15 Tips for Maintaining A Strong Focus While Reading
Tips that can help you have strong focus when reading are: reduce distractions, use meta guiding, do not multitask, take breaks, maintain good reading posture, get enough sleep, eat well, grab a coffee, reduce stress, exercise regularly, use active reading, set a goal, and take a specialized course.
Having a strong focus while reading means giving the material your undivided attention or fully concentrating on the reading. Focus is very important because it helps comprehend the material and retain the information.
In today’s world, handheld devices, instant messengers, and other similar types of distractions make it very hard to maintain a strong focus while reading.
Thankfully, there are ways to arrest the “focus thieves” and seize back your focus. In this article, we’ll show you 15 ways to maintain a strong focus while reading.
Let’s start the discussion with how to test if you are focused when reading and an identification of some of these focus thieves.
How do I test if I am focused on my reading?
It is quite easy to test if you are focused on your reading. Simply do one or more of the following:
- Check that you were not distracted
- Check that you did not do some other tasks
- Test your understanding and retention of the material
1. Checking for distractions
Focused people ruthlessly eliminate distractions. If while reading, your concentration was frequently broken by one thing or the other, then you probably weren’t focused enough.
2. Checking for multitasking
Multitasking scuppers focus. Some people may see multitasking as a prized skill. Unfortunately, the human brain is not designed to multi-task (do more than one thing simultaneously).
So, if you find that you did some other thing while you were reading, you probably weren’t fully focused on the material.
3. Testing understanding and retention
Test your understanding and retention of the material. Most often than not, the ultimate goal of reading is comprehension and being able to remember the information when needed. Interestingly, maintaining good focus when reading lays the foundation for text comprehension and future recall.
Thus, one way to check if you are focused on your reading is to test how well you understood what you read and how much of that you remember.
To do this, try to identify the main idea in the text when reading. After reading, try to summarize the text in your own words. Both immediately after reading and after a while, do a self-test by trying to remember what you read or asking yourself questions and trying to answer them.
If you cannot identify the main idea, write a summary, or recall what you read, you probably weren’t focused enough.
Reasons why I can’t focus when I read
The tips for maintaining strong focus when reading do work because they address the things that steal focus when reading. Thus, before discussing tips for maintaining focus, it’s essential to identify these focus thieves (reasons why you can’t focus).
If you can’t focus when you read, then one or more of the following is stealing your focus.
- Anxiety and stress
- Sleep deprivation
- Poor reading position
- Health condition
Anything that takes your attention away from what you are reading is a distraction. This can come from your environment, like a band playing just outside where you are or a hum from a bad air conditioner. In this information age, digital distractions are also common, such as a Facebook notifications, text messages, etc.
When you multitask (do two things simultaneously), you’ll give neither your full attention. This is why it is strongly advised that you shouldn’t operate your phone while driving.
Well, another piece of advice is “do not combine doing some other task with reading.” Your performance on the other task will suffer, and so will your focus on your reading.
3. Stress and Anxiety
Stress is a feeling of physical or emotional tension. It is actually a natural feeling that helps the body cope with specific events. However, stress can become a chronic condition that steals your focus and attention when prolonged.
Stress can affect mood and bring about restlessness, which can take your mind away from what you are reading.
Anxiety is stress that continues even when the stress-causing factor is removed. It leads to excessive worry, causing the mind to be all over the place and unable to focus.
Fatigue is excessive tiredness. When you are very tired, you’ll be unable to focus on what you are reading, even if it is absorbing material. Fatigue can also cause you to fall asleep while reading.
Fatigue is often a result of physical exertion or illness. However, it can also result from mental exertion. This is why you’ll find that your focus will drop when you are reading a book for a long stretch of time.
Boredom is feeling weary because of a lack of interest. When you are bored by a material, it is difficult to focus.
This is because boredom is expressed as lethargy or agitation.
- Lethargy. You’ll feel tired whenever you pick up the material
- Agitation. Knowing that you’ll read the material gets you irritated.
6. Sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation is getting less than the amount of sleep your body needs to function optimally. This can result from:
- lifestyle choices (like drinking coffee in the evening)
- work obligations (like having to work deep into the night or all night)
- Sleep disorder (like insomnia).
Sleep deprivation can lead to daytime sleepiness and negatively affect your mood. These combine to make focusing while reading difficult.
7. Poor reading position
Your position when reading can also affect your concentration. When you lie down on your bed to read, you may have to support yourself with your elbows. This may cause shoulder pain, making it difficult to maintain focus, especially for a long time. The position induces sleep, as it indirectly tells your body that it is time to sleep.
