What do highly focused and productive people do differently? Learn how to dramatically increase your focus and concentration by creating a balanced sensory environment.
Table Of Contents
- Control Your Auditory Experience | Create a balanced noise environment with ambient-type music. Create different playlists for different situations and tasks.
- Change Your View | Choose a spot with an open, bright and natural view, or mimic one with visualizers.
- Pacify Your Digestive System | Stay hydrated, eat healthy snacks and avoid foods that will negatively affect your energy and concentration.
- Take Strategic Breaks | Take short breaks and move your body to recover from the ill effects of prolonged sitting.
- Remove Negative Distractions | Block and remove distractions and isolate yourself from other triggers.
1. Control Your Auditory Experience
A good study environment isn’t necessarily one that is quiet; it’s one that is balanced. This explains why a busy cafe with people moving around and ordering drinks can be a more productive place than a library with a couple whispering nearby. The consistent noises of the cafe drown each other out, while the whispering couple in the library can be clearly heard in the silence.
Silent Or Balanced?
Music can help you create a balanced-noise environment anywhere. Whether it’s a busy cafe, the library or your room, you can use music to block out noise. But, there will be times when you just need silence. The important thing to listen to your and decide what’s best.
It’s not secret that music has mood altering properties. If you listen to fast and aggressive music while driving, you will drive faster. If you listen to slow and tranquil music, you will feel relaxed. Similarly, certain types of music are better suited for studying than others.
However, there is no single genre of music that works for everyone, as each person has a different taste in music. In addition, context also influences the effectiveness of music. For example, high-energy music works better in busy environments, while low-energy music works better in quiet environments.
Bad study music includes rap, pop, country and other genres that have clear vocals, because listening to human speech automatically interferes with the language processing part of your brain, which is important for most kinds of studying. Good study music uses synthetic, instrumental or natural sounds to help maintain your energy-level, without including distracting human speech.
Here’s a list of recommended study music genres, ranked from high-energy to low-energy. Click the links to see a YouTube search for each genre.
- Ambient House
- Instrumental Film Scores
- Instrumental Hip-hop
- Video Game Soundtracks
- Ambient Trance
- Classical Music
- Ambient Noise
With regard to specific artists/producers, I personally recommend anything from:
- Explosions in the Sky (genre: instrumental post-rock)
- Vitamin String Quartet (genre: instrumentals of popular pop & rock music)
- Hans Zimmer (genre: instrumental film scores)
With regard to video game soundtracks, start with:
Study Music Playlists
I highly recommend you make dedicated study music playlists (or subscribe to similar playlists/channels on music streaming applications). This will allow you to switch to study mode immediately without having to search for appropriate music. Start with at least 3 separate study playlists.
- Slow study music, no lyrics (for reading & memorizing)
- Fast study music, no lyrics (for writing & creating)
- Fast study music, with lyrics (for physical work)
When doing physical work (e.g. playing sports or drawing), music with lyrics are okay, because you aren’t using the language processing part of your brain. However, for tasks that require language processing, you should avoid music with lyrics.
Don’t underestimate the influence of music on your mood and focus!
Noise-cancelling Headphones & Earplugs
Noise-cancelling headphones are a great way to block out external noise and listen only to your music. They’re more expensive than regular headphones, but a good pair can last you years of use. Alternatively, if you prefer silence, look into wearing earplugs.
2. Change Your View
Similar to your ears, the optimal environment for your eyes is a balanced one. Take a second to consider your ideal study environment. Is it an all-white cubicle? Or, could it be a scenic view overlooking the city, beach or landscape?
The Perfect Study Spot
There are many common characteristics that determine a good study spot.
- Distance & Separation – The things that are in your view should be distant and non-interactive, like the clouds, ocean, mountains or pedestrian traffic from afar. The variety in these views is just enough to keep you stimulated, but not enough to draw your attention.
- Openness – The feeling of spaciousness can alleviate the anxiety and stress associated with cramped areas.
- Natural, Even Lighting – Sunlight and daylight-like lighting has a positive mood and energy enhancing effect.
Common examples of study spots that meet this criteria are seats in a cafe or library with a view overlooking the city or a natural landscape.
Re-creating Scenic Backdrops
You won’t always have access to a study area with a scenic view, but there are ways to simulate it.
