studying with you!

But, studying with friends has other benefits, too.

Talking to your friends or comparing study notes is a good way of seeing how other people explain things. You’ll get their different perspectives on issues, which can help you see things in a new light.

You don’t have to be with your friends to study with them.

You can also study with your friends over phone call or skype.

Simply call up your friends and start asking them questions about their notes or quiz them about information that will come up in your finals.

Furthermore, when you’re really exhausted with studying, studying with friends resets you. It’s sociable and involves talking rather than writing. That’ll give you that second burst of energy you’ll need to just keep studying.

9. I Change my Study Approach

Have a look at your study notes.

Are they all in written words?

Maybe it’s time to trying to study in a different way.

Consider swapping out writing big blocks of text with a more visual way of presenting data.

For example: If all your notes are written rather than in visual form, it’s time to start a mind map.

Mind maps are so powerful because they help you to sort ideas in your mind.

They force you to draw connections between ideas.

Here’s how to do a mind map:

  • Write the study topic in the middle of a spare piece of paper;
  • Draw lines out from the topic and write down the four our five key ideas that you think you need to remember;
  • Get each of the key ideas and draw more lines out from them On each of these third-tier lines, write down additional details that are the tiny but important details about each of your main points.

10. I Re-Ignite my Motivation

We all run low on motivation at times. It’s perfectly natural.

The trick is to recognize when we’ve run out of motivation and remind ourselves just why we are here studying in the first place.

There are a million motivational videos that’ll get you pumped on YouTube, so I recommend you start there.

Here’s some more ways to re-ignite your motivation:

  • Listen to motivational Music;
  • Write down all the reasons you decided to study in the first place;
  • Talk to your partner or parents about what it is that motivates you to embark on this study journey.

11. I do things one at a Time

Sometimes we procrastinate because we’ve got too much going on in our minds.

If you’re so busy trying to decide what to do next in your studies, you’ll not focus on the task at hand.

What is the one thing you are studying right now?

Focus on that.

Break it down into even smaller steps.

What’s the task you need to complete in the next 5 minutes?

This can be nice and simple.

Examples include:

  • Finish the next page of the textbook
  • Read 5 more of my flashcards
  • Find 3 more sources for my essay on Google Scholar

The more you can break everything down into bite size chunks the better off you’ll be. You will feel like things are more within your power and within your grasp.

12. I Clear my Mind

There can be a lot of chatter going on in your mind that is preventing you from studying.

Don’t believe me?

Try this trick out. It’ll only take you a little while and it might just blow your mind.

  • Step 1: Close your eyes.
  • Step 2: Try not to think anything. Literally have no thoughts.
  • Step 3: When that thought makes its way into your mind, wipe it away and try again.
  • Step 4: Test out how long you can go without any thoughts entering your mind.
  • Step 5: Try to break your previous record.

This is SO hard!

It just goes to show how much clutter and chatter is going on in your mind at any one time.

All these thoughts are distracting you from focusing on your studies.

Something I try to do is go 10 minutes just repeating Steps 1 to 5. I literally set a timer for 10 minutes and just repeat steps 1 to 5 over and over again.

By the end of the 10 minutes your record of a clear mind might have only hit 25 seconds.

It’s hard to silence the voices in your head!

But, even if you haven’t silenced them, you’ll have slowed them down.

I really find that this technique of clearing your mind does wonders for my focus. I study harder and longer after just 10 minutes of this exercise, making it 100% worth the time to increase my productivity in the long run.

13. I Create a Study Calendar

I’m going to move into some productivity strategies in the next few points that will help you study better in the long term.

They’re strategies you can start right now.

The first one is to create a study calendar.

If you’ve got a weekly diary or calendar at hand, this will be easy.

Here’s the steps for creating a study calendar:

  • Step 1: List all the topics you’ll need to study for all subjects you’re studying.
  • Step 2: Dedicate one topic to each day for the next 7 days
  • Step 3: Block out 1 – 3 hours per day in the calendar for you to study that topic
  • Step 4: Write a motivational quote at the top of your calendar!

Writing up a study calendar will help your productivity in the long run. It’ll give you the chance to space out your studying.

It’ll also ensure you don’t get stressed and run out of study time.

If you’ve got dedicated study periods blocked off for your own studying, you’ll know that you can pace yourself and be ready for the exams when finals week comes around.

14. I Snack and Drink Water Regularly

You can’t study on an empty stomach.

This doesn’t mean you should gorge yourself on a thousand gross unhealthy foods.

Unhealthy foods might actually cause you to lose focus as your body will feel less healthy.

But you should ensure you have study foods by your side so that you remain focused, alter and prepared to study.

Good snack foods for studying include:

  • Carrots, Celery and a Healthy Dip
  • Water Crackers and a Healthy Dip
  • Mixed Nuts
  • Apples, Bananas and other Fruits

Similarly, water is a must. If you’re not hydrated you’ll get a headache and your focus will just die out.

So here’s how to make sure you’re well hydrated.

Download a hydration app. My favourite hydration app is Water Balance Tracker & Drink Reminder. This app will buzz you a reminder every now and then to remind you to have another drink of water.

If you’ve followed my advice to put your phone out of your way, then that’s okay too! You can use a web extension on your computer like the Water Reminder extension for Google Chrome.

15. I Gamify my Studies

I do this all the time.

The goal of this game is to beat your previous productivity record.

Start by taking note of how much time you spent studying in the past 60 minutes.

Break down your past hour’s studying productivity:

  • You might have gone 35 minutes in the past hour studying.
  • The other 25 minutes might have been spent procrastinating on google.

Then, your goal should be to beat that record for the next 60 minutes.

Your goal might be:

  • Aim for 40 minutes of studying.
  • Aim to minimize your procrastination to 20 minutes or less.

You can also do this on a daily basis. You could say ‘I studied really well for about 2 hours, but then I lost it in the afternoon.’

Then, you’ll be able to dig-in and aim for 3 hours of solid, distraction-free studying the next day.

There are actually some apps to help you with this.

To start you off, try this free app:

Need More Strategies for Focusing?

The above 15 strategies form my top list of strategies that I use when I can’t focus on studying. I recommend you try them out!

You might like these other strategies if you’re in need of more ideas. They’re strategies that I go into more detail on other posts:

Strategies 16 – 19: More Science Backed Procrastination Techniques

  • Create a Checklist
  • Use a Website Blocker to Block Social Media Sites
  • Ensure you get enough Exercise
  • Don’t dwell on past Procrastination

Read More: How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Studying

Strategies 20 – 23: Some Tips for Studying when Tired

  • Set your Room Temperature to 72F / 22C
  • Get a Stand-Up Desk
  • Sit near Natural Lighting
  • Chew Gum

Read More: How to Study when Tired

Strategies 24 – 27: More Motivational Strategies

  • Write a Letter from your Future Self
  • Write a Letter to Your Future Self
  • Write down your Dream Job that you’re Studying Towards
  • Set a Motivational Quote as your Desktop Background

Read More: How to Motivate yourself to Study

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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