More Work in Less Time

Getting distracted is pretty easy. It means that getting the same amount of work done takes longer, using up time which you could spend on something fun. If wasting time’s not a problem for you, then you might as well go and do something else instead of reading this.

Still here?

The truth is that everyone gets distracted. Let’s assume that you have a certain amount of work you must do. This could be your own review tasks, assignments set by a teacher or active revision. You should always know how long it should take you, more or less. Any time you spend on something else is a distraction, and means less time for you to move on to something else. that ‘something’ could be another subject, or a hobby or interest of your own. So if you’d like to have more time for fun stuff, keeping reading is a good idea.

Audit

Everyone gets distracted by different things but there are probably some common themes, even if the details differ. Read through the list and decide what costs you the most time when you’re supposed to be working. Not in the time your parents say you should be working, but when you’re actually planning to get something done.

  • mobile phone (calls/texts)
  • social networks (Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging)
  • computer games / off-topic web browsing
  • music playing
  • TV on nearby
  • family members
  • pets

There might be other things, too. You might want to spend an hour working and write down everything that distracts you, see if it matches up what you think. Now, some distractions are worse than others, either because they’re hard to ignore, or because they happen again and again. Spend a couple of minutes putting them into an order, from most to least distracting, like this one from Information Is Beautiful a few years back.

Avoid

You’ve got your list. You know what’s distracting you. Now it’s time to do something about it.

There’s no real shortcut here. You’re not trying to justify what you’re doing to your parents or your teachers. If you want to get more done, in less time – with the incentive that you can then have guilt-free time afterwards to do fun stuff – you need to work with fewer distractions. If it helps, remember that these distractions are not only making the work take longer, but it’s likely they’re reducing the quality too. Which means you won’t understand it so well, which means you won’t do so well in the exams…

Anyway. If you want to avoid the distractions, you need to do something about it. What you do will depend on the problem, but there are some pretty common-sense ideas.

  • Turn off the TV and games console. Music can work as background noise but moving pictures scream “look at me!” Researchers actually use this to test how interesting programmes are and have done since Sesame Street.
  • As a minimum, put your mobile on silent. Ideally put it in another room.
  • Use a kitchen timer, set to go off to tell you when you’ve done enough and need a break. Much less than 20 minutes and you won’t get into the routine, much more than 40 and you’ll lose focus. A few minutes to stretch is probably enough. Don’t put the TV on.
  • If you need to use a computer, don’t try to keep a tab or window on Facebook ‘just in case’. The web can be fantastic for research, reviewing work and testing yourself. It also has millions of hours of cats playing on YouTube. Resist.
  • For once, emotional blackmail can work in your favour. Tell your family you’re trying to get work done properly for school. Insist that little sisters/loading the dishwasher/walking the dog will distract you during your study session. With luck, they’ll have forgotten when you’re finished and you can choose something fun to do.*

If distractions still happen, keep a note of them. If the same thing shows up a lot, then do something about it. Over time it should get easier to remain focused and you’ll get more done in less time. Leaving you the rest of your evening or weekend to watch cats on the internet. Or whatever.

 

*Not guaranteed.

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