Finding Ways to Focus during Zoom Classes

By Mackenzie Beem

8:20. Jump up as the alarm blares through the bedroom. 8:21. Get out of bed and stumble to the bathroom to get ready. 8:24. Open computer and try to ignore the Netflix or youtube that are still open from the night before. 8:25. Press on a zoom link, making sure to keep the camera off, and try not to fall asleep. Just a typical morning routine for me as we continue with online school.

I realized the first week that attending zooms all day would be a challenge. It’s not that I don’t have self-control, I just don’t have enough. Throughout the day the urge to open Tik-Tok becomes stronger as my willpower weakens. As much as I try, 60 second videos are just so much more entertaining than macroeconomics.

Discovering that having access to my phone might make school just that much more difficult, I decided to put it in a different room, only having it during lunch. I started the day excited, hoping that I would finally have the willpower to actually pay attention to my class. This worked- for all of 15 minutes. I found myself going through Schoology and completing work for other classes, staring at the posters on my wall, and listening to the construction workers yelling outside instead of hearing what my teachers were discussing.

My lack of focus isn’t something new, during in person school I often found myself doodling scribbles on my papers or playing mindless games on my phone to help me concentrate. This, combined with the barren walls and general exhaustion, are what kept me focused during dull lectures and unenthusiastic presentations. However, I knew that being at home would prove more of a challenge and I was determined to discover a way to fully process the information being thrown at me.

Reflecting on the things that helped me concentrate during in person school, I decided to come up with some ideas on how to help myself stay focused while simultaneously staring at my computer screen. I realized that being at home gave me some opportunities I didn’t have at school so I figured I would take advantage of them. My plan was to test out these “fidgets” for one full day- in each of my classes. These included switching my location, listening to music, beading, and coloring.

Day One: Location

My first location of the day was the dining room table. This was the first day no one else in my family was working downstairs, so I took advantage of the opportunity. I quickly realized that my routine of not eating breakfast combined with sitting right next to my kitchen was a mistake. Instead of participating in the group assignment, I spent all of first hour attempting to make crepes. Second hour I decided to work from the kitchen since I still wasn’t done making breakfast. I almost missed attendance because I was so distracted. I tried to split my attention between both, but I always seemed to miss out on the important things. Needless to say, not much was learned and many crepes had to be thrown in the garbage. For third hour I moved to my bedroom desk, where I usually sit for zooms. This was my first class of the day where I had to keep my camera on for the whole class. I found myself getting just as distracted as I had been, although I don’t know why I thought it would be any different. I went to my bed for fourth hour. It was nice to take notes under a blanket, even though I was stabbed by a pencil that night. By the time fifth hour came around, I had run out of places to zoom from. My backyard was bombarded with noise from neighbors having their lawns mowed, my basement always leaves me feeling like I have a cold, and my living room would mean maneuvering around my 75 pound “lap” dog. Also, my computer was at 9% so I needed to be by an outlet. I decided to just go back to my desk and finished the day like all of the rest- on my phone. Overall, I realized that there probably isn’t an ideal spot in my house to complete schoolwork and changing my location was more of a distraction.

I started out the day of September 14 by waking up a few minutes early and going through my music. I took all of the songs that were tolerable for 8:25am and put them into a playlist. From Vance Joy to Kid Cudi, and pretty much everywhere in between, I was set for the day.

