FOCUS & MEMORY // For uni students & productivity-seekers

We’d all love to have laser beam focus and the memory of an elephant. This is probably even more so true in times of pressure and stress. So how do you support your functioning when you have to get shit done when you’re under a tonne of stress?

Exams.
Events.
Publications.
Presentations.

Deadlines.

I am reformed perfectionist and learned mind-hack artist. I have spent the good part of my twenties figuring out exactly what helps me focus, my best tricks for laying down memories, and how I can bolster heightened motivation. We’re all different, though I do believe there are some commonalities we all share. I’ve compiled this list of ‘stuffs’ for you. Whether you are about to embark on exams, or whether you’re just after some robust productivity, these are some of the foundations you can set for yourself and the little things that have revolutionised the way I study, work, and learn.

1. Rationalise your thoughts.
So it’s exam time, or you have a deadline (find your fit) and you are solely focused on this outcome. Knowing you have to study a, b and c or complete steps 1, 2 and 3 before you are complete, before you are ‘ready’. Before you are learned. Focusing on the outcome will only end in overwhelm.

In focusing on the task at hand, being present in the moment, doing what you can with your time right now, you will be the most successful in moving toward your outcome.

With study (and assignments, and work, and life), sometimes I become overwhelmed, and it forces me to focus on the time I have to fit in what I need to. Shift this. Instead, think about what you are learning or the skills you’re developing in doing what you’re doing. Appreciate all the ‘gains’ you are making by engaging in this process. You might not fit it all in, but what you can fit in, is worthwhile. It is what it is.

You can’t find the gains?

Then remember your why.

Go big picture and focus on why you are engaging in the task—where will it eventually take you? Finishing a degree. Completing a website. Arranging an event. Broadcasting a video. It takes a heap of little steps to arrive you at your destination, appreciate them all. That is where you will find joy in everything you do.

2. Support your body.
Eating well is a no-brainer, as is drinking lots of water. But what about some tonics, some essential oils, herbal remedies, movement and muscular therapies?

Stress is crippling. And it’s shown that you are inherently less cognitively efficient when under too much stress. This used to be me. And if you find that rational thoughts just ain’t going to happen right now, try out a few of these:

Work with essential oils which can diffuse through the blood-brain barrier, exerting direct affects on cognition and mood. My favourite study blend for stress is clary sage and orange (orange has been shown to modulate anxiety). Rosemary is great for laying down memories, if that is all you are after.
Drink tea filled with stress-reducing and/or cognitive enhancing herbs (e.g. lemon balm, ginseng, roseroot). My all-time fav blend is ginseng and ginger or roseroot and chamomile.
Acupuncture is a real treat and helps to attenuate oxidative stress and enhance cognition.
Increase fermented foods, like beet kvass and sauerkraut.
• During stressful times, ensure you are receiving enough omega-3. This directly influences brain function.
Try hatha yoga. It is scientifically proven to boost cognitive function and enhance clarity. Equally awesome is quigong.

3. Employ some sweet tools.

The tomato timer is awesome. You cannot continually lay memories down if you sit and work for 5 hours straight. Take regular breaks to allow your brain to refresh and lay down memories appropriately. The tomato timer was designed for just that. This also helps reduce procrastination and, as I have found, by knowing you have a micro-break coming up you are tonnes more efficient with your ‘work time’.
Rescue time tracks where you spend your time. This is great for harnessing awareness around your actual time spent on Facebook, emails, pinterest…It also allows you to block websites that distract you: Goodbye Facebook!
Focus at will pairs music that is scientifically proven to enhance your productivity and focus during specific tasks. Great for some background noise!

4. Engage in self-care.
Don’t forget yourself during stressful times. You increase your productivity by being mindful and continuing your fitness regime, attending your regular yoga or engaging in your usual meditation practices. Just because you are under the pump, doesn’t mean you need to throw out all your nourishing practices! If anything, they are the most important now. Take care of yourself.

To all my fellow uni students, good luck over the next few weeks. To all my productivity-seekers, I hope you find a little something here that helps you focus or boosts your cognition in your daily grind.

I’d love to hear from you: What is your biggest distraction? Did you find something in today’s post that you think might be able to solve this? Post in the comments below.

So much love,

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Claire Hargreaves