- Use A Visualizer – One way to mimic the complexity and calming effects of the scenic outdoor view is with a visualizer. Consider running a visualizer on your computer screen or TV.
- Sit Near A Window – Whenever possible, sit next to a window, as it gives you the gives you the feeling of openness, even if you’re in a cramped room.
- Maintain A Minimalist Workspace – By keeping your work area clean and removing all unnecessary items from view, your workspace will blend into the serene landscape. A cluttered workspace will reduce the effects of an open and natural view.
- Mute A Video – Similar to a visualizer, you can play a video on your TV or computer screen, but mute the sound.
3. Pacify Your Digestive System
Hunger and dehydration are often overlooked and underestimated factors that can have a significant impact on your ability to focus and concentrate.
If you’re an American, there’s a 75% chance you suffer from chronic dehydration, which can cause migraines, stress and reduce your ability to concentrate. So, stay hydrated! Always have a glass of water, tea or a sugar-free drink within arms reach and drink regularly. Stay away from soda, fruit juices, smoothies and other sugar-heavy drinks.
Eat Healthy Snacks
- Fruits – They’re great energy boosters. Because of their high fibre content, you don’t have to worry about the sugar crash.
- Dark Chocolate – If you have to eat something sugary, make it dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more). Dark chocolate is a well-known energy and mood booster.
- Gum – Gum has long been used by long distance drivers as a way to stay awake and alert.
- Veggies & Dip – A very healthy alternative that will not only help you feel satiated, but hydrated as well. I highly recommend hummus as the dip of choice.
- Nuts – Peanuts, almonds, cashews, etc. are particularly good at making you feel full because they’re filled with fats, fibre and protein.
Foods To Avoid
Sugar and carbohydrate heavy foods have a negative effect on your productivity for several reasons. Not only does the excess sugar lead to a sugar crash shortly after consumption, but they have slightly addictive properties that cause you to crave more sugar.
- High Sugar/Carb Snacks – Candy, chips, instant noodles, white bread, etc.
- Energy Drinks, Soda, Fruit Juice, Smoothies – These drinks have an incredible amount of sugar in them.
- Coffee with Sugar – Black coffee is fine, but skip the spoonfuls of sugar.
- Too Much of Anything – Being too full leads to lethargy, which saps your energy and ability to concentrate.
The best state for studying is being slightly hungry. This is because slight hunger leads to increased alertness.
4. Take Strategic Breaks
In addition to causing back and neck pain, sitting for long periods of time contributes to weight gain and a shortened lifespan.
Take 5-Minute Breaks
Stand up and leave your desk (to walk, stretch, go for a jog, etc.) every 20 to 30 minutes. These short breaks serve a dual-purpose. In addition to the benefits to your muscles and joints, you also allow your mind to relax and reset. Similar to how you start to lose concentration in the second half of a 1 hour class, you will start to lose mental energy if you attempt to study too long without breaks.
Stand Or Walk
A more modern approach is to avoid sitting all together. If you visit the offices of Google and other high tech companies, you’ll find that they’re filled with standing desks; some even have treadmill desks! Standing improves blood flow, so it contributes to greater alertness, body and brain function. Consider a buying a standing desk of your own, or simply integrating standing into your studying, such as reading while walking or standing in the hallway, or reviewing a worksheet while leaning against a wall.
5. Remove Negative Distractions
Instant notifications and always-on internet are amongst the worst things to happen to studying. A simple Facebook or message notification can lead to 10 minutes chatting and updates. It’s difficult to quantify how much time is wasted on these “small” distractions, but cumulatively, you could be spending more time being distracted than actually doing work.
- Disconnect From The Social World – Turn your cellphone on silent and turn off notifications on your computer. The world won’t end if you’re not connected for 30 minutes.
- Block Distracting Websites – If you need to use the internet, there are ways to temporarily block distracting websites, such as Facebook, Reddit and YouTube.
- Remove Distractions From Sight – The only things that should be in front of you are the things that are absolutely necessary for your work. This means any electronics, books, stationary, bags, etc. that you don’t need for the task at hand should be put away and out of sight.
Some of these suggestions may seem drastic, but they’re absolutely necessary. A clean, minimal, distraction-free work environment will boost your productivity considerably.