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Do you ever sit down to study and then realize an hour later that you haven’t even started? Distractions are everywhere! Keeping them at bay can help you make the most of your time.

Staying on Task

Gloria Mark, a professor at University of California, Irvine, notes in a 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal that once people have been interrupted while working, they may take up to 23 minutes to return to their original task! Imagine if you lost 20 minutes of concentration every time your phone buzzed or something on television made you look up. It could really add up.

Noisy Environments

  • Experiment with music to see if it helps you study, especially music without lyrics.
  • Use noise-canceling headphones alone or with music or white noise.
  • Turn on a fan to create white noise or purchase a specialized device to do so.
  • Use earplugs.
  • Whisper what you’re reading to yourself to help stay focused.

“If I can overhear conversations, it becomes distracting, so I use headphones to dim the voices. Then I can’t understand what they’re talking about,” says Taryn S., a senior at Minot State University in North Dakota. There are many apps and Web tools to help cancel out noise, too. Do a search for “white noise,” “relaxing music,” or “nature sounds.”

Visual Distractions

  • If you’re in a cafeteria or another place with a TV you can’t turn off, orient yourself away from the screen.
  • Study in spots where you’ll be less tempted to people-watch. If possible, turn away from doors, windows, or gathering spaces. If it helps to face a wall, that’s okay!
  • Think about this: How frustrating would it be if someone tapped you on the shoulder with almost constant questions? Put away your phone or flip it face down on the table.

Bea Devon, a tutor at the Center for the Advancement of Language and Learning at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey, suggests, “Turn your phone on airplane mode if you want to listen to music.”

Keeping Focused

When your concentration starts to slip, it might be time to take a short break. Try some deep breathing in order to decompress, or take a 15-minute walk. Ironically, periods of relaxation can help you keep your mind on your work when you return to it.

Chatting with someone or browsing the Web or social media may be harder to limit. A timer can help you stick with your schedule.

“I’m used to tuning things out, so it’s not always that difficult,” says Rebecca P., a senior at Walsh University in Canton, Ohio. Keep practicing different ways to block out distractions and it’ll become easier over time.

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