Day Two: Music

I started out the day by waking up a few minutes early and going through my music. I took all of the songs that were tolerable for 8:25am and put them into a playlist. From Vance Joy to Kid Cudi, and pretty much everywhere in between, I was set for the day. Having my music playing in first hour was really relaxing and I seemed to concentrate better- until I had to work on an assignment with a breakout room. Too embarrassed to keep it on, I waited until the 20 minutes were over to press play again. While listening to my AP stats teacher discuss what we had just done, a familiar song came on: “Ghost of You” by 5 Seconds of Summer. As I listened to my favorite band sing about a tragic love story, I wondered which member experienced this heartbreak. Ignoring how to find standard deviation, I raced to Genius to see where the lyrics came from (they were inspired by This Is Us). Once I dived into the rabbit hole of information that is Genius, I was trapped and spent the rest of class reading about the meaning of the lyrics and who wrote some of my favorite songs. For my next class I started up the music again, this time trying not to get too caught up in the lyrics. My next class was French. It definitely helped my focus, but I found myself thinking of words in the songs instead of the French words I was supposed to be thinking. Then, my teacher decided to play a video. Because it already had speaking, music, and background noise I had to turn off Spotify to listen. Luckily, it was short. Later in the class, as I repeated “From the Ritz to the Rubble” for the third time in a row I got randomly called on. I quickly unmuted because I knew the answer. It was only after the fact that I realized my entire class had heard my music. With embarrassment rushing through me, I quickly picked up my phone and started playing a fidget game to distract myself, completely forgetting about both my music and my assignment. I didn’t remember to turn my music back on until about halfway through fourth hour. But, I felt myself actually talking in macroeconomics for the first time all year. For fifth hour I had to talk and collaborate more than I would in my other classes. I did not want to repeat what happened in French so, although I took a little longer to unmute, my music was turned off every time I spoke. When on zoom I’m constantly thinking about my classmates looking directly at me, even though I know this isn’t necessarily the case; but, luckily my music distracted me enough to take my mind off of that. Throughout the day, playing music really helped me lose some of the anxiety zoom calls bring and I found myself paying more attention in class. This is definitely something I will try in the future.

Day Three: Beading

I spent a lot of time during quarantine beading. It was a nice way to pass time while staying off of a screen. I thought that keeping my hands busy during class might serve as a fidget while also leaving me with a physical “reward”. When first hour rolled around I could barely get out of bed to grab my laptop, let alone all of my beading supplies. I stayed in bed for the entire class and didn’t bead at all. I felt guilty about skipping out on the experiment so I used my five minute passing time to get everything set up. Beading during second hour really helped me focus. I made rings with only one color beads and felt I got more out of class. By third hour I was motivated, I started writing down and planning what I was going to make next. It was still helpful, but I almost seemed to work harder on beading then class. By fourth hour I decided I needed to sort my beads. All of class was just listening to a review of the lesson we had recently learned and I really seemed to understand what was being talked about. For my last class, however, sorting beads proved some difficulty. Again, I was talking during the zoom and I was just a little behind when I should’ve been talking. I decided to scrap the sorting for the day and pay attention to class. Beading was very helpful sometimes, but with all of the preparation required, I don’t think it’s worth it on a daily basis.

Photo by Mackenzie Beem. I had been looking for community service for health class on September 16 when I stumbled upon a nonprofit organization. It was strikingly simpler than the community service I’d done in the past- just coloring a picture and mailing it in. I impulsively printed about 15 coloring sheets and set them aside.

Day Four: Coloring

At first I thought I would be using an adult coloring book for the coloring day. However, while looking for community service for health class I stumbled upon a nonprofit organization. It was strikingly simpler than the community service I’d done in the past- just coloring a picture and mailing it in. I impulsively printed about 15 coloring sheets and set them aside. The next day, while trying to keep my eyes open in first hour, I picked up a coloring sheet and started on it. I ended up getting three done and understood what was happening in class during an otherwise boring lecture. For second hour we watched a video. I was a little concerned that the coloring would be distracting but I ended up finding myself concentrating more than I had before. Third hour was a little more difficult, I didn’t have enough hands to color while simultaneously working on a project. I didn’t start fourth hour off on the best hand- I knocked over my bin of markers and colored pencils. Despite the distraction of spending 10 minutes picking them up, once I began coloring I felt that I could actually focus on the lesson. Fifth hour was made up of talking and then writing so I wasn’t able to color.

Overall, I felt that coloring was helpful in finding focus, although it’s not something I can do for every activity.

Throughout the experiment I learned that I’m still going to occasionally struggle with Zoom classes. I’ve realized that I can get more out of monotonous lectures when listening to music and coloring, while beading is helpful on review days. And, although I don’t know how often I’ll be switching my location, I did learn how to make crepes.

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