By Sunny Zheng, 3rd year Life Sciences student
As a Peer Learning Assistant (PLA), one of the most common questions students approach me with is, “How do I deal with distractions?” Good question. This is something that everybody seems to struggle with, even us, PLAs. Unfortunately, there is no miracle solution that will help you avoid all distractions. However, there are several simple strategies that can help you be less distracted and I will provide you with 5 of them below.
1. Save your hardest work for your best time of day
Do your most difficult assignments during the time of the day that you feel most alert. You will least likely be distracted during this time, so it makes sense to save your work for then. For me, this is early morning, after a refreshing sleep and before getting drained from the activities of the day. For others, this time may be in the evening, when you feel more relaxed.
2. Distraction pad
Have a little notepad beside you while studying and every time you get distracted with a thought, write it down, then push it aside for later. Distracting thoughts can be anything from remembering that you still have another assignment to complete, to daydreaming about your next meal. Later on in the day when you have some free time, you can review your distraction pad to see if any of those thoughts were important and needed to be addressed.
3. Work within your attention span
Do you ever find yourself working for so long that your mind becomes hazy and you realize that you’re reading the same paragraph over and over again without absorbing anything? Instead of getting frustrated about losing focus, learn to work within your attention span. Figure out how long you can stay focused before your thoughts start to wander, and then divide up your assignment into chunks lasting that period of time. You should also take breaks in between your work sessions! Breaks provide a chance for you to recharge your energy. As for me, I like to use the 50/10 rule, where I work for 50 minutes and then rest for 10 minutes.
A huge distraction for students these days is social media. Many people have found that the best way to avoid this distraction is to remove all technology from sight. Like they say, “out of sight, out of mind!” Try setting your phone on silent and then putting it away. If you don’t need your laptop, hide that as well. Without seeing electronic devices, you will be less tempted to check social media. If you must work on your laptop, however, try keeping only those tabs you need and closing all irrelevant ones, like Facebook and YouTube.
5. Blocking social media with apps!
If you find it difficult to control yourself from checking social media websites while studying, don’t worry because there are apps that can help you with that. For example, “Self-control” is an app offered on Macs that you can use to block certain websites for as long as you choose. If you’re a PC user, there is a great Google chrome extension called “StayFocused” (Mac users can use this as well) that allows you to restrict the amount of time you spend on specific websites. Other apps are also available and they are listed here.
So, there you have it – five tips to help you avoid distractions. Hopefully, you’ve learned something useful that you can apply to your studying routine. It is important to remember, however, that there is no magic solution that will help you stay fully on task. It is perfectly normal to be distracted from time to time. But during those situations where you can’t afford to be distracted, try the tips listed above, or check out a bunch of other ones listed here.