Skip to Main Content

Study Effectively

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 or, if you're studying in a common area, on your laptop, and ask your roommates or family to respect it.
  • 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

During the current pandemic, it may not be possible for you to have the perfect study space, but it's important to set up a study area where you can concentrate and feel productive. If you don't have many options for where you study, consider organizing your space in a work zone and a relaxation zone. In your work zone:

  • Study at a desk or table with a comfortable but firm chair
  • Ensure that you have good lighting 
  • If it helps, play music that you associate with studying
  • If your work zone is in a shared space, put up a sign to let family or housemates know when you are studying

If your work zone and relaxation zone are the same space, or if you use the same computer for both work and relaxation, think about what you can do to signify work time and relaxation time. Clearing the desk, putting something different on the desk, changing the lighting or music - anything that is different can trick your mind into focusing.

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.
  • Invest in noise cancelling headphones rather than using ear buds.  You can also use them without music to control noise.
  • 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 University's Student Wellness website is a good place to start.

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.

Suggest an edit to this guide

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.