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Dealing With Distractions

Distractions, Part 1:

Distractions are the bane of life in the 21st century. There are so many things for us to read, watch, or listen to that quite often we don’t know where to start, and even if we do, it seems inordinately difficult to concentrate on just one thing.

Tim Ferriss, author of the best-seller The Four-Hour Work-Week, calls these things “weapons of mass distraction.” And that’s what they are: Weapons. They’re designed to draw your attention away from one thing onto something else; or, to look at it another way, their purpose is to get you to concentrate on the particular distraction. Whatever you call them, they are a problem if they keep you from focusing on whatever it is that you should be thinking about or doing.

How do you cope with distractions? What can you do so that you stay on task?

There are several things. Here are just three of them.

1. Create a schedule

If you don’t have a schedule, then you will drift. If you know what you should be doing at a given time, then you’re more likely to do it. Without one, and whether you do it or not becomes unimportant.

For example, let’s say you need to read two chapters in your textbook and then do the questions at the back of each chapter. Today is Thursday, and the assignment is due on Monday. Sounds like you have plenty of time. If you don’t have a schedule, then you may decide to skip your study time that night and watch television or spend a few hours catching up on Facebook. On Friday afternoon, you may remember that you have a commitment that evening and put off studying until Saturday. On Saturday morning, you may decide to sleep in because you’re tired from Friday night. When you finally do get up, you discover that there were some other things that you needed to do. By Saturday afternoon, you’re beginning to flag, and you still haven’t read your book chapters or done your homework. You can’t do it on Sunday, because it’s the Lord’s Day, and so when you’re most tired from the week’s activities you finally start to do your homework; but you notice right away that you can’t concentrate.

That’s what can happen without a schedule.

Let’s say that you did have a schedule.

You might decide to read half of one chapter on that evening and on Friday, and then a complete chapter on Saturday as soon as you got up. Then you could do the questions and have the afternoon to do what you wanted to.

Having a schedule won’t guarantee that you get your work done; but it will be much easier to do it if you do.

2. The second thing you can do is to remove the things that are most likely to interrupt your concentration. The three that are most likely to do this are your smartphone, the Internet and your music.  Each one of these will take your mind off of your studies. One phone call can break your concentration, so you need to keep those things under control. None of them is so important that you can’t ignore them for a few hours. Take your study time seriously.

3. The third thing you can do is to leave your pets outside of your study area. All of them, including your cats, will eventually want your attention, and if they’re in the room with you, then eventually they’ll let you know. Animals that are in cages will make noise running around inside of them. You must remove these things so that you’re not distracted.

Distractions can ruin your study or work time. If you want to learn, then you need to keep those things that are mostly likely to break your concentration out of your work space.

Part 2:

Distractions come in all forms. It could be that you don’t have a schedule, and so you drift. It could be that you can’t resist checking your email every five minutes, or that you have a particularly affectionate dog that wants your touch whenever you’re together.

But these aren’t the only ones. There are others than can fight for your attention.

Two of the biggest distractions are snacks and coffee. By all means, make yourself a cup of something to have beside you; but decide in advance that you’re not going to leave the room to refill it once it’s empty unless you have pre-scheduled a break for that time. You should be able to study for a couple of hours before you need one.

Snacks can also be a distraction, especially if you have to unwrap them. Put what you want on a plate or in a dish, take it with your coffee into your study area, and then shut the door. Imagine that you have been locked in and that you can’t get out for two hours. Then get busy.

Another distraction can be where your desk is placed. It can be very restful to look out the window at the flowers and trees; but you must remember that unless you’re a botanist, the work that you’re there to do is on your desk. Make sure that that is where your focus is. The same thing goes for windows that look out of the front of your house. Cars, people, the mailman – all of these things can distract you.

If you have no choice as to where to put your desk, then close the curtains, or put up a white patterned net that will obstruct your view. That way you can still benefit from the natural light.

And speaking of light, make sure that what you have shines onto your work. If that means getting a desk lamp or moving one that’s already in the room, then do it. If you’re studying in a bedroom, however, you’ll probably want to get a different one. Bedside lamps are normally about 40 watts – too low for study. You should aim for 60, or perhaps 100. It shouldn’t be too bright, but it also shouldn’t leave you squinting because you can’t see it properly.

Another thing that can distract you is to have too many things in the room where you are. It doesn’t have to be untidy to take your mind off of your studies. It could be that there’s too much to look at. If this is the case, then start out by trying to find another place to work. That will save you the hassle of de-stuffing. One professional writer has her desk in a closet.

The last one is really about rest. There’s only so much you can do well in a day. That means that you need to pace yourself. Try not to pack more into the days that you’re studying than you have to. In other words, be disciplined enough to limit your activities. It’s better to do a few things really well, than to try to do everything and to make a bad job of them.

Rest also includes knowing when to stop, either for the day, or for a break. This can be especially difficult if you’re someone who is driven. You’ll be much more effective, however, if you’re full-on when you’re working and full-off when you’re not, than if you try to gut it out all day.

You’ll probably think of other distractions. When you do, jot them down, and then think about how you can keep them from becoming a problem.

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