Focus and motivation for many students can be a challenge.
Most usually know what it is they need to get done however many secondary students struggle to ignore the distractions of their phones and other things no matter how hard they try and stay on task.
Naturally with many students still learning @ home due to Covid19, motivation has also almost become the new buzz word of late. Many students are regularly telling me they are struggling with motivation. This is not a new issue at all just highlighted perhaps due to the current situation students face. This blog is about providing 10 tips to help students struggling with focus and motivation.
Some students can struggle with completing the day to day homework and coursework. Whilst for others they are fine with the day to day aspects of their school work but struggle with the tasks that require a longer attention span like writing essays, completing assignments or assessment tasks, studying/revising for tests and exams or even just reading their english novels. This can be even harder for those students with executive function and learning challenges like ADHD.
Students can struggle with focus for many different reasons including a lack of urgency, struggle with self motivation, don’t understand the task at hand, distractions such as devices and social media, don’t eat brain food to boost their energy levels needed and the list goes on.
If students don’t learn to do something to help them with their focus and motivation then it can become a real issue for them. The example I regularly use with students is if you have an hours worth of homework and you are still sitting at your desk 3 hours later and it is not completed – is that an effective use of your time? The answer is always NO but then that doesn’t seem to stop this occurring. Getting distracted only adds to the time a task will take and can potentially lead to a student becoming overwhelmed, particularly if they have quite a bit of work to complete.
10 tips to help students struggling with focus & motivation
If you have a teen that struggles with focus and motivation then here are 10 of my favourite tips that might assist them to focus and stay on task to complete their work.
- Ensure students look after themselves in terms of nutrition and rest – this is such a vital factor and students need to ensure they are eating ‘brain foods’ usually foods high in protein like nuts, yoghurt, smoothies, tuna as compared to foods high in sugar prior to sitting down to do some work. Along with that they need to ensure they are hydrated and drinking enough water.
- Setting a bridging activity – before starting work it can be useful for students to undertake some form of activity that they begin to associate with doing prior to making a start on their work. For some this could be going for a short walk, playing with the dog, making themselves a snack before they sit down. This can help to raise motivation levels and clear a students head.
- Determining what is the best time to do the work – this may differ for students, however for many they will often leave tasks until later in the evening when they are usually feeling tired after a long day. Therefore my advice is that they come home from school, have a short break/snack and then make a start. It can be useful to try and knock over a fair bit of the work before dinner rather than having to make a start afterwards.
- Having a plan to follow – following on from the point noted above, it can be useful to have a list of the tasks that need to be completed so they have a road map of what needs to be completed. Often without a plan students can easily lose focus and get distracted. However sometimes a plan with quite a few tasks on it can be overwhelming so just pick one to make a start. If you are feeling overwhelmed turn the plan over or cover it up until that task is completed before seeing what is next.
- Mixing up the priorities/tasks – many students like to start working on something they enjoy or find easier and this can be helpful in order to make a start. However what is not helpful is when they do all the work they enjoy or find easier first and leave the tasks they don’t like or find harder until the end. Naturally if they do this then it is very hard for them to be motivated to continue working on tasks and they will often procrastinate or put them off. It can therefore be useful at the beginning to mix it up by starting with something they enjoy/like then the opposite and so on.
- Breaking tasks down – often students look at what they need to achieve and focus on the end result. For example they have an essay to write and all they are thinking is this is going to take hours. This can be un-motivating and not a helpful thought to have. Rather what they should be doing is just making a start ie let’s do 20 minutes and build from there rather than thinking about the hours ahead. Another way to look at this example would be to make a start with putting a plan together. Then focus on one paragraph at a time and so on. Alternatively I usually refer to a traffic light as a way to break tasks down – mark those in green they can easily do, those in orange they can possibly do and those in red they need help with.
- Taking regular short breaks – it is important that a student does not try and sit down for hours at a time. Regular short breaks in between blocks of work can assist with focus, attention and motivation.
- Remove distractions – ideally it is advised that a student does not have their phone with them when doing their school work. It can be kept in another room and is therefore then not tempting them to lose their focus. It is also suggested that all notifications are turned off on devices. Another tool I regularly suggest is for students to have a ‘distraction pad’ this is just a notebook or piece of paper where they can write down tasks or something that pops into their mind that they need to do later. By noting it down they won’t forget it and then can continue to focus on the task at hand.
- Be accountable – for some students it can be motivating to ensure they are accountable to someone else as this can assist to keep them focused and motivated to complete a task. I usually suggest to students for those times where they are really struggling that they use parents where possible to check in with you to see how you are going and that you are on task. This is not giving parents permission to nag but just to see if you are working on the task you said you were.
- Reward yourself – for many students it can be useful to create a reward or have an incentive for themselves to do when they finish their work.
Finally if you are a student just waiting for motivation to appear in order to make a start then I am sorry to tell you it doesn’t just magically appear. You actually need to take action and just make a start – one small step at a time!
For parents reading this, I suggest it might be useful for you to provide your children with a copy of these 10 tips to help students struggling with focus & motivation. This way they can read the strategies themselves and work out which ones to try and put into action.