Whether you’re a 15 year old and trying to pass the 10th grade or doing your Master’s degree and trying to complete the required reading, learning how to stay focused on homework is a lifelong skill that can feel boring and painful at times, but is necessary.
We learn to dread homework growing up, viewing it as the thing that gets in the way of our recreational time.
Who wants to be doing math problems when they could be outside playing with their friends?
Who wants to deal with pages of required reading or worry about staying focused when studying when they could be watching the latest bingeworthy shows on Netflix?
I’m not here to argue for or against the necessity of homework itself, but instead that sometimes, doing homework is a part of life.
And if we want to succeed in life, we have to do the homework.
Staying focused on homework when there are so many other distractions competing for our attention can be difficult, so in this post we’re going to get real, get honest, and talk about how to stay focused on homework even when you’d rather be doing anything else.
Study Tools You Need RIght Now
1. See How Fast You Can Get it Done Accurately
Getting your homework done quickly is usually the goal for most people, and while you don’t want to sacrifice accuracy, making a game out of it and seeing how fast you can get your homework done is usually a great way to stay focused on your homework.
There is a theory that we use as much time for tasks as we give ourselves, so it may be that actually you can write a good essay in 2 hours, when normally you would take 6 hours.
How much of that 6 hours is spent being distracted and wandering around your room aimlessly?
When we limit our time, we can get things done faster.
This isn’t to say that you should try and do 56 math problems in 2 minutes or sacrifice actually learning the material, but making a game to see how fast you can accurately do your homework is a great way to stay focused because now instead of just trying to focus on the content, you are focused on the goal of completing it and that will carry you through when it gets hard to stay focused.
2. Give Yourself a Reward When You Finish
It’s the only trick in the book, but that’s because it works and is one of my best productivity tips.
If you’re find it difficult to stay focused on your homework, make sure to promise yourself some sort of award when you finish.
For example, if you finish your book report, you can watch 30 minutes of your favorite TV show.
If you finish your math problems, you can have the snack you’ve been wanting since you got home.
Those of us adults with homework can also do this, but in bigger ways.
When you finish your dissertation, reward yourself by buying the new purse you’ve been keeping your eye on.
When you finish your physics problems, you can call a friend and go meet up for dinner.
Human nature is to work best when we are working towards something, and this is another way of keeping you focused on your homework by keeping you focused on the reward that will come from staying focused and completing your goal.
3. Find a New Way to Study
Sometimes, focus comes down to what you’re actually doing to learn the material.
For instance, I never learned well just rereading my notes to study for tests, and I found it much easier to use index cards to create questions and quiz myself with.
If part of your homework is studying for a test or something that you’re able to do in a way that makes more sense to you, do that!
We had quite a few projects that I was able to be more creative on that really helped keep me focused on working on them because I was much more interested.
If you’re having major problems focusing on your homework, check to see that you’re picking topics that really interest you, where possible, or talk to your teachers or professors to let them know that you’re struggling and see if they have any creative suggestions on how you could learn the material.
You can also use something like ClickUp to help you organize your homework and studying virtually.
4. Create a Study Group and Set a Goal
Study groups aren’t always good for focusing on homework because by the end of it, you’ve devolved into planning your Spring Break and no one has stuck to the plan or gotten much work done.
However, I like study groups as a way to stay focused on school work when you have a goal in mind. For instance, you could meet up and say you’re not going to leave the library until you’ve finished the project or you could say you’re not going to leave until you all feel confident that you could pass a test on Chapter 7 or you won’t finish until everyone has finished and understands how to do all of the math problems.
Having a study group just to have a study group isn’t always helpful, but with a clear outcome in mind, you can at least try and keep the socializing to a minimum until you go out and celebrate later for having finished.
This is also a great time to actually be honest with yourself about who that you know would make a good study group.
5. Do the Hardest Homework First
Our ability to focus goes down the longer we work on something, so if you have 4 hours of homework in 4 different subjects, you should start with what you find hardest first when your focus can be at its peak.
By the time you reach the fourth hour, you may be really wishing you had something that was much easier to focus on because you will naturally lose the willpower and ability to stay focused for that long.
This sometimes goes against our natural inclinations to save the hardest homework for last because we don’t want to deal with it until later, but putting it off makes it even harder to focus.
6. Listen to Instrumental Music
For some people, music can help keep them stay calm when stressed and is a good idea when trying to focus on homework, but make sure it’s the right kind of music.
