Welcome to our guide on maintaining focus in school, inspired by the experiences of Jake and Sarah. Their unique journeys offer valuable insights into overcoming common student challenges in focus and learning.

Sarah and Jake have learned that maintaining focus in middle school and high school becomes more intuitive when future aspirations are clearer in their mind. Ask yourself – what drives you? Is it a dream college, a coveted internship, honor roll, or a specific career path?

Keep a written list of these intentions near your study area. Add an inspiring image that reflects your goals. These visual reminders will anchor you, especially during challenging moments, reinforcing why staying focused each night is crucial.

“Your intentions guide your attention. So make your goals visible”

Remember, the efforts you put in now are building blocks for your future success. Looking back, you’ll appreciate the goals you’ve achieved and the journey you’ve embarked on. This thought alone is a powerful motivator.

Executive Functioning Assessment from Effective Effort Consulting

What Does Focus Mean?

Jake, in learning to thrive with ADHD, developed strategies to leverage his high energy positively, turning it into a strength during his soccer practices. Sarah discovered that breaking down her math problems into smaller, more manageable parts made them less intimidating and more approachable.

Improve your focus and grades by understanding your study skill strengths and weaknesses

Focus, Not Concentration

Focusing on homework can sometimes feel like a struggle, especially when there are so many other things you might prefer to be doing. Perhaps your attention is constantly being diverted to your phone, you’re noticing hunger pangs, or you’re simply tempted to lie down for a quick snooze. Fortunately, there’s a silver lining – you can overcome these distractions and realign your focus by implementing some straightforward adjustments to your study habits.

Jake uses sports analogies to relate to his studies, while Sarah employs visual aids for her math work, proving that focus is about engaging actively with your work.

Additional Suggestions:

  • Try different study techniques like mind mapping.
  • Discuss difficult topics with peers or teachers for new perspectives.
  • Develop personalized study skills to improve focus and learning

Consider these 8 Tips to Focus on Homework

Tip 1️⃣: Exercise First

Exercise helps Jake manage his ADHD and enhances Sarah’s concentration, especially before tackling challenging subjects like math.

The Science of Exercise and Focus

Research indicates that cardio exercises, which quicken your heart rate, enhance memory and cognitive skills. Activities like jogging, cycling, playing a sport, or any fast-paced exercise fall into this category. Engaging in such exercises just before diving into your schoolwork can invigorate your body. This increased blood flow activates your brain, making it more alert and primed to concentrate on homework tasks.

Incorporating Exercise into Your Daily Routine

⏱️The 52-17 rule can be a powerful tool for optimizing exercise or ‘brain breaks’ during homework sessions. This rule suggests working intently for 52 minutes followed by a 17-minute break. This pattern aligns with the brain’s natural rhythm of concentration and rest, fostering productivity and mental agility.

When you apply this rule to your homework, you work in focused, undistracted bursts, knowing a break is just around the corner. This can help reduce burnout and keep your mind sharp. During the 17-minute break, engage in activities that refresh you – a brisk walk, a light snack, or a different kind of mental activity. These breaks are not just pauses but are designed to rejuvenate your brain, making your study time more effective.

Additional Suggestions:

  • Incorporate stretching or light exercise during study breaks.
  • Try different forms of exercise to find what best suits your routine.

Tip 2️⃣: Set a Routine

Jake and Sarah demonstrate the power of a structured routine, but it was not easy and took time and effort to get into a rhythm. Since Jake also struggled with executive dysfunction, the skill development process took more time and goal-directed perseverance. Jake learned to synchronize his study and sports schedules using a planner, while Sarah dedicates specific times for her math practice. 

A well-planned routine simplifies productivity, especially with homework. It’s about creating a habit, like sitting at your desk after school, silencing your phone, outlining your tasks, and tackling the most important ones first. This approach streamlines your focus and helps efficiently complete projects. For students with executive functioning challenges, it can be helpful to get professional coaching help in order to build the routine, study skills, and foster greater independence and consistency in the process. 

Set deadlines

When you are in the right nightly homework routine it’s easier to set deadlines for getting assignments done. Having a consistent homework schedule gives you a chance to set deadlines on how much time you need to or want to spend on specific short and long term assignments.  

How to Make a Schedule:

Taking charge of tracking your school work and personal life can significantly boost your focus. Utilize a digital calendar or a physical planner to keep tabs on assignment due dates. This habit isn’t just about high school; it’s prep for college and your future career, empowering you to steer your own path.

