The effectiveness of your study time is only as good as your ability to focus and concentrate while studying. Choosing a quality study environment, decreasing any internal or external distractions, and limiting your multitasking can help make your study time productive and effective.
Choosing a study environment
The environment you study in can have a big impact on your ability to concentrate. Choosing a good environment is a proactive step towards monitoring possible distractions. Consider the following factors when evaluating a potential study location:
Are you unlikely to be interrupted or distracted?
Is the environment (lighting, temperature, etc.) comfortable enough to work, but not so comfortable that you fall asleep?
Are you able to either tune out the ambient noise, or do you have control over the noise levels?
Distractions and interruptions
Distractions come in all shapes, sizes and sounds. External distractions include things like noise, people talking, TV, music, phone alerts, and anything else that diverts your attention from the task at hand. Internal distractions like hunger, fatigue, illness, stress, worries, other distracting thoughts (things you should be doing instead, things you’d rather be doing, etc.) can interrupt your concentration as much as external distractions.
When it comes to studying, multitasking is ineffective. While it may seem like multitasking would be a good thing, research has shown that people who are multitasking are not doing two things at the same time. Instead, they are switching back and forth quickly between tasks. The result of this movement is that performance suffers on both tasks, and people who are multitasking are less likely to remember information later (Dzubak, 2008). There may be other areas of our lives where multi-tasking is useful; however, studying and problem solving require deep concentration, and interruptions and distractions make it harder to focus and decrease your chances of recalling information later.
Evaluate your study locations. If one location isn't working effectively, make adjustments to that location or investigate other locations as options for studying.
Identify your distractions. Whether they are internal or external distractions, note on a piece of paper what distracts you from studying. If there are consistent distractions, ask yourself how you can limit those and if any personal choices or adjustments could be made to keep that distraction to a minimum.
Make a list. If you consistently have random thoughts pop into your head about other tasks you need to do or other commitments, keep a list as you study. Don't dwell on the other task you thought of, but write it down so that you do not forget it but can refocus on your studying. Set up your study time so you minimize internal distractions. Get enough sleep, eat healthy food, exercise, monitor caffeine intake, and monitor mental fatigue.
Schedule breaks. Unfocused studying can be a sign that you need a short break prior to trying to refocus. Having breaks scheduled reduces the chances of your getting off track between the breaks.
Vary your study strategies. If you lose focus when studying in one way for a long time, vary the ways you study. Try studying in one way for 20-30 minutes and then study using a different strategy. The variety can help refresh your focus.
Put away obvious distractions. If you know your phone or laptop is a distraction for you or that the alerts on it will interrupt your studying, turn these off. Make a choice or commitment to a certain period of time studying without those distractions.
Use rewards to motivate yourself. Make small goals for concentrating for a specific amount of time, or accomplishing a task, and reward yourself when you complete it.