How to Focus on School Work

Three Methods:Establishing Good Work HabitsWorking EffectivelyMaintaining Realistic Expectations for Yourself

Focusing on school work is vital to your success in high school and college, but it can be very hard to force yourself to focus. Between friends and family, extracurriculars, and social media, it’s difficult to zero in on school work. However, employing attention-focusing techniques and rewarding yourself for completing assignments will help you focus on your school work and complete your assignments more quickly.

Method 1
Establishing Good Work Habits

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    Be sure you understand your assignments. It is nearly impossible to focus on school work that you don’t understand. Before you leave school, try to ask the teacher or another student to explain any assignments with instructions that aren’t clear to you. Once you clearly understand what your teacher wants you to do, then you can begin focusing on your work. [1]
    • Sometimes it might be helpful to see if your school offers tutoring, especially if you find that confusion over your homework is often why you struggle to focus on it.
    • Working with a tutor will definitely help you stay on task with your school work and help improve your grades, as well.
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    Use a planner to budget your time. This is especially important if you have a busy extracurricular schedule or are on the forgetful side. Writing your assignments in a planner will help you visualize your day, week, or month ahead and help you plan your assignments around work and social events. This will help you stay focused on your work and keep you from becoming overwhelmed, which can lead to procrastinating.[2]
    • You can use either a physical notebook-style planner or download an app on your phone or tablet.
    • Be sure to organize your planner. Using color coded tabs or sticky notes can help you keep track of your assignments work, and extracurricular schedule. For example, use blue tabs to denote upcoming assignments or tests, red tabs to show your work schedule, and yellow tabs to show your social schedule.
    • If you use a physical planner, be sure to keep it neat. A chaotic-looking planner that you can't read or understand won't help you focus. Avoid scribbling out words or writing illegibly. Write neatly and be sure to write in erasable pencil or use white out to make changes to assignments written in ink.
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    Prioritize your assignments. Beyond just budgeting time for your assignments, you will also want to rank your assignments in order of importance and due date. This will help keep you focused on assignments as they come due and keep you from getting bogged down by trying to do too many assignments at once.[3]
    • For example, if you have a five page English paper that’s due in a week, that assignment should take priority over a science project that’s due in a month. Tests should always be marked as high priority in your planner.
    • Take into account how long assignments will take, as well. Think about the "big picture" of your school schedule. Instead of only focusing on what is due in the next few days, for example, take a macro view and consider what assignments are due this month. Then, as time allows, make an effort to chip away at future projects. This way, when those due dates approach, you won't have to rush and stress out over how to find the time to complete those assignments.[4]
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    Set time aside specifically for school work. What time of the day you choose doesn’t matter, as long as you set aside a dedicated block of time for focusing on your school work. During this time, you have to mentally tell yourself that for this block of time, your only goal is to get as much school work completed as possible. The amount of time you’ll need to set aside will vary based on how much homework you have and how difficult your assignments are, so be sure to allot enough time to complete your work.[5]
    • If you’re a morning person, get up early, eat some breakfast, and work on assignments before school or work. If you are a night owl, then arrange for time to work before bed.
    • Regardless of which time of day you choose to do your work, be sure that you’re getting enough sleep. It’s counterproductive to be sleep deprived while you try to focus on your school work.
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    Have a designated work space. Avoid trying to focus on your school work while watching TV or lying on your bed because it is too easy to fall asleep or get distracted. Designate a quiet area as a work-only space. This can be your kitchen table, a table at your local or campus library, or your desk in your room. Regardless of which space you choose, make sure that you have sufficient space to work and spread out so you can focus on your school work.[6]

