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How to deal with distractions

By Chelsea Hall, 3rd-year Life Sciences student

Over the course of the past thirty minutes I have checked my phone five times, watched multiple YouTube clips on the American Presidential debate, and successfully taken an Instagram worthy shot of my carefully laid out homework and Starbucks coffee. Now I am finally starting my work but frustrated that I have wasted valuable time and anxious that I won’t be able to complete what I wanted to today.

Sometimes I feel as if there are endless distractions around me at school; what’s worse is that a lot of the time, if there isn’t any, then I end up creating my own. Becoming distracted while doing homework is a common phenomenon and can quickly turn one hour of work into two or three if we’re not careful. I have struggled more and more this year with becoming distracted while doing work, which has lead me to pose the question of what can I do to stay focused for longer and why am I so darn distracted in the first place?

So why do we, as students, get distracted? I have had to reflect on this question a lot over the course of the past year. Studies have shown that a large part of why students get distracted is due to technology and social media. Being endlessly connected to the world around us makes it difficult to truly commit and stay focused on the task at hand. Instead of mono-tasking and assigning our complete attention to our work, our attention is divided amongst multiple outlets. However, although technology is an obvious culprit behind distractions, another less obvious reason may be due to a lack of specified goals. “How does it all add up?” is a question many students ask themselves. For instance, there is arguably very little relevance of the ‘Lac Operon’ to my future and consequently studying can seem like a futile endeavor. Although most students strive for good grades, sometimes finding a purpose to drive studying can be incredibly difficult and frustrating, leaving any possible distraction as a suitable outlet.

What are some techniques to keep focused and avoid distractions? Firstly, find a study spot that works for you. If you do not need them, PUT AWAY your computer, phone, tablet, etc. Use social media and technology as a reward while you are on a break, but while you are studying, focus all your attention to the task at hand. While studying, setting a timer and taking regular breaks (50:10 rule) can be the Holy Grail in maintaining one’s attention. Expecting that you will be able to focus for a full three hour time interval for most of us is not reasonable.

In addition, one of my all-time favourite methods to keep me focused is to have a distraction pad while I work. How a distraction pad works is if anything at all comes to mind while you are studying, instead of disrupting your current work, write it down on a notepad and continue with your present work. This way you know that you will not forget to address whatever it is later on and you can trust yourself to continue working. Moreover, set apart thirty minutes to an hour following your studying to address whatever is on your distraction pad; this helps to avoid it coming up again later on.

Lastly, try your very best to focus on the big picture and establish both long-term and short term goals. Most likely you will not be over the moon passionate about every course that you will take during your time here at Queen’s, but sometimes taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture of things can help motivate your studying and keep you on track.

Photo courtesy of Jason Howie under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.