How You Can Stay Focused and Learn in a Focused Manner Despite a Cold

coffee and cold

When you have a cold or the flu, your cognitive abilities are limited. Not only do you feel tired and weak, but you are less able to concentrate and lose your focus more quickly. Therefore, you have to adapt your learning strategy and align your activities to the new framework conditions. These ten tips can help you:

Use Appropriate Learning Techniques

With a cold in your bones, some learning activities work better than others. What do I mean? If you’re having a headache, fever, and shaky hands trying to solve a complicated differential equation or reading an interpretation of Kant’s categorical imperative, you’re very likely NOT going to be successful.

If, on the other hand, you concentrate on collecting important definitions, repeating old summaries, or following up on your lecture notes, you can tear something even when you have a cold. It depends on the choice of learning techniques. Find out which methods you can use to make progress even at a low level of ability and adapt your learning activities accordingly.

Organize Your Workplace Cleverly

Attention truism: special circumstances call for special measures. And if you have a cold, you should organize your work in such a way that you can be productive despite being ill. If you study at your desk – as usual – you can drape handkerchiefs, throat tablets, and so on within easy reach.

If you do not make this preparation, you will be torn out of your concentration with every runny nose or other disturbance. You then have to get up, solve the little problem and find your way back into your learning process. Focused thinking and working are not possible in this way. Therefore, organize your work in such a way that you are prepared for all eventualities that may arise. The same applies to the tools you need to study (pens, books, calculators, and so on).

Learn in Intervals

In a healthy state, single-tasking combined with interval learning is an effective weapon. Even if you have a cold, this strategy can multiply your learning success. It may even be that you don’t even notice your illness because your learning sessions carry you and lead you into a real flow phase.

When learning in intervals, you divide your time into small chunks. You alternate phases of concentration with relaxation breaks and work your way through your learning plan step by step. Because of the short intervals, you maintain your focus; the regular breaks ensure that you stay strong. A particularly useful and well-known variant of this procedure is the Pomodoro technique. You can find out more about this in the following reading tip.

cold cough

Take Breaks

Breaks are essential when studying with a cold. Students who take little or no breaks during their “normal” learning units neglect this factor all the more if they are already below their capacity due to flu and the like. They try to compensate for the lack of concentration with extra work and completely eliminate their rest breaks. A fatal mistake.

Without breaks, you will never be able to stay mentally “fresh” for a long period of time. After just a few tasks, the quality of your learning results will collapse. In addition, the knowledge you have gathered so far hardly sticks in your memory because there are no breaks for regeneration. That means all your efforts were in vain. Therefore, build sufficient breaks into your daily routine when you are sick. A little nap in between not only works wonders in terms of your exam preparation – you’ll also recover faster. 

Use Alternative Learning Methods

If conventional learning with books, lecture slides, and index cards is too difficult for you due to a cold, you can fall back on alternative learning methods. Break off your study session if you don’t see any progress and try to deal with your study material in a different way.

For example, you can retreat to the bathtub or bed and read something from there. The use of e-learning would also be possible. You can easily download documents and study using excellent online tools and resources. Does your university offer such modules? Are there e-tests, explanatory videos, or other digital content that could help you learn? If in doubt, you can look around on YouTube and see if you can find a clip there about the various price-sales functions, the Carnot process, or Freud’s theory.


Even if you have a cold, you can do something for your studies and prepare for exams efficiently. However, the most important tip for studying with a cold is: Don’t overdo it! Yes, your exams are important and yes, you already don’t have enough time to study, but: you won’t do anything if you overexert yourself and ruin your health. In the worst case, this can lead to you getting really sick, missing out for a long time, and risking your entire semester.

Therefore, make your recovery your top priority. See that you get well again and heal yourself. Take it easy and listen to your body’s signals. A few days’ break will not shake your academic success. False ambition and stupid exploitation of your own resources, however, do. Don’t forget that the next time you sit down at your desk sick.

Article edited and fact checked by our editorial team