Distraction-free studying: Don’t try to multitask when you don’t have to!


In today’s world we are surrounded by more technology than ever before. This – and the ever distracting internet – can make it extremely difficult to sit down and focus on one’s studies or work without getting sidetracked.

It’s something I struggle with myself. When I write a blog post on a word document, I might have an internet browser open, with twitter running in the background while I work. Sometimes I even listen to music. Every so often I might check Facebook or my email. And even if I manage to discipline myself from ‘taking a break’ and going on the internet every five minutes, I might get distracted when an email pops up on my smartphone lying next to me!

Is this really conducive to being efficient and getting work done? Many people often pride themselves on being able to multitask, but perhaps multitasking is overrated.

Standford professor Clifford Nass argued that multitasking actually reduces productivity. Nass and other researchers at Stanford put 100 students through various tests, and found that those who were big media multitaskers (i.e. did homework while browsing the internet and having chat/email conversations) did not perform as well as those who were low media multitaskers.

“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said Anthony Wagner, one of the Stanford researchers.

So what to do?

Eliminate distractions as much as possible. When you sit down to do homework or study for a test, put your cell phone out of sight or turn it on silent. Don’t study with the TV on in the background. Don’t study near a computer unless you need it. And, if you are using a computer for non-internet purposes (using Word, or Powerpoint, etc), don’t open an internet browser – as tempting as it is! Resist the temptation.

And if you cannot study without listening to music, do so, but choose music that won’t distract you. (See our December blog post for more!).

The goal is to be as focused as possible on your work (homework, material you’re studying, essay, etc), and not be distracted by doing a bunch of other things. You’ll be able to work faster and more efficiently than if you are doing several things at once, and your study time will be much more effective overall.

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