Method 2
Working Effectively

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    Wear headphones or earplugs. If you have loud roommates or siblings, it can be difficult to concentrate on your school work with noise all around you. Try wearing noise cancelling headphones or earplugs to block out audible distractions so you can better focus on your homework.
    • You can find foam earplugs at any drugstore or convenience store. Aim for earplugs with a Noise Rating Reduction (NRR) of 32 or 33, as this is the highest noise cancelling rating available over the counter.[7]
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    Turn off your phone. Your smartphone is likely one of the biggest distractions when it comes to focusing on your school work. If you can’t turn it completely off for practical reasons, then at minimum turn off wifi and data so you can’t check social media or email. Disconnect while you work on your homework, and you will find that it will be easier to focus on your work and to work faster.[8]
    • If you must leave your phone on, then turn it to silent (not just vibrate) so you don’t hear any incoming calls or texts to distract you from your school work.
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    Avoid checking social media and other online distractions. The computer can be just as distracting and addicting as your phone, so it’s important to minimize distractions there, as well. Because you likely need the internet to do a lot of your assignments, it’s not as simple to “disconnect” while you’re on a computer. You’ll need to actively stay off of social media and gaming sites in order to focus on your work.[9]
    • Consider browser extensions that disconnect social media for you. Browser extensions like Nanny (Google Chrome) and Mac Freedom (Windows and Mac compatible) block your access to your top time-wasting websites.[10]
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    Schedule work breaks. After working for a solid 45 minutes, give yourself a break for 15 minutes. Get up and stretch, have a snack, or check your phone. This will help you reset and recharge so you can continue focusing on your school work.[11]
    • Make sure that you set a timer or alarm clock so that your breaks are only fifteen minutes. Dragging breaks out longer can derail your efforts to focus on and complete your school work.
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    Set a goal and reward yourself for completing it. Homework is no fun. However, if you set attainable goals for yourself and reward yourself for completing them, it will help make school work seem less overwhelming.[12]
    • For example, tell yourself that you need to finish your algebra homework within an hour so that you can watch your favorite show before bed. Setting a goal with a clear reward at the end will help motivate you to stay focused on completing your work.[13]

Method 3
Maintaining Realistic Expectations for Yourself

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    Work on one assignment at a time. Pacing yourself is important because it is easy to become overwhelmed and distracted if you try to work on too many assignments at once. Approach your homework one piece at a time, and work on each piece to completion. Avoid having two or three half-completed assignments, as this can be stressful.
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    Don’t try to do too much at once. Make sure that you aren’t setting yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals for yourself. Trying to complete too much school work in too short a time is a recipe for stress and discouragement.
    • For example, don’t expect that you can come home from school and spend an hour writing a quality ten page paper. Research papers take time to both write and research, so it’s unrealistic to expect to squeeze all of that work into one evening. Instead, spread your writing and research out across several days to make the project more manageable.
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    Speak with your guidance counselor or advisor. If you are truly struggling to focus on your school work despite taking steps to help refocus yourself, try speaking with your advisor or guidance counselor. He or she might be able to help you see issues that you missed, such as an overly heavy course load.[14]
    • Asking for their help is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s their job to help you when you are struggling!
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    Take care of yourself. Even the best time management and homework techniques won’t be helpful if you aren’t taking care of yourself first. Be sure that you are getting enough sleep and eating properly. Pulling all-nighters to complete your homework might work in the short term. However, this technique will backfire because you’ll become exhausted and have even more difficulty focusing on your work.[15]
    • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. Even if you aren’t hungry in the mornings, have some juice or pack a portable snack like an apple or a granola bar for later.[16]
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    Talk with your doctor if nothing is helping you. If you have tried many different techniques to focus on your school work and spoken with your advisor or counselor, then it might be helpful for you to talk to your doctor about your struggles. He or she might test you for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to see if that could be the cause of your concentration problems.[17]
    • If your doctor determines that you have this disorder, then he or she might recommend medications, dietary changes, therapy, or a combination of these to Treat ADHD.


  • Don’t be ashamed of asking for help, whether it’s from a tutor, parent, counselor, or doctor. You want to be as successful as possible in school, so use every resource at your disposal.
  • If you are diagnosed with ADHD, remember that it is a legitimate medical condition that can make focusing on school work nearly impossible. It is not a character flaw or a sign of laziness on your part.

What You’ll Need

  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Earplugs
  • Planner
  • Dedicated work space

Article Info

Categories: Surviving School | Learning Techniques and Student Skills