Let’s all be honest here: paying attention isn’t easy. For some people it’s easier than others, but most everyone eventually hits a point where they just can’t focus on their homework or their instructor anymore. It’s just human nature for the mind to wander off sometimes, whether you want it to or not.
Unfortunately, losing focus during class can be a major problem. It’s not unheard of for a single moment of spacing out to render an entire lecture unintelligible. And being unable to focus on your homework, be it from stress or spaciness or something else, can massively increase the amount of time spent working. All of those things are less than ideal.
It can be easy to fall into a trap of despair when concentration difficulties rear their ugly heads, but there are a few things you can consider to make things easier.
Hey everyone, just wanted to check in quick. Today’s post is going to be a little later than usual, though it’ll still be up before midnight on Tuesday, CST (my timezone). Apologies for any inconvenience. I believe in you all, take care!
I have a different view of the words “can” and “can’t” than most people do. In particular, I believe that there are subtle yet important differences in the connotations those words can take on in different contexts. Sure, most people “can” pull a hot pan out of the stove without an oven mitt, but the majority of those wouldn’t want to, because it is painful and harmful. It’s just not a thing they’re going to do. I want to focus on today is the idea of things you can do, but realistically you won’t do for whatever reason – not even necessarily because of a conscious choice, but because it just… won’t happen.
Writing is hard. People underestimate how hard it is to sit down, come up with an idea, drum up relevant research, whip up something resembling a draft, and then whip the grammar and style into the shape you want. True or not, sometimes it feels like the people who understand this the least are instructors. Whether it’s unreasonable page counts or headache-inducing research requirements, essays are the bane of many a student’s existence.
For those of us who struggle particularly hard in school, essays can go from a bane to a GPA death sentence in a jiffy. Nevertheless, essays are an assignment like any other, and there are countless strategies for making them suck a little bit less.
Sometimes people interrupt your homework. Maybe they don’t mean to, or didn’t know you were working. Maybe they have no way to understand the consequences of their actions, such as if they’re an infant or a cat. Regardless, distractions can have a major negative impact on schoolwork. Repeated distractions can even add literal hours to the time you spend working.
This isn’t necessarily the worst evil in and of itself – occasional inconvenience is part of the social contract. But some people just don’t seem to understand what they’re doing; sometimes because they can’t, and sometimes because they just… won’t. It’s not as if you can control these people or situations, after all. Unwanted distraction just a sucky part of being a person.
That being said, there are steps that can be taken to help ensure that you have the time and space you need to complete your work.
Sometimes you literally just cannot keep up. Coursework piles up and students fall behind. Classes get missed, or skipped. Maybe the work just doesn’t feel worthwhile right now. Getting out of bed gets that much harder, especially for those who already struggle. You just… can’t.
With winter on its way in the northern hemisphere, these feelings tend to surface more and more. The shorter days have an impact on everybody, especially the nearly 10% of us who have mood disorders such as Depression, Bipolar, and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Meanwhile, the pace of the semester only picks up. Some of us have already had midterms or major tests by now, or else have them on the way. This time of year, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed with everything.
A couple of semesters ago, I thought it was the brightest idea in the world to sit down and make a super micromanaged daily schedule. When I would eat, when I would do homework and for how long, even how long I would spend getting dressed or brushing my teeth… every moment of every day was accounted for.
Naturally, this ended horribly.
Humans are funny creatures when it comes to time. We want routine, but we also crave freedom. There’s no system that will work for everybody, but people have certain responsibilities that they must find a way to meet . Add in bad habits like procrastination and you have a recipe for something that can make your school life a waking nightmare.
As with many things, I’m not a fan of the word lazy. Often, and ironically, it’s a bit of a cop-out and usually pretty dang rude or inaccurate. Sure, go ahead and call the person struggling with chronic illness and/or severe exhaustion lazy for not being able to function at the same level as someone who is well. I’m sure you would be doing so much better in their shoes. (And sure, I’ll bet you totally know who is and who isn’t dealing with these things just by looking at or talking to them. Because it’s always so obvious, right?)
Likewise, laziness can be something of a weapon to use against oneself. “Oh, I did poorly on that test because I was too lazy to study, I’m so stupid”. Even if you theoretically could have studied more, that doesn’t reflect on your worth or intelligence. In my experience, the sort of person who says this sort of thing to themselves is more likely to be depressed or distressed or something along those lines than genuinely lazy. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to be perfect at school when their personal life is in ruins, or if they’re struggling to meet some of their basic needs.
But what if someone is well, is having most of their needs met in a healthy fashion, etc etc etc. No underlying problems, just someone who truly and freely chooses to spend their time on things that are not productive. What if they’re really just genuinely lazy?
I’m going to get a little bit personal today. I’ve never had an easy time keeping things tidy and in their places. My living space is full of clutter – clothes on the floor, unwashed dishes, the occasional full garbage bag that I’ll totally take out tomorrow. A lot of the files on my computer are named things like forlater.docx, aaa.txt, aaaa.txt, kdslfj.jpg, put in similarly useful folders. In short, I am what some would call “disorganized”.
The word disorganized is in scare quotes for a reason. I really don’t like that word and the way it’s used on people. Growing up I was labeled “disorganized”, and I knew many other people my age who had also earned that label. There was an implicit, heavy pressure on us to become “organized”. People went so far as to create organizational systems for us, leaving us with the simple task of maintaining it. But for me at least, it seemed that no matter what I did or how hard I tried, I was trapped in my own disorganization. Being a “disorganized person” became a core part of my identity.
If you are also a “disorganized person”, I want to let you know that there is hope. But it might not look the way you think it does.
I procrastinate. I procrastinate a lot. Sometimes if an important task has no due date, I’ll put it off indefinitely until something forces me to consider that it cannot wait any longer. I think that’s the “thing” with procrastination in general – our brains didn’t evolve for things like deadlines or bureaucracy. Generally, needs were met when we had them, because why would pre civilization humans need to plan more than a day or so ahead? We were made to panic at the moment a dangerous animal was looking at us and seeing dinner – and not a moment sooner.
But now most of us have refrigerators and grocery stores and housing that is generally sparse in scary man-eating animals. And with the changing modes of production have come changes in civilization that are far, far too new for our brains to adequately adapt to. It’s really not surprising that most people procrastinate sometimes.