How can I avoid distractions while studying?

One thing is for sure: all those distractions you’re experiencing aren’t going to go away, so your best bet is to attack them head on.

Try these 5 tips and change your studying experience so you maximize the time and minimize the distractions.

Tip #1. Minimize digital distractions.

It’s becoming increasingly tough to focus on what we are currently doing because our attention moves to all the devices we own. There’s the computer, the tablet, the phone (and that doesn’t cover the TV!). Let’s be real: technology is great! But you’re better off if you make it work for you, not against you. This means, when you’re getting ready to work, it’s time to shut some things off. Here’s how:

  • Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus. It’s not necessary to receive calls or texts when you’re in the middle of a study session. Whenever your attention shifts to something else, it takes your brain about 20 minutes to refocus.
  • Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day. This can be around midday, later in the afternoon, and evening. Schedule this time 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 start browsing.

Tip #2. Become a pro at blocking away noise.

Ideally, we’d all be in a soundproof room whenever we need to focus for an important exam. But real life is far from that! If your home or work environment is not the ideal place for focusing (which goes for most of us), you will need to get more creative with overcoming this challenge. Start with these ideas:

  • Invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. They can be helpful whether you’re at home, in a busy coffee shop, or at university. You can listen to music that can help you relax and improve your focus (it can be classical music or sounds of nature).
  • Get a pair of soft silicone ear plugsThey’re especially good if you prefer to work in silence, and they easily double up as an option for taking a quick nap or if you’re having trouble sleeping throughout the night due to heavy traffic, loud housemates, or construction in your neighborhood.

Tip #3. Train your mind to dive right in.

What really makes a difference in starting your study day the right way is to get your mind on board with what you’re about to do. It helps you stay motivated to do what’s in front of you. For example:

  • Instead of approaching what you’re doing as a chore, turn it into a choice. Don’t tell yourself, All this work I have to complete today is so hard, I don’t feel like doing any of it! Instead say, This is something I really want to learn more about, it will help me improve a skill or master my field of expertise!The benefits? It gives you a greater sense of control about your studies.
  • Remind yourself of the value of your studies 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 learn. As you do it, 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. When you tell yourself a story, you train your brain to anticipate next steps you’ll need to take.

Tip #4. Practice being more mindful.

Let’s face it: studying is like having a full-time job. You’re working for weeks at a time to prep for exams, the assignments seem endless, and you often lose focus or get distracted with just about anything: a noisy street outside your window, a friend calling you to join them for dinner, all those 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 keep piling up: a simple meditation practice of 10 minutes.

  • The benefits: You can feel less overwhelmed and stressed, you are able to 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. Practice 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 amount of time works for you.

Tip #5. Don’t allow other people and social media run your day.

Both of these factors can significantly impact your focus by taking your attention away from what’s important in your life. Here’s how to keep social distractions to a minimum:

  • Start by setting expectations with other people. Before you begin your study session, let your family members or roommates know you won’t be available in the next few hours. That way they don’t interrupt you with their requests, questions, or ideas on doing something else that they’ll claim is more fun or interesting. Having to choose between your studying and social activities isn’t fair, so you shouldn’t put yourself in a situation where you’re forced to pick one over the other.
  • Consider eliminating toxic people from your life. Many of them 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 talk. You’re better off spending free time on your own doing something that makes you relaxed and happy.
  • Don’t get lost in the latest Facebook or Instagram updates. Instead, you’re better off if you take everything you see and hear with a grain of salt. Chances are that the pictures and updates are not your friends’ or other people’s 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 other people’s ideas or priorities sway you from accomplishing what you have set out to do.
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