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Study Effectively: 7 Strategies to Manage Distractions: Start Here

How do I recognize and reduce distractions?

To improve the effectiveness of the time you put into studying, work at recognizing and getting rid of distractions.  

  • External distractions are the things around you that can affect your ability to focus on studying:
    • friends
    • study location
    • your laptop
  •  Internal distractions include your ability to control distracting thoughts and motivate yourself to work.

External Distractions Strategy #1: Manage Your Phone/Laptop

The #1 distraction for most students is probably their phone or laptop.  Resistance is not futile – try some of these ideas:

  • Use an app to block or limit the time you can spend on specific websites.  There are many available apps; search under "procrastination blockers."
  • For texting, see the section on “People.”
  • Turn off all notifications on your phone.
  • Create a "sticky note" that opens every time you turn on your laptop to remind you to study.
  • Set a timer to remind you when it's time to get back to studying.

External Distractions Strategy #2: Manage People

  • Let your friends and family know if you’ve got a busy day or week.  Ask for their help in keeping to your study plan.
  • Put a “Studying: Do Not Disturb” sign on your bedroom door and ask your roommates or family to respect it–
  • Stay on campus and work in the Library or some other academic building where your friends don’t congregate.
  • Set aside specific times each day to check and respond to texts. Let your friends and family know you’ll respond only during these times. 

External Distractions Strategy #3: Manage Your Study Space

If you're having difficulties getting work done in your usual study spot, try a new one:

  • Library
  • Lounges or study areas in other buildings
  • Public library
  • Café off campus
  • If you study in your bedroom:
  •  Study at a desk with a comfortable but firm chair
  •  Remove visual distractions from your desk
  •  Never study on your bed – it’s an invitation for naptime.

External Distractions Strategy #4: Manage Noise

  • In almost any location there's the possibility of too much or not enough noise
  • If you’re bothered by sounds you can't control, listen to soft, soothing music to provide a calming background to drown out unwelcome noise
  • Listening to Mozart, with its complex patterns, can foster higher cognitive functions, according to research done at Stanford
  • Invest in noise cancelling headphones rather than using ear buds.  You can also use them without music to control noise
  • For those who can't work in silence, listening to music can help with locations that are too quiet
  • If you require complete silence to work effectively, consider well‐made, heavy-duty earplugs (check at the pharmacy) 

Internal Distractions Strategy #5: Manage Your Physical and Mental Health

  • Irregular sleep, exercise and eating patterns can be the unsuspected cause of concentration difficulties.  Finding a regimen that works for you and sticking to it can help to maintain your brain at its physiological peak. 
  • Knowing how medications might affect your concentration is also important. Visit Student Wellness if you have a concern about this.
  • If you’re experiencing a mental health issue that is impacting your academic work, the University has a wide range of services to help.  The Mental Well-being website is a good place to start, or check out the list of Mental Health Resources from Counselling Services. 

Internal Distractions Strategy #6: Manage Self Talk

  • Many people are not aware that, as they perform tasks, including studying, they talk silently to themselves.
  • Overly critical self talk can have a negative effect on concentration or may contribute to writer’s block.
  • With some coaching, you can learn to manage a lot of this distracting internal chatter.
    • For more information on the services available, contact Counselling Services.

Internal Distractions Strategy #7: Manage Your Motivation

  • Sometimes difficulties with concentration come from uneasiness about a course, a major, or just being at university.
  • Your Program Counsellor can provide valuable guidance in course and program selection.
  • Co-operative Education and Career Services help you clarify your work and career goals. 

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