Have you ever planned to spend a good few hours studying, laid out all your notes and books in a nice pile, and told yourself that you’ll make some solid progress on all the topics you don’t understand yet… only to find yourself coming to your senses once your stomach starts rumbling and realising that you haven’t got anywhere at all?
If that sounds like you, you’re probably familiar with what we like to call distractions. A distraction is something that takes your attention away from whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. Distractions come in all shapes and sizes: they could be your phone, your siblings or parents, or even your wandering thoughts.
We all have to deal with distractions on a daily basis, and they can stop us from doing the things we’d had the best of intentions to do. But don’t worry… all is not lost! There are ways to manage and minimise distractions so that you can power through your work like a pro. Let’s explore four of our favourite strategies for doing just this.
Physically separate yourself from distractions.
Let’s face it: we’re all distractable people. It doesn’t take much to interrupt us from even the deepest focus we might have on our work. What’s more, our phones are designed to do exactly that: to tempt us into dropping everything and responding to their notifications. It might be tempting to peek, just for a moment, but when you lose your train of thought – even for a few seconds – it can take up to five minutes to return your mind to where it was beforehand.
In order to avoid this, you might want to physically remove anything that might distract you from your study environment. That’s right, put your phone in another room and don’t fetch it until you’re done! Those notifications probably weren’t that important anyway.
If you’re studying on your laptop, you might have to try a bit harder to avoid distractions. One trick you could consider is using different web browsers for study and personal time. Of course, this won’t physically stop you from having your attention drawn away, but it sure can help you catch yourself! Log out of all the sites that distract you on your study browser so that you need to remember a username and password in order to get in. Every little thing you can do to make it harder for yourself to fall into ‘distracted mode’ will help you stay on track!
Think of avoiding distractions as a habit you can build.
Don’t get too downhearted if you can’t hack it as an un-distractable study powerhouse right away! As we said before, we’re all distractable people, and it takes consistent work to maintain focus. If you think about avoiding distractions as being a habit you can work on and build up, you’re more likely to keep working at it even when the going gets tough. They say it takes 21 days to build or break a habit, so you won’t get there right away.
To help you on your habit-building journey, you might like to try and set aside a small amount of time for study every night. If you study consistently, rather than occasionally trying to cram everything into a single block, you’ll start to build up this ability to focus much more quickly – even if your study sessions are relatively short. Just like anything else, little and often is the key!
Make sure you’re clear about your goals and motivations.
If you’re half-heartedly flicking through your textbook and trying to study without any direction, you can bet that you’ll get distracted as easy as that. It’s so much easier to get motivated (and therefore so much harder to get distracted) when you know why you’re doing something. If you can see a clear path from ‘I will revise for two hours every night’ to ‘I will get the results I need to study my dream degree’ then you’ll always have this goal in mind to motivate you, and you’ll catch yourself every time your focus starts to slip.
How can you get better at this? There are two steps. First, you need to be clear on what your goals are. Second, you need to continually remind yourself of them. To help with the second step, you might find it useful to practice mindfulness exercises before you begin your work. A simple example might be closing your eyes and repeating a phrase to yourself as you start your study session: ‘Today, I am going to [insert your goal here]’ or, ‘I’m the sort of person who can [insert your goal here]’. Telling your mind what you intend to do over and over can be a powerful way to focus your concentration into one thing and one thing only.
Use time management techniques that work for you.
You might have heard the old saying: ‘Work expands to fill the time you give it’. What this means is that if you give yourself lots of time to complete a task, you’ll likely dawdle, get distracted, and use the entire time. But, on the other hand, if you give yourself only a small amount of time to complete the same task, you’ll focus and get it done within that shorter period.
Time management techniques are (almost) as old as time itself. There are plenty out there, and you’ll benefit from reading up on a few so you can pick one that works for you. We’re fans of the Pomodoro technique, which is where you work on a 25-minute study/5-minute break cycle. In fact, we like it so much that we wrote an entire article on it if you’d like to know more – go ahead and learn about how it could help you!
Regular tutoring is another helpful way to stay motivated and avoid distractions, week in, week out. At EduExperts, our group and individual sessions focus on both content knowledge as well as study strategies. If you’d like to know more, you can get in touch with your local centre here.