How to Stay Focused While Studying | Medical School Secrets

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There don’t seem to be enough hours in a day.

While time management and efficiency are core components in getting more done with less

time, learning how to sustain intense focus for prolonged periods is equally important.

If you ever have difficulty staying focused to study or do work, I’ve got the remedy

for you.

Dr. Jubbal,

While modern technologies like smartphones and computers can be used for great good,

they’ve also taken a tremendous toll on our ability to focus.

And as Cal Newport describes, Time x Intensity = Quality of Work Produced.

We all are limited by the same 24 hours in a day.

To get a leg up, then, one must work on the intensity piece of the equation, and to do

that we must cure your inability to stay focused for prolonged periods.

How to battle this fragmentation of attention is a common concern I help students overcome

during our sessions together.

I have distilled what is most beneficial to students into 7 steps to reclaim your focus.

The first step is admitting you have a problem. It’s ok, we all do.

But the next step is applying the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule, to the factors

that are most distracting in your life and detrimental to your ability to focus.

We want to find the 20% of elements in your life that are leading to 80% of the distractions.

If you’re anything like me, chances are your smartphone is one of the biggest culprits.

The constant notifications, updates from social media, and checking emails for those small

dopamine snacks are all too alluring.

As important as self-discipline is, it’s important to craft the systems in place that

reduce temptation and the energy required to resist it.

We’ll get back to that shortly.

Other common sources of distraction include Netflix, or the TV in general, rambunctious

roommates, or video games.

After watching this video, take 5 minutes to sit with a journal and jot down anything

that you would consider a distraction from you getting work done.

You should be able to come up with a list of at least 20 items.

Rate each factor from 1 to 10 in terms of how powerful that distraction is.

We’ll be applying the following steps to this list.

From your list of 20, take the top 5.

We’ll be focusing our energy there in systematically reducing temptation and the risk of distraction.

Chances are your smartphone and social media is high on the list.

For this reason, I’ve disabled notifications on my phone except for phone calls and text


I don’t have badges anywhere on my phone.

My wallpaper is straight black and boring.

I’ve done these and several other tweaks to reduce the temptation of using my phone.

If you want me to create a comprehensive video on how to set up your smartphone for use as a

tool, rather than as a distraction, let me know with a thumbs up on this video and a

comment down below.

When I need to get prolonged focused work done, like writing the script for this video,

I work on my laptop or iPad.

If I’m on my laptop, I’ll go into fullscreen mode using Bear, my writing app of choice, and enable Do

Not Disturb mode to block notifications.

The iPad is similar, as I’ve disabled notifications and apps run full screen by default.

If you need additional help in maintaining focus and not getting off track, there are

apps that block other websites and forcibly limit your ability to waste time.

My personal favorite is Focus, but other apps like SelfControl or Freedom are other solid


Links down in the description below.

But let’s say you’re struggling with Netflix or those rambunctious roommates.

In that case, environmental interventions may be more effective.

The optimal work or study environment will

differ from person to person.

Some people enjoy the background noise of a busy coffee shop, others prefer the library,

and some would rather stay at home with their dual 4K monitor standing desk setup, like


It’s been noted that extroverts tend to enjoy busy areas to study, whereas introverts

prefer silence and solitude.

That isn’t a hard rule, and there are plenty of exceptions, so be sure to experiment for


Regardless of what level of noise and activity you prefer, there are three shared fundamentals

that a good study environment should have.

First, Limited Distractions. Situate yourself in a position such that in

your immediate periphery, there are few, if any, distractions.

Don’t sit right in front of a TV.

Don’t sit in front of a door that has people walking in and out constantly.

Don’t have your phone on the table in front of you or even in your pocket.

Put it in your bag or in another room.

I was shocked how effective this simple trick was in getting me to stop checking my phone.

Number two, it should be Conducive to Extended Periods of Work.

To get meaningful work done, you’ll need

a certain amount of time.

Make sure you can sit there for long enough without running into issues of the shop closing

or being kicked out.

This also means having outlets to keep your laptop charged.

You should have a flat and clean desk to work on.

Trust me, despite the name laptop, you won’t want to work from your lap for extended periods.

And lastly, make sure you are comfortable.

For some people that means supportive chairs, for others stools, and some even prefer standing,

like yours truly.

Number three, People Should Respect That You’re Working. It’s critical that you limit distractions,

including those from others.

If you find yourself being interrupted frequently by friends at a certain location, it’s likely

not a good environment to study.

You can ask them politely to let you work, but this is a point of friction and a temptation

you have to resist, rather than allowing the environment and system facilitate the outcome

you want.

