Dealing with distractions

I might just quickly just check my phone. I need to create a new playlist before I start revision. I’d better put on some washing. Does this sound familiar to you?

We can all get distracted when studying or when we have things we don’t want to do. During exam time particularly it’s really important to work out what is taking up your time so that you can avoid distractions and maximise your revision.

Track your time

Keep a time-use diary and list what you do each hour. After 24 hours, identify your patterns and see where you might be able to save time. Looking at time in blocks helps you be more productive.
For example, are you spending too much time on these activities?

  • Reading or watching TV
  • Re-writing notes
  • Catching up with friends
  • Checking social media
  • Online games or browsing
  • Cleaning or organising things
  • Once you know where your time’s going it’s easier to manage it.

    Create digital discipline

    If you’re distracted by emails or text messages, turn off your phone or lock it away while you are concentrating on study. You can even schedule in specific blocks of time for calls and emails. You can also use apps to restrict access to sites that may tempt you away from your revision. Check out these tools:

      RescueTime to track your time on websites and apps.
      Cold Turkey allows you to schedule blocks when you need them or simply reduce distractions by adding pomodoro-style breaks or allowances.
      SelfControl is a free and open-source app for macOS that lets you block anything on the Internet.
      StayFocusd is a productivity extension for Google Chrome that helps you stay focused on study.
      LeechBlock NG is a simple productivity tool for Firefox to block those time-wasting sites.
    Avoid procrastination

    It’s more common to avoid things when you feel overwhelmed with a task. Use a study plan to break down your revision into smaller tasks and set deadlines for each topic or unit. Use checklists and quizes to test yourself and identify what you need to focus on. Perhaps reward yourself with a coffee or treat when you check something off the list.
    Try to be selective with your reading and always read with a purpose in mind. It can help to have a set of questions you want to answer.

    Maximise your time

    We are all different so it’s important to work out when in the day you concentrate best. If you’re more productive in the morning, try organising your time so you study early in the day and take breaks or socialise later on. Or if you’re a night owl you can use the morning to relax or exercise and plan your study for the afternoon. It’s important to schedule regular breaks so that you are working at your best.

    Set yourself up for success

    Find a place to study where you won’t be interrupted. Some people find it easier to concentrate in the library or a quiet spot on campus than at home. Music and background noise can make some people more productive. You could try classical music, movie or game soundtracks, or ambient sounds (rain, waves, birdsong etc.) to help you stay on track.

    Change your mindset

    It’s easy to feel like it’s Ground Hog Day when you are studying for large blocks of time so make sure you give yourself incentives. Arrange something to look forward to after your study session, or include something fun to do in your breaks. It can also help to change up the order you study in. It may help to start with what you find easier or more interesting. This can help you feel more positive and settle in to study mode.

    Learn to say no

    You may have made a detailed study plan, found ways of dealing with the things that distract you and been really disciplined but you still don’t have enough time! It could just be that you’re trying to do too much. If you have too much going on in our life you might need to say’no’ more often – even if it’s just during exam time.