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We spoke to Attention Training technique specialist, Sam Thorogood from Tiny Pause, who recently delivered a workshop on attention training techniques - perfect for exam season.

Sam is an expert in Attention Training Technique, a combination of neuroscience and mindfulness combined that can help us be happy and productive even in times of stress.

The session focused on how to master your time and focus on the things that you really want to focus on (or what he calls Deep Work). One key thing he highlighted is that sometimes you can’t get it all done, and that’s ok! So here are some tips on how to manage your time better and increase focus.

Lower your expectations

Our expectations are a major catalyst for being unhappy because naturally, we set our brains to pick up on negative things. We need to come to terms with the fact that it is OK not to complete all the things on our to-do list. Let’s focus on the good things and let’s start that now. So what have you done today and what have you done well? Focus on the positives of your day rather than dwelling on the negatives. 

What have to-do lists got to do with it?

Most of us also have a to-do list, in our heads or scribbled on paper. Rather than fixating on the things that we haven’t ticked off the list, focus on the things you have done. Change your perception. We expect to do work all day, to run mental miles with our to-do list when that really isn’t feasible and it isn’t healthy for us. Focus on Deep Work (or the most important things that you need to get done). Your to-do list is a wish list, so don’t expect to complete all the things on your wish-list (goes back to the first point of lowering expectations).

Give it a break!

Give your brain a break, you wouldn’t expect your body to run a marathon every day. Don’t expect your brain to!

Breathe

Building self- awareness of our situation can lead to better control of what we are doing and can lead to better bouts of focused sessions. To do this, breathe! When stressed we breathe faster and when calm we breathe slow. Practise slow breathing; inhaling for 4 seconds and then exhaling for 4 seconds - and it doesn’t have to be 4 seconds - you can do it at your own pace, 4 seconds is just a guide. Do this in a place you feel comfortable.

Focus on Deep Work

Your brain can only handle two hours a day of deeply focused work, so prioritise. You yourself know when you work best, so if that’s in the morning then do all your deep work then schedule shallow work, like sending emails, when you know you’re not at your most productive. Do not let your inbox dictate what you do.

Schedule breaks, lunch and catch-up time

During exams, we might want to just spend the whole day revising or doing work but that can lead to unproductivity. So schedule in a healthy lunch, catch up with friends and also, to alleviate stress, schedule an hour here and there to catch up on work.

Reward yourself with your phones

Looking at your phone is as addictive as Cocaine! The reward pathways are the same. Consider leaving it at home or giving it to someone else for a couple of hours. We should use our phones as a reward. Also, get into the habit of not looking at your phone for the first two hours as this can lead to lower levels of stress and higher feelings of productivity. 

Ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. By asking for help, you strengthen your relationship with them and you actually make that person feel better.

If you would like to access support with exam stress, talk to our Advice Service who offer free, confidential and independent advice.

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