Also, when you sit in a way that causes you to bend your neck forward, it puts strain on your spine. This makes you tire quickly and may even result in back and neck pains. The result will be a loss of concentration.
8. Health condition
Any issue that affects your health will affect your focus when reading. For example, someone who has anemia will have symptoms that include fatigue, weakness, and dizziness. With these, the person will be unable to focus while reading.
Also, diabetes can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, and this can lead to rapid changes in mood and feeling unwell. These will make focus impossible when reading.
Tips to maintain focus on reading
Thankfully, there are many ways to address those things that steal your focus when reading. Some of them include:
1. Turn off the instant messengers, cell phone and email notifiers
This is a big one for most of us because we have come to rely so heavily on these services, but they are some of the biggest distractions that exist today.
If you are like me, then you probably feel a little mental nudge each time your email notifier or text messaging indicator goes off. The problem with these nudges is that they can cause us to lose the momentum we have built when we are performing the task of reading. It takes our brain a little bit of time to ramp up and zone in on the material we are reading.
Every time we receive an interruption, our brain immediately ramps down and needs to ramp back up again. This can cause a number of reading-related inefficiencies. Most importantly, it can lower our ability to focus on the information we are trying to retain.
2. Practice proper posture
Did you know that it takes more energy to slouch then it does to sit with proper form? When you sit, push your hips as far back as they can go in the chair.
Make an adjustment to your chair so that your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are equal or a little lower than your hips. Adjust the back of your chair to about a 100° reclined angle. Make sure that you are also getting proper support for your entire back.
Taking these steps will not only improve your ability to focus while reading, they will also prevent long-term issues related to poor posture.
3. Clear your mind for 1 minute
You’ve probably heard about all the benefits you can get from practicing meditation regularly. Ideally, we would want to read after a good meditation session because that is when our mind is most likely to be free from mental clutter.
Since we don’t always get the luxury of good meditation before reading, we should take about 1 to 2 minutes to relax and release thoughts from our mind before we begin to read. By doing this, you will not only free up unnecessary resources in your brain, you will also be able to comprehend the information you read much better. You will be able to enjoy a higher level of focus when you read.
4. Read in 50 minute intervals
In his book “The Effective Executive,” Peter Drucker, who is, in my opinion, the father of business management, talks about how 50-minute chunks of time are ideal for focusing on a single task. This is because 50 minutes is the ideal amount of time to focus on one item before we start to require a break.
Something happens after we go beyond the 50 minute mark. Our brain starts to become more inefficient. It’s then time for a 10 minute break. After the break, you can focus on reading for another 50 minutes. By using this cycle, not only will you get the most out of reading, you will also be able to train your focus and develop the habit of working at a specific pace.
5. Read with a specific goal in mind
Don’t mindlessly read things. You should have a specific goal in mind. This will not only improve your focus, but will also help you get through the material more quickly. The more specific your goal is, the easier it will be to concentrate.
6. Use meta guiding
Meta guiding is running your finger or a pointer (like a pen) under the lines as you read.
Meta guiding has been heralded as a technique that improves reading speed. One reason it helps reading speed is because it assists eye movements and improves focus.
Our eyes follow movement. Guiding your eye with a finger as you read helps you to focus more on the lines.
Meta guiding also reduces the effects of distractions. If anything takes your attention away from the reading, you’ll not return to the material lost (not knowing where you stopped and having to do regressive reading).
7. Do not multitask
Multitasking is basically doing two different tasks at the same time without giving any of the two 100% attention.
One way to focus fully when reading is to avoid completing another task. Spend whatever time you allocate for reading to read. After which you can focus fully on completing the second task.
8. Take breaks
Reading for a long stretch of time can make fatigue set in, causing you to lose focus. So, you’ll keep your focus on reading sharp if you take short breaks between reading sessions.
We already recommended reading for 50-minute chunks of time. If you feel that this method does not work for you, you can use the Pomodoro technique. This helps you to break long reading hours into many short ones separated by attention-refueling breaks.
It works as follows:
- Set your timer for 25 minutes
- Immerse yourself in the reading (without any form of interruption) for the next 25 minutes
- When your timer buzzes, take a short break (preferably 5 minutes). You may do some stretching or take a walk.
- Set the timer for 25 minutes again, and immerse yourself in reading until the timer buzzes
- After the fourth reading session, take a longer break (preferably 25 – 30 minutes)
9. Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation causes day sleepiness which will prevent you from focusing on reading. So, one way to maintain focus is to get enough sleep every night.
