Hayden Goldberg, University Freshman
With the recent transition to online classes and remote learning across the county, lots of challenges emerge for students. One of them is focus. Students who traditionally do not struggle to concentrate at school might suddenly find themselves in a new position.
As a student with ADHD, anxiety, and executive functioning challenges, I am no stranger to these challenges, which have led me to develop a number of strategies to overcome these challenges. Each of these simple tools utilizes preexisting tools and functionalities to drastically improve focus.
Notifications are micro distractions that pull you away from your work for a second or two. If you get drawn into your app, then they become full fledged distractions, potentially eating up 15 minutes of your time. Taking the three minutes to turn these off on your phone and computer is well worth the investment.
Most computers have a “desktop” functionality where you can have individual desktops with different windows open. If you need to prevent yourself from playing video games, create a desktop that you commit to being “work only” and one of that is “games only.” I have found that the physical separation between home and school helps improve my focus and goal setting — this serves a digital solution.
Notifications are micro distractions that pull you away from your work. Turning these off on your phone and computer is well worth the investment.
Within your school desktop, limit the number of tabs you have open in your browser to only the essentials: email, learning management software (LMS), and the work you are doing right now. If you take digital notes, have that platform open as well.
If listening to music helps improve your focus, then you can have that up too. However, I recommend Focus@will, a website with lyricless music designed to help improve focus.
You can get their music on their website, or you can search them on YouTube. If you do the latter, move the browser tab with YouTube into another desktop; you will still be able to hear the music but remove the potential rabbit hole and time suck.
Another way to prevent time sucks is to set alarms and timers. These serve multiple purposes. First, they help keep you from getting lost. If you do get distracted, a timer every 20 to 40 minutes can help pull you out of your distraction.
They will let you check back into the real world and reassess the progress you are making on your work. If you realize you have not made as much progress as you would have liked, this lets you reframe and reassess.
Timers can also help create a work schedule. You no longer have a teacher saying, “we are going to spend 20 minutes on this assignment” so you need to both decide and track how much time you spend. Timers offer an easy solution.
In addition to not having teachers decide how you spend your time; some students might no longer have a dedicated schedule. For example, twice a week my sister has “independent work” where she is responsible for work that has been assigned by her teachers, while the other three days have digital lectures.
With the rigid, day to day schedule gone, a lot of students struggle to just “get stuff done” — they need to create and execute a plan for themselves. One way to do this is to estimate the amount of time you think each assignment will take, write that down each morning, and then try to follow through by setting timers. By knowingly creating dedicated blocks of time for different work, you allow yourself to focus on the assignment at hand — you are working you plan.
Timers will let you check back into the real world and reassess the progress you are making on your work. They let you reframe and reassess.
One way to combat that is to use a webcam when possible. By using it, others can see your face, and a popup of your face will appear. If you are doing something else on the computer, your facial expression will change. You can turn the popup into a “self check” to make sure you are staying on track and focusing
The most important method to improving your focus during online school is to reflect on the strategies you have been using. You do not need to implement these strategies for days or weeks to see if they are effective. After one or two days, take 20 minutes, self check, reflect, and ask yourself: what has been helpful and what has not?
Use your answers to adjust your strategies. If you like the timers but still need more structure, consider using a calendar and blocking out time each day for your classes.
Have you found yourself listening to music when you intended it to be something to help improve focus? If so, try Focus@will.
Are you under or overestimating the amount of time you think assignments will take? Which classes are you most off about? Why do you think that is? Write that down and adjust your strategies. Reflect again in another day or two.
For some, trying to focus at home might seem hopeless or incomprehensible. But by using these strategies and reflecting, I am confident that you can overcome this challenge.
Hayden Goldberg is a freshman at the University of Washington with ADHD, anxiety, and executive functioning challenges. He has worked to create a system to overcome these challenges and improve essential skills such as time management, breaking apart assignments, and goal setting. Using this system, Hayden was able to successfully complete an intensive college prep program at the University of Washington and enter the University at age 15. His book, Freshman 101: The Guidebook to Planning, Prioritization, and Time Management, available on Amazon, provides step by step guidance on how to implement, customize, and use this system for yourself. In his free time, Hayden enjoys writing, skiing, hiking, playing board games, and playing with his dog. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at linkedin.com/in/hayden-goldberg.