How to optimise your focus to study

Understanding the different attention styles to optimise your study

The ultimate study session is when we find ourselves in the flow state, that is “a sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you are totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction.”

Finding the flow state can be challenging when distractions can frequently appear (here’s looking at our smartphones) and motivation might be hard to come by.

When it comes to optimising your study or any task you set out to do; how you pay attention matters.

Attention can be defined as the ability to produce, select, manage, and maintain sufficient stimulation at a specific amount of time to process any kind of information.

There are in fact four different attention styles which we use interchangeably throughout the day, as we pick and choose what we pay attention to, whether subconsciously or intentionally.

Understanding the different ways attention works can help you to optimise study time, limit distractions, and amplify productivity.

There are four ways we humans focus on a task.

Sustained Attention

Sustained attention is when you’re able to concentrate on a single task until it is complete or a certain amount of time has passed. It might be parking your car or reading a page from a textbook.

Selective Attention

Selective attention is focusing on a specific task whilst ignoring external stimuli and internal distractions like thoughts and emotions. An example would be choosing to concentrate on your textbook reading whilst ignoring your neighbours mowing their lawn next door, or the group chat going off on your phone.

Alternating Attention

Alternating attention is when you’re able to switch your focus between tasks. An example would be listening to an online lecture whilst intermediately pausing to take notes before pressing play again.

Divided Attention

Divided attention happens when you divide your attention between multiple tasks which involves multitasking. Rather than shifting from one task to another, divided attention is the ability to simultaneously respond to two or more tasks. An example might be scrolling Instagram whilst listening to a lecture or talking to a friend whilst cooking dinner.

Although many of us might think multi-tasking is the ultimate form of productivity, it is impossible for humans to concentrate on different tasks at the same time – hence why you might have to rewind your online lecture after scrolling Instagram… #guilty

The attention type we want to be striving for when studying is either sustained or selective. Luckily, there are ways you can improve on your attention if you’re struggling to block out distractions or finding your flow state.

Tips for improving your attention

Leave multi-tasking at the door

As mentioned above, multi-tasking can impact productivity. Make the most of your study by focusing on one thing at a time. This also helps avoid feeling overwhelmed by how many topics or notes you must cover. Pick one – stick to it until you complete it, and then move on to the next! You got this!

It’s all about sleep

You might have heard your lecturer mention the importance of sleep around exam time, and they are not wrong! Brain fog and exhaustion caused by a lack of sleep can make concentrating on any task difficult – let alone trying to memorise chapter notes. Doctors recommend we should be aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment. Studies have shown that mindfulness practices can lower stress and anxiety levels. Meditating is one form of mindfulness among many. Why not incorporate a five-minute guided meditation into your study break – it has definitely helped us after concentrating for extended periods of time.

We hope you find what works best for you when it comes to finding your flow state and preparing for study and assessments! Trying to concentrate for extended periods of time is no easy feat so be sure to take regular breaks, hydrate with water, and make time for the things you love!


You’re never far from support at UNE. The team at Advocacy and Welfare offers confidential support to students!
Student Success also has confidential counselling for students, you can find them here.
Lifeline is also a 24/7 hotline and you can call them on 13 11 14

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