For me, music with words is actually really difficult to have on in the background while I work on something also related to words (reading or writing or trying to understand concepts) because it uses that part of my brain to try and sing along.
I find that instrumental music is much better, whether it’s just basic instrumental music, instrumental covers of my favorite songs, or dedicated study playlists that use music that is actually thought to improve your concentration based on the tones of the sounds it creates.
You can find tons of these on Youtube and just put it on in the background as you try to get to work.
7. Create Your Perfect Environment
Equally, some of us find it super hard to focus with any noises in the background.
The aim of the game when it comes to focusing on homework has to do with creating your perfect environment and testing different environments to see what works for you.
Some people will find it easy to work in a library filled with other people working and walking around, while others will want to be in a cubicle with nothing else going on around them.
Some will want complete silence, others will want to blare music.
You should also think about the actual physical way you do your homework and whether that’s helping you.
There is a big difference for some people in the ability to focus when you’re laying down on your bed versus sitting at a dedicated desk, or working outside versus working inside.
Create the best environment you can before you get started on your homework and you’ll make it that much easier for yourself to focus.
8. Complete It In 20 Minute Chunks
Most people can focus for about 15-30 minutes before needing a quick break to look at something else or just stop looking at whatever they’re working on for a minute or two.
If you chunk your homework down into 20 minute chunks and aim to complete one at a time, this is actually a really useful way to stay focused because it’s not as daunting and you can focus on getting through one chunk at a time.
You can do this in so many ways, like chunking down the math problems and doing 10 at a time before you take a break, or reading a certain number of pages before you take 5 minutes to look up from your book.
Do everything in your power to make focusing seem less challenging, and your mind and body will more easily cooperate.
9. Get a Tutor
Sometimes, a study group of your friends isn’t necessarily the best idea under many circumstances, but a tutor almost always is.
Unlike a social companion, they’re there basically to help you focus on studying and to help coach you through anything you find difficult.
Having that external person who is sitting with you and helping you chunk down your work and setting goals for you is exactly what some people need to get their homework done in a productive way.
The level of tutor you need depends on what you’re working on.
If you just want someone to help you with the material who has done it before, you could ask someone a few grades above you to help out.
Equally, some families hire tutors for children with learning disabilities or those who are really struggling in a topic, and in this case the tutor may have a lot more experience in behavior and helping people to get the work done that goes beyond having done it beore.
10. Plan to Teach it to Others
Teaching the material to others is always a great way to help yourself stay focused when learning, because believe it or not, you’re learning to!
I used to teach my stuffed animals the material after I had done some homework on it, but you can also try and teach it to anyone to see how much you remember.
Many times, this transition into an active way of learning rather than passive is a great way to stay focused on studying and get things done instead of just hoping you remember it.
11. Use Website Blockers on Your Computer
If your problems with staying focused on your homework come down to other distractions, you can install plenty of software on your computer or phone that actually block certain websites when you tell them to.
You could block social media so you’re not taking breaks to scroll Instagram, block the entire internet or turn off the WiFi if you’re trying to focus on reading but can’t help continue to go on Reddit every couple of minutes, etc.
Staying focused isn’t just a “you” problem, it is a pretty prevalent human problem, especially in the modern world where we have more distractions than ever before.
So be strong, block the websites and apps, and then get down to business.
Not giving yourself the option to go on them means you don’t have to use up willpower trying not to.
You could also do this by giving someone else your password to your social media accounts and having them change it and not telling you what it is so it’s impossible for you to get in.
12. Make a To-Do List with Color Coding
For us visual people, making color coded to-do lists isn’t just an Instagrammable organizational tip, but a big life hack that helps us stay on track and be more productive.
If you’re struggling with your homework and staying focused, make a list each day of exactly what you need to do and use color codings, post-it notes or another visual way of checking things off to work through your list.
The more that you visually see completed on the paper, the more motivated you’ll be to keep staying focused and getting through the rest.
When you don’t have a list, it can feel like you’re not making any progress.
13. Use a Highlighter When Reading
If your homework involves reading or studying, you can also take an active role in this by using a highlighter to highlight important passages or use a pen to make notes next to the reading as you go.
This is proven to keep you more engaged in the material, which in turn will keep you more focused on your reading.
When you’re forcing yourself to engage with and respond to the material, you’re much more likely to remember and stay focused on it as opposed to what happens when you just passively read a book or read over your notes.