I was sitting at a local coffee shop while my son attended a birthday party. He is old enough now that I feel comfortable dropping him off. Before leaving the party, the other moms said goodbye and told me to “enjoy my time.” Little did they know that I was heading around the corner to write a blog post. I normally work at home in the early morning before the family wakes up, or in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. Today, I decided to take advantage of a couple of kid-free hours and treat myself to a coffee. I thought this was going to be a good idea. Then, other people at the coffee shop started talking. They weren’t talking to me, but to each other. Babies were crying. Music was playing and I couldn’t help but try to recognize the songs. So, what I had intended to be a blog post about sentence structure has turned into a post about knowing how to set the environment up for a successful study session. I’ll do my best to concentrate, but this is a struggle. Wait, I know this song….
I’m an auditory learner, as opposed to a visual or kinesthetic learner. I learn best by hearing information. For example, a lecture paired with a slide show might as well not have the slides. The words that I hear are so loud (relatively) in my head that they “drown out” any printed words on a screen. In this situation, I use my strong listening skills and focus on the lecture. Usually, a copy (hard or electronic) of the slides is available and I review it later in a quiet place.
I bring this up because knowing how you learn best is critical to setting up your study area. Most people learn best when their environment is distraction-free. That is, free from extra visual, auditory, and kinesthetic input. I call this environment “low-distraction.” Here are some strategies that can help you create a low-distraction study environment.
Strategies to Reduce Distractions:
- Put your phone in another room and turn it to silent or turn it off completely. The phone and the internet are huge causes of distraction and decreased productivity. We all have “fear of missing out” on status updates and texts. They can wait. We also use apps (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) to distract ourselves when we’re supposed to be working or when the work gets hard. If the phone is right next to you, it’s too easy to check it. So, put it in another room until the end of the study session.
- Clear the desk/work area of anything unnecessary. If you can see it, it will distract you. If you work at a desk or table, remove whatever you don’t need, including books, papers, pencils, pens, erasers, open laptop, etc. In addition to your work space, consider what else is in your field of vision. Are you facing a window and do you find yourself staring out that window more often than you should? Consider moving your work area so that you’re facing an empty wall. Having only the necessary items in your vision will increase time-on-task and may actually reduce the amount of time needed for studying (you’ll be more efficient).
- Close all unnecessary tabs. I realize that most studying and school work involves using a computer to tablet. I also realize that almost all computers and tablets have the Internet. So, if you are using the computer to complete an assignment that does not require the Internet, then close all browser windows. On the other hand, if you do need to be online to complete an assignment, then make sure the only open window is the one you actually need for academic purposes. It’s too easy to click on an open tab and waste precious study time surfing the Internet.
- Turn off music, TV, and any other auditory input. Extra sounds can very distracting. Not only because of the noise itself, but also because of the information or words that are part of the noise. While your brain is trying to focus on the task of studying, it becomes distracted by the messages relayed by the TV or music. These two processes compete and make it extremely difficult to concentrate.
I wasn’t able to finish this post at the coffee shop. It is hours later and as I write, my kids are in bed and the house is somewhat quiet. My husband is in the next room snoring and it’s raining outside, so I’m listening him and the water running down our gutters. I’m having trouble escaping noise today. Earplugs might be my next strategy.
I hope this post makes your studying more productive. Next time you find yourself struggling to concentrate, try to determine the source of the distraction and eliminate it. You only have so much time in a day and I want you to spend it as effectively as possible.