Michael Bodekaer

Learning scientist and head geek. Formally Labster CTO

June 11, 2015

5 ways for students to stay focused and avoid distractions

Today it is harder than ever for students to stay focused during class or in the library. Smartphones and social media have made it almost impossible to avoid distractions. Arguably, multitasking has become the norm.

Research has shown that distractions can be incredibly costly. In fact, it can take a person up to 23 minutes to get back to the task at hand after being distracted.

You can probably see how fast this can add up and how much time can be lost — especially when the average person is interrupted every 10 minutes by instant messages, tweets, Facebook updates, and more.

Here are five ways you can fight the battle against constant distractions and stay focused to get your school work done in no time.

1. Wake up earlier

Your best opportunity for distraction-free study time is early in the morning, before the buzz of your cell phone and email begins. As Shane Parrish of Farnam Street says, “Not only do we think better in the wee hours of the morning, but because everyone else is still sleeping, we’re able to focus on what we want to do rather than what we have to do.

2. Minimize or eliminate phone distractions

The best way to eliminate distractions from your phone is to completely remove apps that distract you with notifications. This would typically include social media. But since most of us can't live without our main form of communication, simply turning notifications off will help a lot too. Or better yet, put the phone on airplane mode and place it out of sight and reach.

3. Use the Pomodoro Technique

A “Pomodoro” is a 25-minute block of time where you are hyper-focused on working on one task, followed by a five-minute break. After completing four Pomodori, you can take a longer break of 15 minutes. If you have an iPhone, the Pomodoro Timer is the best app on the market because it allows you to customize your tasks and track how many you complete each day. If you're trying not to look at your phone while you study (in case you're following the advice above), you can download the Focus Booster app on your computer instead.

4. Lock down your laptop

Distractions can also easily occur on your laptop. To avoid that, you can use RescueTime to find out what you are wasting your time on online, and use their Focus tool to block distracting sites for certain periods of time. Another way to block distracting sites for specific amounts of time is through Anti-Social. The creators of Anti-Social also made Freedom, which allows you to block the Internet altogether for up to eight hours.

5. Find more engaging ways to learn

As a student, when you get distracted and start procrastinating because you don't want to read another textbook chapter, look for more fun ways to learn the topic you're studying. For example, if you're learning about evolution or photosynthesis, you can sign up to Labster and start a virtual lab that will help you learn the concepts using 3D animations, gamification and storytelling elements.

If you're frustrated with how long it takes you to finish your school work, or want to procrastinate less, there are tools out there to help you stay focused and create better habits. And if the culprit is boring course materials, you can find many new and innovative ways to learn if you do just a little bit of searching.

Remember that everyone is more distracted these days, so instead of being hard on yourself, use technology to your advantage in creating a study environment that allows you to excel.

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