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time management

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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.

    Five apps for dealing with exam stress

    Exams coming up? For most of us the pressure of exams and final assessment submissions cause some level of stress. Stress is your response to pressure and while a small amount can be useful to keep you focused if it becomes too much exam revision can seem impossible.

    The good news is that there are so many apps out there to help deal with this intense time:

    Exam Countdown is a free app to keep track of exam and assessment dates. It provides a handy visual reminder of all your important upcoming dates. You can keep focused by easily checking how much time you’ve got to revise before you sit each exam. We love the fact that you can colour code all your exams and tests and use icons as a quick visual reference for each unit. You can also add notes to remind yourself of anything you need to bring on the day. Available on both Android and iOS.

    Mind mapping is a great study method as it helps organise your thoughts, spark your memory and come up with new ideas. With SimpleMind you can create your own mind maps, or choose one of the auto layouts and fill it in. If you like finding creative ways to revise for exams then this app is for you. The free version does plenty but the full version is reasonably priced too. Available on all platforms.

    Studies show that meditation can help you stay on task longer, switch between things less frequently and enjoy your tasks more. Headspace is a popular app, with meditations to help you through all phases of your life. The Focus pack can help you de-clutter your thoughts and sharpen your concentration, even under pressure. Try the free version or access hundreds of hours of extra content when you subscribe.

    Take a deep breath. Calm is both a call to action and a defining feature of the app’s approach to mindfulness and meditation. It’s message is simply “you’re going to get through this, and all you need to start is a moment”. There are so many new apps for meditation and mindfulness, but Calm stands out for its ease of use and attention to (soothing) detail. Try the free version on Android or iOS.

    PAUSE is based on the ancient principles of Tai Chi and mindfulness practice. When you want to shake off your stress and start relaxing, this app can work wonders. Against a backdrop of soothing music, you move your finger slowly across your screen, being careful not to speed up your pace. This triggers the body’s ‘rest and digest’ response which helps you regain focus and release stress within minutes. Check it out on Android or iOS!

    Don’t forget that QUT also provides free, confidential counselling services for current students!

    Top apps for being organised

    We all know that one of the keys to student success is being organised but it’s not always easy to achieve. Most of us are trying to balance study with work, family, sport, socialising and other commitments so it often feels like a juggling act. Luckily there’s a range of free online tools to help you feel organised in all areas of your life.

    We’ve chosen a few of our favourite apps to get you started:

    In the second half of semester assessments can take priority but it’s also important to plan for exams. Exam Countdown helps you organise and prioritise your time in the lead up to exams.

    Todoist links with the apps you already use so that you have one central, organised hub for getting things done.

    Take your notes everywhere and access them across all of your devices with Evernote. You can also add photos and audio recordings to help revise for each of your units.

    Use Brainscape to create your own flashcards of terminology or key theories and test yourself. You can also share your lists and browse existing cards. This is great for medical terminology in particular.

    Music makes the world go round and it has also been proven to help you focus. Find your own study playlist on Spotify to help you get in the zone.

    And remember to look after your wellbeing with some stress busters. Calm is an amazing app for wellbeing and mindfulness with 100+ guided meditations.

    Don’t forget, if you feel that you have too much to cope with it’s ok to ask for help. QUT has a range of support resources and confidential counseling.