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Lesson 15: Eliminating External Distractions

External distractions result from things outside of yourself, such as your environment and the people around you. The best way to eliminate a distraction is to prevent it from happening. As the saying goes:

Prevention is better than cure.

In this lesson, you’ll find plenty of powerful strategies to prevent those distractions.

Have a Dedicated Study Space.

The first step to prevent external distractions is to find a dedicated space where you want to study. This can be a study desk at home, a library or even a coffee shop. It should be somewhere you feel motivated. As far as possible, it should not be somewhere you usually eat, sleep, or relax. There needs to be a clear separation between studying and non-studying locations. Why? Because many non-studying activities are, in fact, external distractions! If you study in an area which your brain typically associates with non-studying activities, you will be more prone to distractions! So, ideally, when you are studying, you should feel completely cut off from the outside world.

Moreover, you should feel comfortable in that area. Here are some things to consider:

  • Lighting – The room should not be too dark or too bright.

  • Temperature – If it’s too hot, you’ll feel sleepy, and if it’s too cold, you might feel not feel comfortable. Therefore, if it’s hot, make sure the fan or AC is turned on if needed. If it’s cold, wear a few extra layers of warm clothes. You don’t want to feel distracted by something as mundane as temperature, do you?

  • Background Noise – Some students prefer complete silence while studying, whereas others prefer some background music/noise. Figure out which one you prefer and choose your study space accordingly. Headphones can help in this case. If you are in a very noisy environment, you could listen to some calm music (without lyrics!) to tune out the extra noise. On the other hand, if you are in a quiet environment and want some background noise, listen to white noise such as those from Coffitivity or SimplyNoise.

  • Visual Distractions – · Ideally, you don’t want to face a window because you’ll be distracted by what’s happening in the outside world. For example, you might be distracted by people walking by, cars, birds and so on. Also, remove any pictures or non-study related notes from your view.

Organise you Study Space.

Preferably, you should only keep the bare minimum on your desk, at all times. If possible, do not keep your textbooks and copybooks on your desk at all. So, when you are not studying, your table should be empty. Before each study session, bring only what you need to the desk. For example, if you are going to do a Mathematics past paper under exam conditions, you might want to only keep the question paper, your exercise book/sheet, your calculator, your pencil case and a bottle of water on your desk. This will help keep your table tidy. From my experience, a tidy study space helps to maintain focus!

Don’t Multitask.

Here’s my opinion: Multitasking is overrated! I get pretty annoyed when I hear people, schools or businesses praise the ability to multitask. When people talk about multitasking, they often refer to the act of doing multiple things simultaneously. When it comes to studying, is multitasking a good thing? No! It’s one of the worst study mistakes that a student can do. For example, you might be revising your notes and eating at the same time. You might be listening to your teacher and texting on your phone at the same time.

Unfortunately, our brain can pay full attention to only one task at a time. So, when you are multitasking, your mind is not really working on multiple things simultaneously. It’s actually switching your focus back and forth between the tasks you are working on “simultaneously”. Your brain requires a significant amount of processing power to shift your attention back and forth like that. On one hand, this drains your energy, and on the other hand, it’s a MASSIVE distraction because each time your brain switches focus, you lose any momentum you’ve gained so far. Recall that straight road from Lesson 1 of this topic. Now, imagine there is a hump every 5 metres. This is what multitasking looks like! It reduces productivity and increases the risk of making mistakes. So, focus on only ONE thing at a time to eliminate this massive distraction of multitasking.

Cut access to the internet and your phone (or other devices).

Ask yourself two questions before any study session (or mini session, if you are using the Pomodoro technique):

1. Do I absolutely NEED my phone or any other device (PC, Laptop, Tablet, etc.) to study?

  • If No, turn them off and keep them as far away from you as possible. No ifs and buts! Putting them on silent is not enough. The whole “put your phone on silent to prevent it from distracting you” advice is a complete joke. This only prevents your phone from making any sound. It does not prevent you from picking it up and start playing games or browsing social media. To eliminate your phone, you need to neutralise it completely! Turning it off prevents it from doing anything! So, this should keep you safe from it!

  • If Yes, mute/block all calls and notifications from your devices. Don’t access any apps that are not study-related. You need to use your devices SOLELY for the purpose of studying and nothing else. You can’t allow anything or anyone to distract you. If somebody is trying to contact you, it should appear to them that your phone is turned off (if you did not need your phone to study, it would have been turned off anyway, so, there’s nothing wrong in blocking incoming calls and messages!). Remember that you can’t study and talk to somebody in the same session because this would count as multitasking! Each second of your study session (or Pomodoro) should be used SOLELY for studying.

Now, proceed to question 2.

2. Do I absolutely NEED the internet to study?

  • If No, turn off the internet on all devices you bring into your study space. Turn on airplane/flight mode. No ifs and buts!

  • If Yes, then use the internet SOLELY to study. Don’t access any non-study-related websites. There should be absolutely no texting and no social media unless absolutely required for study purposes.

Additional Tips.

  • Tell people in your surroundings NOT to disturb you. For example, if you are at home, tell your family members to give you some privacy (and not make noise) for the duration of your study sessions.

  • Have everything you need at your fingertips. Before you start your study sessions, have everything ready, so you don’t need to waste time and energy looking for them. These include things like textbooks, copybooks, notes, stationery, water and snacks. Remember, if you are looking for stuff while studying, you are multitasking, i.e., you are killing your focus.

  • Maintain an External Distraction Sheet. Note any external distraction that arises during your study session. Tune them out for now, if possible. After your session is over, look at the list and devise ways to prevent them from happening again. Remember that prevention is better than cure.

  • Schedule distractions as rewards. Obviously, you can’t give up things like YouTube, social media, texting, video games and other external distractions forever, right? So, use them as “rewards” to keep you motivated. For example, tell yourself that you’ll go through your Facebook feed or play that video game when your study session is over. You can do whatever you want outside your study sessions! It’s essential to study hard during those sessions, but it’s equally important to have lots of fun after.

This lesson has given you many strategies to deal with external distractions. If you find it hard to apply them all at once, then implement them one at a time. I don’t recommend using the so-called “productivity” apps that try to do the dirty work for you. For example, those apps can block certain websites (such as Facebook and YouTube) or apps (such as Messenger and WhatsApp) for you. However, I firmly believe that it is YOU who should cut access to these instead of downloading a stupid app to do the work for you. YOU should take responsibility for removing the distractions around you! By doing so, you’ll be rewiring your brain to independently become less prone to distractions. This is a way more powerful strategy than merely resorting to apps to do hard work for you.

To sum up, the Key Takeaway that I want you to have from this lesson is this:

Prevention is better than cure.

Do you have any questions or comments? Post them below!

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