What are some ways to keep yourself from getting distracted while working or studying?

Take control of your studies and your work by practicing these 7 small habits every day.

Get your mind on board.

Before you start working on anything, get your mind on board with what you’re about to do. It helps you get motivated and be fully absorbed in what’s in front of you. Here’s how:

  • Instead of approaching what you’re doing as a chore, turn it into a choice.Don’t tell yourself, “Now I have to work so hard!” but instead say, “This is something I really want to learn more about!” The benefits? It gives you a greater sense of control about your work.
  • Remind yourself of the value of your efforts with this question: “Why am I doing this?” Make the connection between what’s happening right now and the goals you have set for yourself. It can be to learn a new skill, study for an exam so you can graduate and start your career, solve a particular problem you’re currently dealing with, etc.
  • Visualize what you’re about to do. This is a technique called building a mental model; you imagine in detail what you expect to see, learn, read, or do. As you imagine the details, be sure to cover all the steps you will be doing. For example, if you are researching something new, visualize covering a certain amount of material (chapters, paragraphs, sections), taking notes on important concepts, writing down questions to follow up on later. The benefit? By telling yourself a story, you train your brain to anticipate next steps and map out the entire learning process in a way that’s easier to understand.

Turn it all off!

It’s really hard to focus on what we are currently doing because our attention moves to little things we notice around us. Distractions can easily make you slip from your work. Multitasking is a great example: you’re reading email and constantly checking your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feed. But did you know that multitasking can lower your IQ by 10 points? When you turn off what’s distracting you, you have a better chance to actually do what’s important to you. Here’s how:

  • Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus.
  • Set expectations with others by letting them know you won’t be available in the next few hours, so they don’t interrupt you with their requests, questions or ideas on doing something else.
  • Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day (around midday, later in the afternoon, and evening). Schedule this time in: do it during your lunch break, for example, or when you have a cup of coffee or tea.
  • Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the daily news; leave these activities for later after you’ve completed what you need to do. Close all tabs on your computer that may be tempting you to take just one look.

Block away the noisy stuff.

If you live in a noisy environment (and who doesn’t?) investing in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones can be the best thing you ever do. You can listen to music that can help you relax and improve your focus (it can be classical music, a playlist of chillout tunes, or simply sounds of nature). What if you don’t want to listen to music? Get a pair of soft silicone ear plugs like these and work in silence.

Screen your calls.

Why would you waste time picking up the phone whenever it rings? That’s what voicemail is for. Consider this: every time you pick up the phone, the person calling you gets ownership of your time. Try this instead:

  • Answer phone calls only from people who are on your Favorites list.
  • Get smarter with everyone else: screen your calls, call back if something is urgent, and for the rest, follow up when the time is right for you.

Don’t waste time with toxic people and social media.

  • Toxic people may claim they are your friends, but they are not. Why? Because they don’t support you, they don’t listen to you, and chances are they won’t change just because you want them to. Be very selective who you spend your free time with, and next time a toxic person wants to monopolize your time, just say no. Tell them you’re busy. Don’t engage in negative banter. You’re better off spending free time on your own doing something that makes you relaxed and happy.
  • It’s easy to get lost in the latest Facebook or Instagram updates. Try to take everything you see and hear with a grain of salt. Chances are that the pictures and updates are not your friends’ reality; it’s the version of their reality they want you to see. Instead, focus on what you have going for you in your life. Practice gratitude for the little things, stay true to your goals, and don’t let others sway you from accomplishing what you have set out to do. Why? Because you made a commitment to yourself when you set your own personal goals. And because they should be what matters most to you.

Become a master of your time.

Don’t just spend hours on a single activity without taking breaks; if you do, you will likely lose focus as well as motivation to continue. Learn how to manage your time better by using a timer. Here’s how:

  • When you’re ready to work, set your timer to divide up your sessions into 30–60 minutes. The benefit? Your brain can focus in a more targeted and effective way, so it’ll be easier to work through a session once you know it’s only a finite period of time.
  • For more targeted working sessions, try the Pomodoro technique: you set the timer to 25 minute blocks, then take a break for 5 minutes.

Train your brain to focus and be calm.

Studying is definitely not easy. You know you need to work for weeks at a time to prep for exams, the assignments seem endless, and then you often lose focus or get distracted with just about anything: noise from the street, a friend calling you to go out in the evening, not to mention videos you’d rather be watching on YouTube. There’s one way to stay focused and declutter your mind from all the busy thoughts that constantly keep piling up: a simple meditation practice of 10 minutes.

  • The benefits: You can feel less overwhelmed and stressed, you stay calm throughout the day, and you may even start concentrating better on your work.
  • How to begin: First download the Headspace app, which makes meditation easy, fun, and great for beginners. Then, do 10 minutes consistently for 10 days. After that, you can opt to increase the time to 15 and later 20 minutes, or you can keep it to 10 if that works for you.

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