What are your Teen’s Focus Triggers?

Does your teen have a hard time focusing on homework?
If so, they’re not alone!
For most teens I know, staying focused and avoiding distractions during homework is a huge challenge.
In part, this is due to the work itself. Many teens are not inherently interested in the subjects they are studying at school, and depending on how well they are doing in the class, homework can end up feeling uselessly simple or impossibly difficult.


Here are Two Quick Solutions to Combat Missing Homework:

This is one of my favorite questions to ask students, because even though there are a lot of things they can’t control, we can almost always figure out at least a few things they CAN change.

No one likes to feel powerless…and that’s especially true for teenagers.  For most students, focusing on what’s out of their control tends to increase feelings of frustration and hopelessness.

So, encouraging teens to focus on what IS in their control can help them to feel more in charge of the situation and improve their motivation, confidence, and focus.

When it comes to homework, WHAT students are asked to do is largely out of their control, and defined by the teacher. 

But there’s a lot students CAN control about WHERE and HOW they do the work.  And changing these factors can have major positive impacts on their attention and focus.

What are your focus triggers?

Most of us have what I call “focus triggers“…elements of the environment that tend to increase our focus, energy level, and motivation. 

These factors can vary significantly from person to person…so, what helps YOU focus might not help your teen, and what works for one of your kids might be completely differently for his or her sibling.

So, I highly recommend that students experiment with different focus triggers, to find out what works best for them.

Here are some ideas for focus triggers you can try experimenting with at home, to find out what helps YOU get “in the zone” with your work…


  • Are there certain locations where it’s easier for you to focus?
  • Do you tend to focus better at home, at school, or at another location like Starbucks or Panera?
  • Are there certain rooms in your house where it is easier for you to work?
  • Do you usually like to sit with your back to the room, facing a wall or window? With your back to the wall, facing the middle of the room? Or right in the center of the room?
  • Some students like to do homework in a different place every day. Others like to change locations between assignments. And some students focus best when they do homework in the same spot every single day. What works best for you?


  • Are there certain sounds that help you focus? 
  • Do you have an easier time focusing when it’s completely quiet, or do you do better with some level of background sound? 
  • What sounds make you feel most alert and focused?  (e.g. instrumental music, white noise, nature sounds, or a study playlist of your favorite upbeat songs?)


  • Many students like to fidget while they work, and find that this helps them pay better attention to what they’re doing.  Would that help or distract you? 
  • Some people prefer to do their work sitting down…others are more focused when they can stand up, or walk around.  What works best for you?
  • How much does activity impact your ability to focus?  Does it help you focus if you exercise right before you work, and/or do some quick bursts of activity during study breaks between assignments? 


  • What do you need to see around you in order to focus on your work? 
  • How does visual clutter impact your focus?  Does it help to work on a clear, uncluttered desk instead of on a surface with lots of clutter around?
  • Do you like to work in wide-open spaces — outside, or in rooms with high ceilings — or do you prefer small cozy spaces? 
  • Do you do better looking out a window, or within view of animals or plants? 
  • How bright does the lighting need to be?


  • Are there any smells that make you more focused and alert? 
  • For example, does a scent like peppermint or citrus help you focus? 
  • Does it help for you to chew gum, light a scented candle, or use essential oils while working?


  • How do other people affect your focus?   Does it make you more or less focused when you have someone else nearby when you’re working?
  • If so, is it better for that person to be someone who knows you, like a friend or family member, or strangers in a coffee shop or library? 
  • What is the best distance for them to be from you? (right next to you, across the table, across the room, or in a different room on the same floor?)


  • How much time pressure do you need to do your ideal work? 
  • Are you the kind of person who comes alive under pressure, and would be highly efficient working with a timer, trying to beat the clock, or pushing yourself to finish as much work as possible before dinner? 
  • When does time pressure create too much stress for you, and distract you from your work?


  • How much variety do you need in order to focus?  
  • Do you do better when you change your routines, keep your routines exactly the same from day to day?  
  • When you change something about your routine every day…by swapping locations, switching the order of your assignments, etc.?  Or do you prefer to change something about the way you’re working after each assignment, like getting up to move to a different spot in your house after each task you check off your list?
If you’re not sure what your focus triggers are, think about the last time you were so wrapped up in what you were doing that you completely lost track of time.

If you can’t remember ever feeling that way about homework, think about other activities where you’ve felt like you were “in the zone”, and consider how you could re-create some of these conditions during homework.

For example, it’s the only time you can remember getting in the zone was while playing basketball.  

What is special about that situation?

Well, there’s cardiovascular activity…there’s also a social component, and an element of competition.  And, overall, the game is very fast-paced.

So, you might try rearranging your homework time so you’re working near other people, exercising right before you do your homework and/or using quick bouts of exercise as a study break between each assignment, setting frequent timers while you work, and awarding yourself a point every time you beat the timer!

Once you’ve figured out the factors that tend to trigger your best focus and get you in the zone with your work, try to incorporate as many of them into your study environment and routine as possible!

Taking it no the next level…

Do you have different types of focus triggers for different subjects? Many students find that different focus triggers work well for different classes, depending on the amount of conscious effort they require.

Is there a certain order or sequence that would work well for your focus triggers? If you think of focus as a combination lock… what numbers would you need to hit, in what sequence, in order to maximize your attention?

What are your focus disruptors? These are elements of the environment that will completely derail your focus, and that are best to avoid during focused work time. (For me, it’s TV.  If the TV is on, any chance of focusing on my work is completely lost. I have to move to another room, and put on headphones to block out the noise, if I want to get anything done at all.)

Think about the state of mind you need to be in to do your homework. What emotion would you typically need more of, or less of, in order to do your best work? (for example, more energy, or less stress?) What cues in the environment could help trigger that emotion for you?

Distinguish between what’s comfortable, and what actually works. Sometimes, you might wish you worked well in a certain environment, because you’re comfortable there…but if you’re being honest with yourself, that’s not really the best place for you to get things done.

For example, a lot of students enjoy working in bed…but the truth is that they could finish their homework twice as quickly if they worked somewhere else.

To find out what’s really true for YOU, try doing an experiment where you split your work in half, and do one half in one location and the other half in the other, timing how long it takes to complete each half.  Repeat this for several days, randomizing the order of the locations, and you’ll have a much better idea of the impact each environment is actually having on you.

I’d love to hear what you learn when you try applying this idea of focus triggers at home, so please keep me posted and let me know what you discover!

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