When it comes to studying, two of the greatest challenges are getting started and keeping going. Despite the opportunity cost, sometimes any distraction can be more appealing than studying – whether it’s socialising, watching TV, or even cleaning. To make things even more difficult, we live in a world where technology bombards us with interruptions in the hope of capturing our attention.
The good news is, if you do get distracted while studying, it’s certainly not your fault. However, there are a few practical things you can do to improve your studying methods and reduce distractions.
Here are a few study tips to keep you focused on the job at hand.
Write down your goals
Research shows that you are considerably more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. Write down study goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART).
Set up a study timetable that is realistic – remember, there are only 24 hours in a day, no matter how well organised you are. Use your phone’s calendar to block out time for study and stick to it. If you’re more of a big picture/visual person, print out a timetable and stick it on your fridge, your bedroom wall or anywhere else you’re likely to see it.
It’s a good idea to let others know about your study timetable as well, so they can help you by not interrupting. Pin your timetable to your door or create a Facebook event to let friends and family know when you’re studying.
There's an app to improve your study skills
It’s a cruel irony that two of the most valuable tools for study – computers and smartphones – offer the most tempting and immediate distractions. Thankfully, they can be tamed with just a few keystrokes. Remember, you have the ability to adjust notifications on all of your smart devices. For a distraction-free studying method, it’s quick and easy to switch your phone to flight mode at the start of each study period.
If you still find the lure of social media impossible to resist, Anti-Social is a smartphone app that can help. It will conduct an audit of the time you spend on your phone, then offer a few tools to help shield you from temptation.
StayFocused is a Chrome browser extension which allows you to block parts of the internet for a period of time. It can even block specific parts of websites, so you can still get to the information you need, without being led astray.
Create a study zone
You’ve made a big commitment by deciding to study, so reward yourself by creating an environment that makes it easier for you to study. Find a quiet, comfortable space with good light that you want to spend time in. Keep some visual motivations in sight, such as your goals, to remind you of your purpose.
If you find you’re more productive when studying a particular topic in a specific location, then go there. You might find that you write well in the library, or you read better in a comfy chair at a café. Maybe there’s a desk by a window where you can see the offices of your future employer. Put yourself in an environment that motivates you to study.
Invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones so that you can create a study zone wherever you are. You don’t need to listen to music in your headphones, although some people find it easier to concentrate with instrumental music at low volume. Simply using the noise-cancelling function is like turning down the volume on the world.
Identify weaknesses in your studying methods
Have you ever noticed how some people can study in a noisy café, while others need to seal themselves in a bank vault, or a similarly noiseless environment? As individuals, we are all distracted by different things. One of the important study skills is to be able to identify your own weaknesses – then make plans to protect yourself.
If you need a clear desk, make sure it’s clear before you sit down to study. If you need a quiet environment, don’t schedule study time when your house is full of people. Think back through your last study session and write down all of the things that distracted you. Then improve your studying methods by putting things in place to prevent them from getting to you next time.
When deadlines and exams loom large, it seems logical to give up some sleep to work late into the night, then continue early in the morning. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. When you don’t get enough sleep, you risk trouble with short-term memory and concentration.
It’s recommended that we get eight hours of sleep every night, although some people need more and some need less.
If the thought of trying to sleep more makes you anxious about time, have another look at your study timetable. Remember to be realistic about how you schedule your time.
It’s also important to get regular exercise and enjoy a healthy diet for optimum study without distractions.
We like to believe that we can do more than one thing at a time, but a common result is that we perform both tasks poorly. Neuroscientists say in reality we’re not multitasking, we’re just rapidly switching our focus from one task to another.
Don’t fool yourself that you can study while watching TV – just watch TV and fully enjoy it. Then when you’re ready, give your study all of your attention.
Reward yourself more often
One of the keys to maintaining motivation and emotional wellbeing is making progress in meaningful work. Celebrating the small wins is a concept used in startup businesses, massive corporations and by Nobel Prize winning scientists.
Completing 25 minutes of uninterrupted study is an achievement – so let’s celebrate! Reward yourself with five minutes of downtime before you tackle the next 25 minutes. How you reward yourself is up to you – a cup of coffee, a walk in the sun, a quick dip into social media – choose something that you really want.
If you’ve made it this far into an article on study tips, you deserve a reward right now! Give yourself a few minutes to plan some tactics that will improve your studying methods.
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