Which brings us to the next point, working


I’ve spoken about the importance of small groups in discussing the Feynman Technique.

When you do work in groups, groups should be kept small, no more than 1 or 2 other people.

But equally important, you should keep group study sessions to a minimum.

Use group study when you need to work through difficult concepts or problems together.

Beyond those instances, solo work is a better fit for the majority of students, as the temptation

for conversing with your friends is eliminated.

The Pomodoro Technique is my favorite productivity

hack for three reasons.

Almost every student I have recommended this to has seen drastic improvements in their

effectiveness while studying.

First, it Acutely Forces Focus. When using the Pomodoro Technique, you choose

1 task for 25 minutes and focus on that task alone.

Having these parameters is insanely effective at maintaining focus in the overwhelming majority

of students that I tutor.

Number two, Pacing for Extended Work. In the traditional Pomodoro Technique, you

work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, and repeat for 4 cycles, after which you take

a longer 20 minute break.

This is a great pace to marathon study for an entire day while reducing the risk of burning


Number three, it Builds Your Focus “Muscle”. We tend to get better at the things we practice.

After regularly using the Pomodoro Technique for a weeks, you should see improvement in

your ability to maintain sustained focus.

As your focus “muscle” grows, experiment with extending the cycles.

From 25 minutes, increase to 35 or even 40.

I personally either alternated between the 25 min on, 5 min break, or 50 minutes on, and 10 min off.

Experiment to find intervals that work best for you.

After extended use of the Pomodoro Technique,

you may also notice that getting into the groove of studying is also becoming easier.

While your ability to focus has certainly developed, there’s also an element of classical

conditioning, also known as Pavlovian conditioning.

By having a routine you repeat, such as setting a 25 minute timer, putting on your headphones,

grabbing your notebook, and sitting at your desk, you’re training your subconscious

to more quickly get into “work mode”.

Take this a step further and create a study playlist for yourself.

As we’ve gone over in a previous video, not all music is created equal when studying

or getting work done.

By repeatedly listening to the same songs exclusively for studying, I find myself snapping

into work mode as soon as I hear HR 8938 by deadmau5.

You can find my own personal study playlist in the description, and be sure to sign up

for my newsletter if you want occasional study music recommendations.

When we’re crunched for time, our healthy

habits are the first that we compromise on.

No more exercise, our diet goes to garbage, and we stop meditating.

The truth is, no matter how hard you want to work and study for that upcoming final

that you procrastinated for, your ability to study is not limitless.

You can’t study for 24 hours straight.

Breaks are necessary, and how you use those breaks is just as important as taking them

in the first place.

So rather than turning to social media or TV, focus on delayed-benefit activities.

These delayed benefit activities include those healthy habits that you are willing to give up when you’re stressed.

But understand that these healthy habits have incredibly powerful compounding effect benefits.

While you may think you’re too busy to exercise today, there’s actually several reasons

you should.

First, you cannot study nonstop all day, and you need to take a break.

Second, Parkinson’s law states that time expands to fill the time allotted to it, meaning

if you provide yourself healthy time constraints, you’ll actually get more work done.

And third, regular exercise will improve your sleep, your ability to concentrate, and your


And better sleep means your memory consolidation is more effective, meaning what you studied

is more likely to stick.

And better concentration means more effective use of your study sessions.

And a better mood is hard to argue with.

Now you’re the sum of your habits, and prioritizing these healthy habits, that we all know we

should do, but are too willing to give up, can lead to drastic beneficial effects over

months and years.

One of the key compounding habits I practice is spending my spare time wisely.

That means rather than jumping to social media, I use my down time to learn something interesting

and useful, like something from The Great Courses Plus.

The Great Courses Plus is a subscription on-demand video learning service with top-quality lectures

and courses from excellent professors at top universities and experts from places like

National Geographic, The Smithsonian, and the Culinary Institute of America.

You get unlimited access to a huge library of over 11,000 video lectures from science,

to math, to history, to how to cook, or even how to study more effectively.

I’ve personally been using the Masters of Mindfulness course.

As I’ve mentioned before, mindfulness and meditation practice have multiple benefits

that students should take advantage of, and this course provides another avenue to further

develop and strengthen this practice.

The Great Courses Plus is offering a free trial to viewers of Med School Insiders.

Simply visit to sign up.

Click on the link in the description below to start your free trial today.

Alright, thank you all so much for watching. If you guys enjoyed this video

you're definitely going to enjoy my other studying and productivity and efficiency related videos.

I've created a playlist of all these videos, so click on that middle button on the screen or visit the link in the description below.

Much love to you all, and I will see you guys in that next one.