If you’re tech-savvy and not easily distracted, your phone can be a great tool. Set reminders for study sessions or material reviews. On the flip side, there’s something about the act of writing that cements information in your memory. Consider getting a cool journal or daily planner for this purpose. Not only does it help you remember, but it also adds a personal touch to your organization game.

Additional Suggestions:

  • Jake recommends this planner for student-athletes. 
  • Review and adjust your routine weekly to find what works best.
  • Include leisure activities in your routine for a balanced approach. 25 minutes of focus time with a 5-minute brain brake. This is known as the Pomodoro Technique.

Tip 3️⃣: Be Prepared

To maintain focus and avoid distractions during your study sessions, it’s crucial to be well-prepared. Coach Jessica Gale, an Executive Function Coach with Effective Effort Consulting, advises:

“Before you begin each day’s work, make sure you have everything you need at hand,” recommends Coach Gale. “This includes a list of contacts like teachers and counselors, materials for note-taking, your daily schedule, and a glass of water. Being this organized prevents the need to step away to find something, keeping distractions at bay and helping you stay focused on your tasks.”

Set the Mood

Listening to the right kind of music can enhance your study sessions. This is a personal experience and every student needs to figure out what type of music promotes the ideal focus and productivity. 

Research shows that classical music, especially consistent and soothing tracks, can improve concentration and information retention. Avoid large orchestral pieces with dramatic variations in volume, as they may distract more than help. Opt for elevator-style, steady background music. To enhance focus, consider using noise-canceling headphones. For a suitable playlist, check out the “Classical Study Music” playlist on YouTube, offering a selection of calm and steady classical tunes ideal for studying.

Avoid heavy meals

Eating a large meal before studying isn’t recommended, as it can lead to sluggishness and reduced focus. The body expends a significant amount of energy digesting big meals, diverting attention away from mental tasks. Opting for a light snack is a better choice.

 For instance:

  • 🥤Soda: High in sugar, it can cause a rapid spike and crash in insulin levels, leading to an energy slump.
  • 🍬Candy: Similar to soda, candy’s high sugar content can lead to quick energy highs followed by sharp drops.
  • 🍟Fried Foods: Often loaded with fats and lacking nutritional value, these can make you feel lethargic and less able to concentrate.

These foods trigger quick insulin spikes, but these are followed by rapid crashes, leaving you feeling drained and unfocused.

Fuel up with water and healthy snacks.

Staying hydrated and well-fed is key to maintaining focus and absorbing information effectively. Ensure you have a water bottle or thermos within reach during your study sessions, and take regular sips to stay refreshed, especially if you start feeling fatigued or your attention wanes. 

Additionally, keep some nutritious snacks on hand for when hunger strikes. Optimal study snacks that fuel your brain include:

  • Apple slices paired with peanut butter
  • A variety of nuts, with almonds being a great choice
  • Greek yogurt for a protein boost
  • A refreshing fruit salad
  • A piece of dark chocolate for a quick energy lift

Impact of sugary foods on focus and ADHD. 

While planning snacks for study sessions, it’s important to be mindful of the effects of sugar, especially for individuals with ADHD. High sugar intake can potentially exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Sugary snacks can lead to quick spikes in blood sugar levels, followed by a rapid drop, which might result in fluctuating energy levels and difficulty in maintaining focus. This can be particularly challenging for those with ADHD, as they may already face hurdles in sustaining attention and managing impulses.

Choosing snacks that are low in sugar and high in protein or healthy fats, like the ones previously mentioned (apple slices with peanut butter, nuts, Greek yogurt, fruit salad, and dark chocolate), can provide more stable and sustained energy, helping to maintain better focus and concentration during study sessions.

Tip 4️⃣: Establish a WorkSpace

Jake’s workspace is free from gaming distractions, aiding his ADHD management. Sarah’s space is equipped with math resources, and her focus App shields her from social media distractions. 

Have a Designated Study Space

Studying at the kitchen table might seem convenient, but it’s often not the ideal spot. Being in a communal area means it’s likely to be a high-traffic zone, which can be distracting. Additionally, since it’s also a space for meals, you might have to interrupt your study session to make way for dinner preparations.

Such interruptions not only disrupt your immediate focus, particularly when grappling with complex topics, but also require you to spend extra time later reorganizing your materials. Studies suggest that having a specific, designated area for studying can significantly enhance your ability to concentrate on your work. 

