How to keep yourself focused when writing an essay

source: http://pixabay.com/en/home-office-workstation-office-336378/

At university, education is not always the top priority of students and understandably so, as many would opt for a night on the tiles rather than completing the essay which is due in next week. It can be quite thrilling to do an essay on the day or night before it is due to be in, but it’s a high-risk strategy and one which can back-fire in terms of marks and enjoyment as well.

I think the reason that some people struggle to love education is because they would rather be doing something else – witness kids at schools on their mobile phones, people on social media or procrastinating when they are meant to be revising or writing an essay.

Why is it that we struggle so hard to concentrate on things? The influence of social media is undoubtedly a factor and the temptation to check what is going on in the world in the moment is sometimes hard to resist, as well as the multitude of other distractions which exist to keep us from our work. A lot lack the mental acuity to be able to concentrate, myself included.

At the moment, I have just graduated from the University of Cumbria and am mainly doing academic related things, by tutoring, writing essays and proofreading. My concentration is not as good as I want it to be and there can be times when my mind wanders, not to social media or the usual avenues but to looking at the time – it is a weird habit and something which really distracts me from doing my work, which is odd because nothing else normally does, my days of clicking onto social media every 5 minutes are over, I just worry about the time which is quite surreal, although that fear seems to be easing.

Little and Often

To cure your procrastination in doing work, the trick is to do a little and often. Spreading work out is key to enjoyment and getting a good mark, although if you want to concentrate for long periods that can be achieved. I already have the ability to do this, but the time can sometimes distract me from my work which is very frustrating.

Get into the Flow

Many academics talk about the enlightened ‘flow’ phase of work where you lose all concept of time and become immersed in what you are doing, completely in the present moment. So to get better at writing essays (or anything else for that matter) practice something called gradual desensitization, which involves gradually building up the period that you work (5, 10, 15, 20 minutes….) before you reach a stage where you don’t care about the time anymore. Once this has been reached, you will enter ‘flow’ on a very regular basis, maybe from even the moment you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and you will just be able to work on things unaided, without any distractions. You might even be able to enjoy and appreciate your work more as well.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is another thing which can improve concentration and is similar to the present moment and involves focusing on what you are doing, rather than thinking about the past or in the future. It is similar to meditation and can also involve building self-esteem so you might have the initiative and confidence to tackle topics that you are not sure about, which could broaden your horizons. Of course, having a friend with you whilst you write the essays can be a bonus and one which can really make you work harder, but I guess if you want true concentration and enjoyment, you have to be able to learn to work on your own and be comfortable with that.

That’s what I have to do. A lot of my work is remote, in freelance writing and proofreading, but now having done the gradual desensitization and learning mindfulness, I am starting to see the improvements. Today I wrote 1500 words of an essay in one go and proofread nearly 4000 words as well, all the time without watching the TV or looking at social media. I lost concept of the time and finally started to enjoy what I was doing, which has taken a long time and will hopefully improve with time. Eventually, I want to get to the point where I enjoy all my work and never think about the time when I do it. It sounds like an unobtainable goal, but it’s not, because I now enter the flow stage pretty much every day, it is just a case of eradicating the thoughts about the time from my mind completely, because they distract me from my work and impair my enjoyment of it. I must be getting better, as I have wrote this blog post in one go, non-stop and the cumulative total of the words in it exceeds 800 words.  What can you do to enjoy your essays more and concentrate better? Try the desensitisation and mindfulness and see what happens.

Sam Curran is a graduate of the University of Cumbria who proofreads essays, personal statements and CVs for very reasonable prices. Get in touch with him by emailing 07943631655 or emailing samcurran@live.co.uk                                                

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