A few nights of minimal sleep may be okay, but never make it a habit of going many nights with minimal sleep. The recommended hours of sleep for most adults is 7 or more hours per night.
Some of the things you can do to boost your sleep include:
- Keep your bedroom quiet and cool. Noise or heat will make it difficult to sleep
- Relax your mind. If racing thoughts are preventing you from sleeping, do things to relax the mind like taking a soothing warm bath, listening to relaxing music, meditate, etc.
- Do not take caffeinated drinks in the evening. The caffeine will be active in your system late into the night to drive away your sleep
- Do not read from an electronic device just before bedtime. They emit light in the blue end of the spectrum, and this light can stimulate the brain to prevent sleepiness
10. Eat well
You probably have heard the saying “a hungry man is an angry man.” Well, a hungry man will also feel weak and weary. Focus jumps out the window when hunger brings anger or weariness.
Thus, one way to maintain focus is to keep hunger away. However, this doesn’t mean simply eating something, but eating well. Some types of food will give you a proper balance of energy and fuel your brain to focus better, like leafy greens, healthy fats, vegetables, etc.
11. Have coffee
Caffeine is the closest thing to a magic bullet that’ll fire you up and make you alert. There is plentiful caffeine in coffee.
Caffeine keeps you alert and focused by stimulating the body’s central nervous system and boosting the production of the neurochemical dopamine. This reduces how strongly you’ll feel fatigued, rather, it helps you feel energized.
However, when drinking coffee, you should take note of the following:
- It will affect your night’s sleep;
- It can be addictive and make you jittery.
12. Reduce stress
Since stress is one thing that steals focus when reading, reducing stress will help you maintain focus.
Some practical ways to reduce stress include:
- Guided meditation. This helps clear your mind of racing thoughts
- Deep breathing. This feeds your brain with more oxygen
- Taking breaks. This disrupts the pattern of stress building
- Listening to soothing music. This can calm your nervous system and lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol
- Journaling. This helps in emotional release of negative thoughts, as you’ll transfer whatever is on your mind to the journal.
13. Exercise regularly
You already know that regular exercise is good for the body. However, exercising is also good for the brain, as it can improve your focus and memory.
Exercise helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Thus, exercising breaks the cycle of stress, and boosts your mood to help you focus more.
Exercising also boosts the brain’s production of feel-good hormones like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This lifts your mood and improves your attention and focus.
14. Use active reading
Active reading is deliberately engaging with the information in the text when reading.
When engaging with a text, you’ll need to identify and mark or note the main ideas and other important points. This requires being fully focused to clearly understand and evaluate the material.
To practice active reading, do the following:
- Skim through the material before you start reading to have an overview
- Ask yourself some questions using what you gathered from the overview
- Try finding the answers to the questions you posed before reading
- Identify the main points or key information in the material
- Use a highlighter to mark the main ideas, underline them, or take notes (write them down in margins or a separate note)
- Test yourself by putting the text away and trying to recall what you read
15. Take a specialized course
There are online courses delivered by experts in the field of cognitive training that can help you maintain your focus while reading.
While you can take steps to improve focus on your own, getting expert guidance via taking specialized courses will help you master your focus better and faster.
One powerful course in this regard is the Effective Note-taking Course.
This course, which is designed for students and professionals alike, teaches how to stay focused on reading by taking notes. It also teaches the best practices for note-taking as well as pitfalls to avoid. You’ll learn how to improve focus and memory using visual notes, mind mapping, outlining, and more.
Focus while reading helps you understand the material and remember it for longer. Thus, focus while reading is important if you are to succeed in school or at work.
While there are many things that can steal your focus when reading, there are equally many ways to arrest these focus thieves and maintain a strong focus when reading.
Some of these include: reducing distractions, using meta guiding, taking breaks, taking coffee, reducing stress, exercising regularly, practicing active reading, and taking specialized courses.
Talking of specialized courses, the Advanced Concentration and Memory Course has helped a lot of students and professionals to improve focus when reading towards understanding what is read and remembering it for longer.
As simple as these tips might sound, they can make the world of a difference for positively impacting your ability to focus while reading. Practicing these tips will not only improve your reading, they will also help you build better focus involving other areas of your life.
Implement these tips regularly to begin forming the habit of improved focus, and you will then be able to comprehend and retain the information you are reading a lot better.
Joseph is an Iris instructor based out of Toronto. He loves to share his personal knowledge as an entrepreneur, and credits a lot of his success to speed reading techniques and productivity strategies.