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Advice Column: Staying focused

Dear Jossie,

I’m really struggling to focus in online classes. I literally just cannot pay attention. I know I’m going to struggle all semester. What should I do?


Dear Struggling,

First, let’s recognize that focusing in class can be a problem for a lot of students, so cut yourself some slack. This year has been rough for everyone, and it is easy to get discouraged for not feeling like you are giving 100 percent as a student.

With this in mind, there are a few things we can do to try and maximize our ability to pay attention in class.

First, have a place specifically for class. Having a designated workspace will help your mind recognize that, when you are there, you are working and not doing other things. It can be tempting to want to stay in bed or work from the couch, but the comfort of those areas enables you to fall asleep or relax.

Next, it is important to make sure that you are well-fed. Yep, you read that right. Make sure there are snacks on hand. This goes for studying and for class. Your brain will make any excuse to get out of doing something boring — for instance, thinking you are hungry even if you aren’t.

Having a snack nearby eliminates the excuse to go to the kitchen and grab a quick bite. Along with this, make sure that you are prepared for class.

A few minutes before class —not 30 seconds before the Zoom call starts — sit down with your book, notebooks and laptop. If you were in person, you would be at your desk with your notes set up, so keep that routine, even when online.

Having your camera on sucks. There, I said it. Even though it sucks, I find myself paying attention and retaining the lecture more if it is on. It holds students accountable, so if you’re struggling to pay attention, this might be the push you need.

If your phone is the problem and turning it on silent doesn’t work, drop it in your backpack or put it away. Again, try to act like you would in person.

Another option is putting your phone on focus mode or trying a phone locking app. Personally, I prefer Forest, which presents you with an ultimatum: Stay focused — if you check your phone, your plants die.

Last but not least, dress for success. In other words, act like you are actually going to class. Put on real clothes, not pajamas.

Staying focused for online classes is not always a piece of cake, but it is not impossible. It is okay to give yourself some leeway, but make sure it does not get out of hand.

I wish you luck!


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