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Learning to Focus

December, 2013
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“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”― Zig Ziglar

Think about it.  Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, garbagemen, homeless people… they all have 24-hour days.  The difference between these people lies in how they spend it.  Does Bill Gates spend his days complaining, making excuses and procrastinating?  I don’t think so. Successful people find solutions and get stuff done.  What sets them apart from the masses are their ability to compartmentalize blocks of time and focus on specific tasks that contribute to their success.  If you want to get better grades in less time, then you’re going to need to learn how to focus.

onlinelearningHere are four steps to get you started on the path towards total focus:

1) Eliminate

The first step is to eliminate.  In order to focus on the essential, you need to eliminate distractions in your life.  Unnecessary activities that you don’t enjoy rob you of your time and energy.  Before you sign up for the knitting club, ask yourself if it’s really something you want to do.  If it is, then knit all you want, but if you’re doing it just to enhance your college application, I’ve got some bad news. Colleges don’t care about that time when you ushered for the school play or that you were secretary of the chess club if it’s not something you truly care about. Colleges, as far as I know, want you to focus on a few activities and be in a leadership role in those activities.  Let go of the commitments you don’t love. It’ll leave you with more time and energy for commitments that truly matter.

2) Prioritize commitments in your life

My recommendation is that you take five minutes to prioritize the activities and commitments in your life. Choose what you want to focus on and what’s most important to you.  If you could only do three things everyday, what would you do?

Take a few minutes to complete the following steps:

1) Make a list of the activities you’re committed to (including school).

2) Star your five favorite/most important and ask yourself, would I be better off if I quit all my other activities?

3) Proceed to cross out and quit the activities that you don’t enjoy.

It’s scary, I know. I’ve had to tell coaches I wouldn’t’t be joining their team, people I wouldn’t’t join their club, and “missed out” on countless opportunities.  And I’m glad I did!  It’s much harder to get important work done when all your time is focused on outside activities.  By prioritizing your activities and quitting the ones that aren’t adding value to your life you’ll free up time and energy to focus on what truly matters.

3) Make the decision to succeed

Successful people make the decision to be successful, often in the form of goals. They decide what they want their life to like and then set goals that will bring them closer to that ideal. I suggest you do the same. Pick the areas in your life that are the most important to you and set yourself ambitious goals. If you want to be a doctor, set yourself a goal to get straight A’s in biology and chemistry classes. For me, fitness is one of the areas of my life that I really focus on, so I set myself fitness goals and work out daily. Because I’ve eliminated activities I don’t enjoy, I have more time to work on my fitness. This works just as well if you’re an aspiring engineer and need to practice math daily to ace your tests and set yourself up for the best college education possible. Set yourself a goal to get a certain grade, say 750 on your Math SAT’s, and start doing one practice section a day. Now that you have freed up your schedule it’s time to use goals to take the areas of your life that matter most to you to the next level.

effective-writers24) Make success inevitable

The final step is to set up circumstances to make it harder for you to NOT do the task than to do it. This is crucial. There are going to be times when you really don’t want to do study for your upcoming biology test and times when you don’t want to do your SAT math practice test. If you make it harder to NOT do the task than to do it, then you will find that success becomes inevitable. You’ll do the activity you set out to do by default because it’s less painful than the alternative.

I’ll admit it – there are days when I don’t want to wake up at 4:30 AM to go work out. It’s cold and rainy outside and I really want to press the snooze button. Except I can’t, because I put my alarm clock on the other side of the room, with my workout clothes next to it.  By the time I stop the alarm I’m already up out of my bed and my workout clothes are right there in front of me.  I’ve made it easier to go work out than to stay in bed, which makes it highly likely that I’ll go work out. I recommend you do something similar with your goals: set up a study session with your biology teacher after school or keep your math book open on a problem set next to a picture of your dream college to remind you what you’re working towards. Get creative and make success inevitable!

Ask yourself what you can do today to make success inevitable for you chosen goal. How can you set up circumstances that make it hard for you NOT to work towards your goal?

Remember, you’ve got the same amount of time every day that Bill Gates and Richard Branson have.  The difference is that they don’t spend their days doing things they know are wasting their life. They spend their days on activities that matter and bring them closer to their goals. So take some time to apply what you’ve learned: cut out the activities that aren’t adding happiness to your life, prioritize your commitments and spend more time on things that are important to you. Finally, set goals and circumstances that make success inevitable. I’m willing to bet that if you start focusing on the few areas of your life that matter the most to you, you’ll lead a happier, more productive life.


scis-thibault-sorret-copyBy Thibault Sorret

Thibault Sorret is a seventeen-year-old student at Shanghai Community International School and author of “Win at School: An Uncommon Guide to Learning Faster, Better Grades, and More Free Time” (win-at-school.com)



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