Benefits of avoiding homework in your bedroom

🛏️Better Sleep Hygiene: Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for rest. Doing homework there can blur the line between relaxation and work, potentially leading to difficulties falling asleep or disrupted sleep patterns. Keeping study spaces separate helps your brain associate the bedroom with restfulness and relaxation.

🚫Reduced Distractions: Bedrooms often contain numerous personal distractions such as gadgets, games, or comfortable beds that can tempt you away from studying. By choosing a different study area, you minimize these distractions, which can enhance your focus and productivity.

🧠Clearer Mental Segmentation: Having separate spaces for sleep, relaxation, and work helps in mentally categorizing different activities. When you avoid doing homework in your bedroom, it helps in creating a mental distinction between time for work and time for rest, leading to a more balanced and organized mindset.

Declutter Your Personal Space

Decluttering is crucial for enhancing focus and productivity. A well-organized study space, where everything has its place, streamlines the process of finding what you need when you need it. By keeping your writing supplies in a pencil box or desk organizer and sorting your papers by subject into folders, you minimize time spent searching for materials. This organization directly impacts your ability to focus on the task at hand.

“Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions. A clear space equals a clear mind, and a clear mind is the key to effective learning.”

Before starting your work, take a moment to tidy up your study area. Remove unnecessary items, file completed assignments appropriately, and dispose of any trash. This not only clears your physical space but also declutters your mind, allowing for better concentration and more efficient study sessions.

Additional Suggestions:

  • Personalize your workspace with items that inspire you.
  • Ensure your workspace has good lighting and is comfortable (but NOT too comfortable 🙂)
a student with ADHD 
 is trying to remove all the distractions while studying.

Tip 5️⃣: Remove All Distractions

Once you’ve chosen your study space, maximizing your study time requires eliminating distractions. This means switching off your phone and TV, and also tidying up your surroundings. A clean and organized workspace is key to maintaining focus and enhancing productivity.

Work on one assignment at a time.

When tackling math homework, avoid simultaneously listening to a biology lecture video. While it may seem like a productive multitasking effort, it can actually hinder your learning and will take longer. It’s more effective to complete one task before starting another. This also applies when taking History notes and watching Youtube. Developings strategies to avoid multitasking is particularly important for students with ADHD, who often face specific challenges with multitasking, such as:

  • 🔀Difficulty in Shifting Focus: Students with ADHD may struggle to switch their attention between tasks smoothly, leading to reduced efficiency in both.
  • 😵Overwhelm and Mental Fatigue: Trying to process multiple streams of information at once can be overwhelming and mentally exhausting for individuals with ADHD.
  • 🚫Impaired Retention: Multitasking can negatively impact the ability to retain and recall information, a challenge that can be amplified in students with ADHD.

Also, avoid texting friends or engaging in conversations with family members while studying. These additional distractions can significantly disrupt focus and the quality of your work.

Block distracting apps and websites on your computer or tablet.

To enhance focus during study sessions, consider blocking distracting apps and websites on your computer or tablet. For example, you can use apps like Cold Turkey or Freedom to block social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter during your study hours. Tools like StayFocusd can help limit time spent on specific sites, like YouTube or gaming websites. By creating these digital barriers, you’ll find it easier to concentrate on your work without the lure of online distractions.

Avoid Multitasking to Be Focused on School Work

To avoid multitasking, Jake keeps his phone away during study time, while Sarah uses website blockers to stay focused, especially on math work.  Sarah recommends using an app called Forest App

Other Suggestions to avoid multitasking pitfalls:

  • Inform family or friends of your study schedule to minimize interruptions.
  • Use noise-cancelling headphones if you’re easily distracted by external sounds.
a visual presentation on how to manage the cycle of learning.

Tip 6️⃣: Active Note-Taking and Study Skills

Active note-taking is crucial for enhancing memory and personal connection to study material, particularly important for students with ADHD. 

The research highlights two key benefits of notetaking: 

  1. Effective note-taking, more than just jotting down information, involves engaging with the content in a meaningful way, such as through diagrams, bullet points, or color-coding, aiding in focus and understanding.
  2. For individuals with ADHD, personalized note-taking strategies are vital for reinforcing learning and facilitating later review for tests. This tailored approach to note-taking can significantly improve comprehension and retention of study materials.

Dr. Murphy discusses what active learning strategies are best for student-athletes.

