Studying has never been more important – and never harder – than it is today. The challenges of social media, apps, and other digital distractions, as well as real-world issues and concerns is daunting. Add to that the fact that we now have more knowledge than ever; which means there are more things to study than ever. Luckily, science is on the case and there are research-backed methods for helping us summit study mountain. Let’s start with digital distractions. Do you really need to have that notification pop-up telling you that so-and-so has posted a comment after your comment? Do you need to know that someone’s upgraded their Instagram profile? Perhaps. –But not while you’re studying.
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Find an app that blocks e-distractions; they’re easy to use and some are free!
Using a “productivity app” is becoming increasingly common. What’s more, many of these apps are free! These apps work by blocking websites for studying – a simple and easy way of taking the power of devices and the internet out of your hands…no willpower required. All you have to do is add certain websites to your “block list” and the app takes care of the rest. Sometimes blocking apps show you silly pictures if you try to access blocked sites to remind you to get back to business. By using such apps, essentially you are putting yourself into “work mode.”
If you’ve ever heard about the famous “egg timer” or Pomodoro Technique – it’s because it works. Working for, say, a 25-minute stretch, taking a break and then going back to work, engages your reward system – the reward being a break to refresh your brain; but only after a chunk of work is done. Productivity apps generally all feature some form of the Pomodoro timer. These apps also block adult content, making it easier to keep your mind on the job at hand.
Environment, posture and “study rituals” matter!
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Create your own study rituals or routines. Rituals are important to humans. Think about how brushing your teeth in the evening signals to your brain that the day is approaching its end, or how a cup of coffee in the morning signals that a day is about to begin. Perhaps your routine will include cleaning your desk, or putting on headphones, or eating something that gives you energy – such as an apple – before getting down to business. Your pre-study ritual may vary but having one is a research-backed way of helping one concentrate.
Picking a comfortable place that’s good for your posture during a prolonged study bout is highly recommended. Some people like to use exercise balls and, of course, there’s the trend of using a standing desk, which – if your back and knees are amenable – can be a good way to burn a few calories while you study. You certainly don’t want to lay down. Lying on a bed with a book is a bad idea. Sitting upright increases confidence as well as energy levels, and in general improves your mood.
Slouching affects your brain; just as smiling does. When we smile – Even if it’s a fake smile – a message is transmitted to the brain telling it that you should feel happy. Likewise, for slouching, which sends messages indicating you are feeling depressed and or lacking inspiration. Don’t let your posture signal hopelessness. Sit straight and think straight!
Research shows that finding a quiet environment is more conducive to studying than a busy place; but are exceptions. Some find the “white noise” of a coffee shop, for example, helps them focus on the task at hand. But if you’re like the majority, you’ll need quiet. Unfortunately, this world is a noisy place. Try listening to music with noise-cancelling headphones, now which are cheaper than ever, or if music isn’t your thing, try ear plugs or just put the noise canceling headphones in your ears!
Daydreaming is unavoidable, but try “scheduling” your daydreaming
One statistic claims we spend almost 50% of work and study time daydreaming or “zoning out.” We need to do this, otherwise we would collapse under the weight of thoughts and emotions and distractions. But one can learn to daydream at “appropriate” times. Concentration uses the frontal cortex – the same area responsible for resisting distractions. The frontal cortex also inhibits our impulses to do something more fun than studying Greek literature.
Harvard psychologist Paul Seli says people who “schedule” their daydreaming is able to prevent their minds from wandering during other times. Seli suggests, “If the task is easy, intentionally mind wandering will likely not result in performance costs, but it should afford people the opportunity to reap the benefits of mind wandering, such as problem-solving and planning …Think about something unrelated, maybe problem-solve something else that you’ve got on your mind and then come back to your task.” In short, you need to let your mind wander but you can train yourself to wander at the right times.