The second obstacle is the subject of this post. This obstacle seems to pollute every waking minute of every day, and it can steal hours away from us if we let it. The obstacle of course is staying focused. When asked what the single most important factor of their success was, both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates replied “Focus.”
Focus then is the secret ingredient for success in most things, including relationships, personal finances, fitness, and of course exam prep. Perversely, we all know what we should be doing, but why it is so hard?
Back in 1995, when I was studying for a degree in business law as well as my police promotional exams, you can say I had my hands pretty full. I had to work eight hours per day, sleep eight hours, eat, train at the gym, and then study for five hours per day.
I did it all in 45 minute blocks, but there was something about this time that made it much easier: No home computer and no mobile phone. If somebody needed to reach me, they had to call my home phone or write me a letter. My only distraction was getting up to make a cup of tea every 45 minutes.
Now, you can’t walk down the road without seeing somebody texting while driving. You try to talk to a friend in a coffee shop, but often they don’t give you their attention because they’re busy taking a photo of their muffin to put on Facebook or Instagram!
Anyhow, I know we all get distracted, but there are a few tools out there to get us back on track. I’ve listed some you might want to check out, some I’ve used myself, and others I’ve heard about but not tried. There are no affiliate links so check them out and see what works. If you know of any others, please post a comment along with your opinion of how useful it is.
RescueTime is an application that runs in the background on your computer or mobile device. It can track how much time you have spent reading e-mail and can warn you when you have spent an allocated period of time on a certain activity.
More than that though, RescueTime can block websites for certain periods of the day. There is a free lite version and a paid version, as well as browser plugins.
StayFocused is a time management plugin for Google Chrome. Once your allocated time to use a certain website is up, you can no longer access it.
If you own an Android phone, then check out Time Recording, a free or paid app you can use to manage your project and day, allocating time to specific tasks. It syncs with your Google Calendar, which is very handy.
If you are an iPhone user, then check out HoursTracker, which might be the best option for you. Again, there is a free option, but there is also a $3 paid version available. Much like the Android app, this makes it easy to add blocks of study time to your phone and clock in and out. If you have a certain time you start studying, though, you can have the app automatically clock you in, although this might lead to the temptation to “cheat” on your studying time blocks.
Focus@Will is a paid service that uses a combination of neuroscience and music, which they say allows you to increase your normal attention span four-fold. A lot of people listen to music while they work, but this website allows you to use the right kind. Since the music is combined with a timer, you will be able to set the amount of time you want to work, in addition to tracking these blocks of studying over time. They offer a thirty day free trial, after which you will pay $4.99 per month.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique relies on working for a certain length of time, followed by a short break. Typically, this means a 25 minute burst of studying, followed by a five minute break. Every two hours, you will have the chance to take a twenty minute break. In fact, this is one method of studying that most people swear by once they get used to it. You’ll need the right timer to do this, though.
E.ggtimer.com offers a number of different timer options to fit with anything you might be doing, but the Pomodoro option is perhaps the most helpful for studying for your next IT exam. All you have to do is head over to the website and, for free, you can start Pomodoro cycles that make you capable of learning and recalling more information than ever.
Focus Booster is available for both Windows and Mac computers, making it a versatile option that will measure your 25 minute sessions separated by five minute breaks. It is fairly bare bones in design, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective for tracking time and making sure you stay on task.
Fast Company has also researched a few time tracking apps you may find useful:
Drop a comment if you have any other suggestions.