Active learning skills like self-testing can enhance memory retention and recall. This practice, often referred to as the “testing effect,” involves actively engaging with the material through self-assessment rather than passively reviewing it. When you test yourself on the material you’re learning, it requires you to retrieve information from memory, strengthening your ability to recall it later.

This process does more than just help you remember the facts or concepts in the short term. Each time you retrieve a piece of information, it becomes more firmly embedded in your memory, making it easier to recall in the future. This is particularly beneficial for long-term retention, which is crucial for academic success.

Self-testing often reveals gaps in your knowledge, allowing you to focus your studies more effectively on areas that need more attention. This targeted approach to studying can lead to more efficient and effective learning, as opposed to spending time reviewing material you already know well.

Students who struggle with notetaking or active study skills can fall behind in the learning process. Many of these students will access tutoring help to get caught up. However, the cycle will repeat itself without active learning strategies to keep up with the daily demands of school.

Tutoring or academic coaching

Will tutoring solve my problem?

Turn your homework into a game to make it more fun.

Set a timer and challenge yourself to correctly answer as many questions as possible in a set time, like five minutes, or use flashcards for a quick knowledge test. Setting small, achievable goals adds an element of fun to your studies. Additionally, engaging in quizzes with friends or family, where each correct answer earns points, turns learning into a competitive game. 

Online tools like Quizlet and Quizizz also offer interactive learning experiences, enabling middle and high school students to engage more deeply with their subjects through gamified quizzes and flashcards, enhancing both participation and retention. For a creative twist, weave stories around your study material, such as imagining living in a historical era you’re studying, to further enrich your learning experience.

Tip 7️⃣: Take Breaks

Frequent breaks actually increase your productivity and focus. You’ll see that after each study session, the brain needs to be engaged with something different —  you need to activate other parts of your brain before going back to your studies so that you can reach top performance.

Take a break at least once an hour.

Regular breaks help Jake manage his ADHD and keep Sarah refreshed, making their study sessions more effective.

Sarah suggests

  • Try different types of breaks, like reading or baking, to see what refreshes you the most.
  • Use break time to hydrate and have a healthy snack, or get that well deserved after dinner desert. 

Move around or stretch during breaks

Taking a 17-minute break after 52 minutes of focused study is a great way to recharge. Here are five excellent break activities:

  • 🏋️‍♂️Physical Activity: Engage in a quick workout, like a brisk walk, push-ups, pull-ups, shoot some hoops, or some yoga stretches. This boosts blood circulation and re-energizes the body and mind.
  • 🧘Mindfulness or Meditation: Spend the break practicing mindfulness or meditation. This can help clear the mind, reduce stress, and improve concentration for the next study session.
  • 🎨Creative Outlet: Indulge in a creative activity like drawing, playing a musical instrument, or crafting. This shifts your brain from analytical to creative mode, offering a refreshing change.
  • 🍏💧Snack and Hydration Break: Have a healthy snack, like fruits or nuts, and hydrate with water or herbal tea. This nourishes your body and can improve cognitive function.
  • 👫Interaction: If you have a sibling, plan your breaks together and go outside together. 

Tip 8️⃣: How to Stop Procrastinating

Jake changes his study location to keep things fresh, and Sarah sets mini-goals for each math study session to stay on track. Since Math is Sarah’s most challenges tasks, she starts it first in order to avoid procrastination or fatigue. 

Jake also suggests

  • Keep a procrastination diary to understand and mitigate your triggers. A sticky note next to your desk is a helpful way to track your procrastination tendencies. 
  • Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Decide to just get started on first benchmark. 

Redirect your attention if you notice your mind wandering. Try “Focus, refocus” techniques. 

It’s hard to maintain focus in the evening after a long school day. Procrastination becomes a common challenges to manage. “Focus, refocus” techniques helps to enhance your ability to maintain continuous concentration, even in the face of distractions, which is crucial for efficient and productive study sessions.

This training involves:

  • 🔍Recognizing Distractions: Becoming aware when your focus shifts from the task at hand.
  • 🔍Refocusing Techniques: Practicing methods to promptly bring your attention back to your work. This might involve deep breathing, a brief moment of mindfulness, or a quick review of what you were studying.
  • 🔍Reinforcement: Regularly practicing these techniques strengthens your ability to regain focus quickly after a distraction.
  • 🔍Building a Habit: Over time, this training develops into a habit. The more you practice refocusing, the more instinctive it becomes to redirect your attention effectively.

