How to pay more attention in lectures

We’ve all endured lectures while having a GCS of 5 or less. Fighting the urge to pay attention can be a internal battle of mental resilience. How can you push through back-to-back lectures and maintain concentration?

Letting yourself slip into a lecture coma isn’t worth your time. Luckily, training yourself to maintain focus through lectures is a skill that can be developed.

In this blog we’ll chat about how you can fight boredom – we’ll discuss distraction techniques to study drugs . This blog specifically focuses on HOW to kick yourself back into paying attention, but Ive also got a blog on how to make the most of your time in lectures here.

Your real competition is your distraction

🥜Article in a nutshell

Article in a nutshell

  • How to keep grinding
  • Reframing boredom
  • Keeping yourself
  • Anti-nap techniques

In case you didn’t know, this blog is a part of my Study Hacks series – my top tips on HOW to study at medical school to study smarter and unlock your time.

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🤔8 ways to pay more attention in lectures

To begin, I’m going to assume that like many, you take a laptop to lectures and have a note taking software like Notion, OneNote or at least have study notes and lecture slides organised somewhere.

If you dont, then you are much more limited in techniques to regain distraction.

1. Knowing your why

First up. As boredom hits in, you need to hold onto why you’re even at the lectures in the first place. Theres a reason that lectures have long been the favourite mode of delivery over having access to lecture notes alone, or having all of your content individually, online at home.

The reason you attend lectures will be different for each person, but you may find value from…

  • Understanding complex ideas and factual information through explanation
  • Gathering the wisdom and rephrasing of the person delivering the session
  • Getting a stronger feeling of which content is considered important for examinations (its usually pretty clear when a lecturer wants you to know)
  • In person lectures are about experiencing university life – having all your lectures online doesn’t give the same experience.
  • Sharing the same experience with course mates and having the chance to network
  • Rubbing shoulders with lecturers and in some cases, world experts.

Another way to keep pushing through is by having a reward lined up for afterwards. Rather than counting down the clock to the end of the lecture, having something to look forward to after a full day of lectures, whatever that may be, can help to switch back to being focused.

2. Reframing bordom

Without the skill of reframing, you’ll be at the mercy of your own thoughts.

If you tell yourself you’re having a dismal time and would rather be elsewhere, it’s only going to make you more distracted and uncomfortable. Try reframing your thoughts and instead label your experience as the challenge to pay attention. The first step is to realise when the thoughts of boredom are creeping in. In time, you’ll get better at noticing when your attention wanders, and you’ll be able to steer yourself back to focus easier. You may not be able to control the thoughts of boredom from crossing your mind, but in time, you can condition yourself to get back on track. Let boredom be your fuel to find the power to push through.

3. Be a single Tasker

Have focus and be present – be a single-tasker.

If youre finding yourself preoccupied with life outside of the lecture theatre walls (or wherever youre tuning in from),try to clear your mind of all of life’s other commitments and focus on why you’re there. If you’re struggling to pay attention, you can try brain-dumping a to-do list for 60 seconds. It’ll help you get the thoughts out of your head, give you a chance to see what’s on your mind for what it truly is, and then give you the bandwidth to return to your lectures with focus. It’ll only take a minute or two, but will set you up well to pay attention for the rest of the lecture.

4. Engage.

I’ve written a whole blog on this here. But in summary, you can unlock more organisation and revision time DURING lectures (yes. during lecture) so that you don’t need to study as long afterwards.

  • Write notes – getting your fingers moving will keep you paying attention
  • Turn lectures into revision sessions – check out my previous blog
  • Beat the lecturer or try to read around the subject during your lecture.
  • Attempt to spot examinable content.
  • Organise your notes DURING the lecture
  • Ask questions out loud – speak up in the lecture. It’s a good way to keep you stimulated and may give you the adrenaline hit to keep going.
  • Ask questions in your head. If speaking out loud isn’t your thing, continually questioning may help the time pass. Keep asking yourself why. What is it that you could dig into more? Is there anything you don’t understand? Asking the questions internally may give you the motivation to find out there and then (by searching the internet for example) and help to keep you pushing through.

5. Self-stimulation:

Heres one for when you really do feel your eyes start closing and need to snap back into it. I found that this technique used to work for me, and hey, we do it on patients to get their attention…

The trap squeeze. When I find my eyes getting heavy I would pinch my trapezius between my thumb and both my index and middle fingers. The trap is heavy with trigger points. Try to get a sizeable amount of muscle bulk under your fingers and slowly add the pressure to discomfort – Id then hold for about 3 seconds and it would often get me back to focus.

This technique may not work for you, and you shouldn’t be putting too much pressure on your skin that could cause bruising – its simply a pressure stimulus to get you out the sleepy state.

6. Fluid resuscitation

Fighting boredom and dehydration is an uncomfortable battle. Try to get into the habit of having a bottle of water with you and topping up between lectures. It gets you up and walking and will stop you mind being distracted by thirst.

7. Study drugs

You’ve probably heard of these or have even taken them. These are often amphetamine-like medications (e.g. Modafanil) used in the treatment of ADHD. I had a very small group of friends who would swear by study drugs. My stance is to stay well clear of themyou don’t need them. Regular use will build a habit that will be hard to break and you’ll convince yourself that you need them to perform well. You’re risking a psychological dependency and (especially with the number of exams you’ll need to do over medical school) it’s not worth it.

8. Caffeine hits

Coffee, tea, and energy drinks are a favourite for many – the first two being a better option.

  • Try to use sparingly and as a push at a time where your concentration is lowest
  • Be careful if you are sensitive to caffeine and consider that over time you’ll desensitize to its effects.
  • At least with coffee, you’ll be kept in check from overdoing it by the cost, side effects (it’s a diuretic and bowel stimulant), and of course the coffee breath.


In conclusion, there are many ways to keep yourself from slipping into a coma during lectures. By training yourself to maintain focus, reframing boredom, and being engaged, you can push through back-to-back lectures and maintain concentration. These hacks will help you make the most of your lectures and get the most out of your education! Don’t forget to try the trap squeeze if your eyes are closing.

Do you have any tips for staying focused during lectures? Share them in the comments below! And be sure to check out my other blog post on how to make the most of lectures!

I hope this helps 🙌

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