Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue

To do two things at once is to do neither.
Publilius Syrus, Sentences (circa 100 BC)

Guide to Reflective Thinking: Strategies for Improving My Attention and Concentration

Use the following statements to assess your sense of competence with regard to university studies. Any weak areas indicate an attitude, ability or habit that may be worth developing.

  • I am aware of conditions that improve my attention and concentration I know the extent of concentration required in order for me to perform different tasks.
  • I know when and where to study in order for me to concentrate over a long period of time without tiring.
  • I recognize and respect my limits so that I can be efficient without tiring or making myself sick.
  • I know which ambient conditions best suit my concentration depending on the task (solitary vs. surrounded, silent vs. noisy, calm vs. turbulent).
  • I know which work rhythm is conducive to my concentration (alternating work with breaks, maximum work duration, daily work rhythm).
  • I prepare myself before class and check my degree of concentration during classBefore class, I mentally prepare myself by re-reading previous course material, reading today's material and by organizing my note taking in advance.
  • During class, I regularly check my concentration level so that I can reconnect quickly if I happen to disconnect.
  • I actively participate in class by taking notes, asking questions, following along in the textbooks, etc.
  • I choose work and study times that are conducive to my concentration I apportion my work periods based on the concentration requirements of the tasks (best times of the day or week)
  • I study (reading, writing, creating memory tools) when my concentration is at its best and leave more routine work (sorting, documentation search, planning) for other times.
  • I carefully apportion my work, break and rest times in order for me to maintain my concentration for longer periods of time.
  • I choose which task to do, based on my priorities and interest at that particular time.
  • Before I start working, I estimate my current capacity to concentrate and determine my study objective accordingly.
  • I take my other needs into consideration: physical activity, balanced diet, sleep, relaxation, recreation, social life, home life.
  • I choose a work environment that is conducive to my concentrationI choose my work environment depending on the task and my concentration needs at that particular time.
  • I choose a visual and auditory environment that corresponds with the task and my concentration needs at that particular time.
  • Before a work session, I prevent possible disturbances (I take the phone off the hook, turn off the television and minimize sources of noise and distraction).
  • Before a work session, I gather all resource material and documents that I will need so that my concentration will not be interrupted.
  • I control superfluous thoughtsAs soon as I start working, I “cocoon” myself from the outside world.
  • When my concentration is disturbed by a recurrent personal concern, I write it down and book a later time in my agenda to address it.
  • When I’m brimming with ideas, I note them down as they come and return to my work.
  • I choose a work tempo that fosters my concentration and intellectual efficiencyWhen I start working, I immediately concentrate on my task.
  • I foresee and take breaks at pre-scheduled intervals.
  • I coordinate my breaks with blocks or stages of work.
  • When I return to work, I quickly review the work that was completed before my break.
  • I limit the duration of my breaks so that I don’t stray from my work or study objective.
  • I avoid using my breaks for activities likely to divert me from my goal.
  • I make the most of my breaks by physically moving and relaxing (brief exercise, stretching, short walk) instead of drinking coffee or smoking cigarettes.
  • I modify my work environment according to my cerebral activation needs (musical stimulus, change of position, place, or lighting)
  • I stop studying when I feel tired or when my performance level drops.
  • I change or alternate activities during an extensive study period (I read, prepare summary sheets, revise, produce schemas, memorize, complete practical exercises, etc.).
  • I set limits and reinforce myselfI respect my personal commitments and I do not extend my work periods even if I still feel good.
  • I congratulate and reward myself after work periods.
  • Before starting another task, I give myself some positive personal time.
  • I study activelyWhen I read, I usually use a pencil to guide my gaze in order to more easily follow along and limit my perceptual efforts.
  • When I read a dense text containing few titles or subtitles, I note the main components in the margins, add titles and summarize the salient ideas in order to make the text easier to understand.
  • When I read, I take notes, summarize, create memory tools, etc.

We can learn to direct our attention and stay focused on a demanding task as long as we are fully aware of our capabilities and limitations, and choose times, places and environments that are appropriate to the work we need to do. Our brain is not a computer. It doesn't have an ON / OFF button, so we need to respect its needs and learn to work in harmony with its rhythms.

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