Move to a new study spot if you’re feeling bored.

Shifting your study environment can re-energize your brain and sharpen your focus. Consider relocating to a new room, stepping outside, or choosing a completely different venue like a library study room. A fresh setting can make you feel more alert and revitalized. Even small changes to your usual study area can make a difference. Try adding new decorations or simply switching to a different seat at your dining table. 

Put away anything that might make it hard to concentrate.

One of the key strategies to improve focus in high school and avoid procrastination is to minimize digital distractions. Despite the common belief in multitasking, research indicates that our brains can only focus on one task at a time. Texts and social media notifications, if attended to during learning sessions, will split your attention. 

“A focused mind is like a fortress; don’t let digital distractions breach its walls.”

To combat this, it’s crucial to keep your phone away from your study area and disable social media notifications during class time. Additionally, consider using anti-distraction apps that block potential interruptions, helping you maintain focus on your studies.

Effective Strategies and Support

Don’t be afraid to let others know that you’re studying and require some time and space to get your work done. Decide on fixed hours for studying and tell your friends and family members that you won’t be available during that time of the day. If others respect your study time, you’ll be more inclined to respect it as well. 

🎉 Reward yourself with something fun when you’re done.

After completing a study session, treat yourself to a reward as a motivation booster. For instance, taking a 20 minutes break to bake brownies is wonderful incentive to reward your hard work.

🧘 Be Patient, Trust the Process

Understand that mastering focus takes time and practice. As an example, if you struggle with a particular subject, remind yourself that gradual improvement is better than instant perfection.

🙋Reach out to your guidance counselor

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure about your academic path, don’t hesitate to talk to your guidance counselor. They can provide tailored advice, like suggesting a study group or tutor if you’re struggling with a specific subject.

🔄Find What Works, Stick to It

Identify study techniques that are effective for you and make them a regular part of your routine. For instance, if you find that studying in short bursts with frequent breaks works best, incorporate this method consistently into your study habits.

FAQs

  • What are some effective strategies to improve focus during study sessions?
    • Answer: Utilize the 52-17 rule for breaks, create a distraction-free study space, and engage in active note-taking.
  • How can technology like Quizlet and Quizizz aid in studying?
    • Answer: These tools offer interactive and gamified learning experiences, making studying more engaging and effective.
  • What should students with ADHD consider when studying?
    • Answer: Focus on minimizing distractions, follow a structured routine, and opt for healthy snacks to maintain energy levels.
  • Why is it important to have a designated study space?
    • Answer: A specific study area helps associate that space with productivity and focus, reducing distractions and enhancing concentration.
  • How can breaks enhance study effectiveness?
    • Answer: Regular breaks, such as those recommended in the 52-17 rule, prevent burnout, refresh the mind, and improve overall focus.
  • What role does diet play in a student’s ability to focus?
    • Answer: A balanced diet, especially low in sugar, can help maintain steady energy levels and concentration, which is crucial for students with ADHD.
  • What are some simple ways to personalize a study routine?
    • Answer: Incorporate study methods that work best for you, such as specific note-taking styles, and adjust your study environment to suit your preferences.
Get a Free Screening Call with Dr. David Murphy

Conclusion

We’ve delved into effective strategies like minimizing distractions, embracing the 52-17 rule for study breaks, and the importance of active note-taking. The use of interactive tools like Quizlet and Quizizz, along with tips on maintaining a healthy diet and creating a productive study environment, particularly for students with ADHD, are highlighted. The blog also stresses the significance of customizing study methods, rewarding oneself, exercising patience, and reaching out for guidance. 

Dr. David Murphy, an Special Education Teacher and Academic Coach, leaves you with this last point as you take these suggestions in this blog to “Work Smarter, Not Harder” in your efforts to be the best student you can be. 

“Stay consistent in your homework routine and make yourself accountable to doing the homework like it matters. Imagine there is a quiz tomorrow. You will find yourself in a much better position when it’s time for the real assessment. Also, you will feel prepared for class, which also feels pretty good.  Trust me, it works.”

Dr. Murphy wants to leave you with these additional reminders. 

  • Design an adequate learning space and then create a method to track the flow of homework, classwork, handouts, and written notes.
  • Learn how to use a planner to track daily homework assignments, and prioritize and initiate a successful homework routine.
  • Develop and practice active note-taking, active reading, active listening, and active study strategies.