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7 ways to help distance learners focus for extended periods of time

Technology is a blessing to distance learners everywhere. But it’s also a curse. 

For instance, does your phone go off frequently throughout the day with calls, texts, and other notifications? And are you bombarded by pop-up windows and video ads when doing basic research for school? All these distractions make it difficult to focus on your studies.

On top of all that, the Internet has trained our brains to scan instead of read. An estimated 16% of Internet users actually read each word on a page. 

The bottom line is that technology has made it easier than ever for distance learners to be distracted. But there are some practices that will help you to stay on track academically.

1. Avoid multitasking

You’ve heard the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” I think the same concept applies to where we divide our attention, so that the saying could read, “Doer of all tasks, master of none.”

To help you prevent doing tasks half-way, focus on one task at a time. One way to do this is by prioritizing your tasks at the start of each day or week. 

It can be tempting to think that you’re being more productive by bouncing from task to task. But maintaining focus on each task will ensure you do it correctly.

2. Listen to music or white noise

Loud, unexpected noises can break your focus, which is especially frustrating if you’re taking a test. 

Block out any unwanted noise by downloading a white noise app, buying a box fan, or listening to music. 

I would avoid listening to podcasts during this time, as those tend to require more of your attention than, say, listening to classical music.

3. Figure out your optimal time of day to work

Nearly everyone has a time of day that works best for them to be productive. And once you find yours, stick with doing your most intense work during those hours. A routine can help your brain know when it’s time to work on school, and when it can take a break.

I think you’ll be surprised at how much you accomplish with your classes by operating primarily during these optimal hours. 

4. Take brain breaks

College is often mentally strenuous. It can be helpful to allow your brain to rest periodically. 

Exercising is always a healthy way to do this, such as by going for a brisk walk or doing some weightlifting. 

But if you want to lounge while you take a break, watch an episode of your favorite TV show. If you do this, try to avoid the temptation of binge-watching. So, maybe stick with half-hour sitcoms rather than dramatic hour-long shows.

5. Don’t drink too much caffeine

As I write this piece, I’m having trouble focusing. I believe it has something to do with being on my third cup of coffee today (my normal intake is one to two cups each day). 

Caffeine can make it difficult to focus, so limit your intake in a way that makes sense for you. 

Also, being hopped-up on caffeine may make it difficult to focus during a class, which may result in you missing important information.

6. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb

This one is pretty straightforward. You can set the hours when you don’t want to be bothered, such as during your prime working hours. 

In addition, many phones allow you to activate a Silence Unknown Callers (or equivalent) feature. This can help you concentrate on your studies without being distracted by spam callers.

7. Allow yourself to not be perfect at focusing

Sometimes, you may find yourself focusing on the fact that you aren’t focusing enough. You may beat yourself up over this, which just shifts your focus from schoolwork to yourself. Plus, beating yourself up erodes your confidence. 

And whenever you approach a test or assignment, you want to have a certain level of confidence in your abilities. Don’t jeopardize that by making yourself feel insecure over having trouble focusing.

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