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Do you ever sit down to study and then realize an hour later that you haven’t even started? Keeping distractions at bay can help you make the most of your time.
Staying on Task
Gloria Mark, a professor at University of California, Irvine, notes in a 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal that once people have been interrupted while working, they may take up to 23 minutes to return to their original task! Imagine if you lost 20 minutes of concentration every time your phone buzzed or something on television caught your eye. It could really add up.
- Experiment with music to see if it helps you study, especially music without lyrics.
- Use noise-canceling headphones alone or with music or white noise.
- Turn on a fan to create white noise or purchase a specialized device to do so.
- Use earplugs.
- Whisper what you’re reading to yourself to help stay focused.
“My ears love to pick up noise, which makes it difficult to focus. I keep noise-canceling headphones with me and play white noise,” says Erik P., a student taking online courses at Ashford University. There are also apps and Web tools to help cancel out noise. Do a search for “white noise,” “relaxing music,” or “nature sounds.”
If you have to study in the presence of family members, try to find a quieter location. Mary Dyer, the wellness center director at Olive-Harvey College in Chicago, Illinois, adds, “Let others know when you plan to study and request a little extra quiet.”
- If you’re in a public location with a TV you can’t turn off, orient yourself away from the screen.
- Study in spots where you’ll be less tempted to people-watch. If possible, turn away from doors, windows, or gathering spaces.
- Dyer also suggests, “Turn off your phone, social media, TV, and radio. Designate breaks for checking email or returning phone or text messages.”
When your concentration starts to slip, it might be time to take a short break. Try some deep breathing in order to decompress, or take a 15-minute walk. Ironically, periods of relaxation can help you keep your mind on your work when you return to it.
Chatting with someone or browsing the Web or social media may be harder to limit. A timer can help you stick with your schedule.
“Moving around actually helps me concentrate. Sometimes, I read while using an exercise bike, and it helps me focus,” says Becki H., a graduate student at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. Keep practicing different ways to block out distractions and it’ll become easier over time.
Get help or find out more
Community College of Rhode Island, Advising and Counseling Center, Top Ten Tips for Increasing Concentration
Washington University in St. Louis, School of Law, @WashULaw Blog, How to Increase Concentration and Retention
Texas Woman’s University, TWU Counseling Center, How to Develop Better Concentration While Studying