Study Tips for the Easily Distracted

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Procrastination is such a common problem, it has become a personality trait for students. Chronic procrastination has been a problem for me for… forever! It’s hard for me to just get started on tasks, and I am very easily distracted once I finally start. It can become a terrible cycle, not feeling smart enough to complete an assignment, delaying, anxiety because the deadline is so close, delaying again, and finally, either rushed work that isn’t my best or giving up all together. After all that is done, I top it off with a big scoop of shame because I’m such a bad student.

So, one “bad student” to another, here are the practices I use to stop the shame cycle and actually get stuff done! I am still learning, but progress is always always always more important than perfection!

1. Listen to your body, or it will make you listen!

If you have ever tried to do math with a full bladder or an empty stomach, you already know part of this principle. Your body has needs, and It will force you to fulfill those needs if you don’t listen to it’s cues. If you are having a hard time focusing, take a moment to check in with your body. Does your head, shoulders, or stomach hurt? Are you tired? Are you hungry? Sometimes you can get a snack or a tylenol and keep going. Sometimes you need to stop and go to bed, or stop to have a full meal and an hour of yoga before you can start up again. I have learned that I need to stop doing homework at midnight, after that point I am too tired for anything I learn to actually stick. When you tune in with your body, you will start to learn how often you need to eat, when it’s time to stretch, and how much caffeine you need for a productive study session.

2. Listen to your mind and emotions

In the same vain, your mental and emotional needs demand to be met, and your focus can be limited if they aren’t. If you just got in a big fight with your roommate, sitting down to write an essay is going to be more difficult. When my mental state gets in the way of my work, I like to write down what emotions I’m feeling, what triggered them, and what I need to do to feel better. For example:

I am feeling stressed, frustrated, and sad

I am stressed because I have a term paper and 2 exams to complete this week

I am frustrated because my boss said my work needs to improve, but I’m not sure how

I am sad because I don’t have the time this week to hang out with my friends

What can I do to make myself feel better? Go for a walk, go to the gym, read a book for 15 minutes, close my eyes and take deep breaths, listen to music and dance for 10 minutes, stretch, email my boss for clarification, make a plan about how to tackle my to do list, schedule a phone call with a friend, or plan a fun activity for next weekend.

After I’ve done one or two of the things on my feel-better list, I check in and see if it helped. Usually I am still a little frustrated, or a little sad, but less than before. Now my brain isn’t focusing on those emotions as much, and I have the mental space to study chemistry again.

3. The best time to plant a tree

I take comfort in the old proverb, “The best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is right now.” Or alternatively, “Feeling guilty about not starting your homework earlier is not going to help your homework get done”

No amount of wishing is going to make the clock run backwards. Trust me. I’ve tried. The best thing to do is accept where you are, and move forward. You may be a week or two behind on assignments, and it is really tempting to give up. But a lot of professors accept late work, and if you keep going, you can take pride in your perseverance.

4. A Job worth doing

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” -G.K. Chesterton

If you have the time, energy, and motivation to give 110% on every assignment…why are you reading this? I definitely don’t! Giving up on perfectionism has helped raise my grades! It’s better to give 10% effort than nothing.

5. 5 minutes is a lot

When I’m having a particularly hard time concentrating, it helps to set a timer and work until it goes off. I’m always surprised with how much I can get done in 20 minutes. Big projects or difficult homework can seem so much more daunting when you haven’t started. This trick helps me to get my feet wet and show myself that yes, I can do it! If you can only stand to work for 2 minutes at time, that’s totally fine, work for the length of one song and then take a break.

6. Prioritizing tasks

Sometimes I have to choose which assignments I’m going to get a good grade on, and which I can put off and get 50% credit later, or afford to get a 0 on. This isn’t ideal, but it’s realistic. If I have to choose between assignments, I usually prioritize the assignment that is worth more points. Or I prioritize an assignment if my grade in the respective class is lower than my other grades. For example, if I’m running low on time and energy, I’ll skip a 5 point quiz in the class I have an A- in, in favor of a 15 point homework in a class I have a B- in. The deadline of the assignment and how long it will take me also plays a part in this decision.

7. Setting the Mood

Changing locations often can help you to keep interest in what you’re doing. Study outside when the weather is nice, go to the library, light candles, play fun or relaxing music, put on comfy clothes, get a delicious (and canfinated) beverage and settle in. It helps to put your phone on do-not-disturb if you’re popular, or turn your phone all the way off if you’re addicted to tik tok like me. I love to work next to another person, it helps to keep me focused on my tasks when there’s someone to be accountable to!

8. Forgiveness and moving forward

Your study habits and your grades don’t mean anything about you as a person. In five years, you won’t even remember what grade you got on a term paper. Even if you have bad grades, even if you fail, you are still worthy and whole! Tomorrow as a new day, and a new opportunity to learn and grow. You got this!

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Written by Lucie Sullivan on Nov 16, 2020