How To Stay Focused While Studying In A Distracting Environment

Focus definition

Getting an education opens various doors of opportunity for the prospective graduate. People study for various reasons, even just to expand their horizons or build on their current careers. However studying requires a lot of focus, and when you’ve got nowhere else to study and you’re stuck in a distracting environment, it can be hard to maintain the internal discipline and sense of progress necessary to keep at it for long.

A constant slew of distractions is detrimental to the mind when trying to study. A chaotic environment pulls attention, encourages the wandering mind, and affects information retention. Situations like studying an online EdD in Higher Education or studying for your first college exam can be a real challenge if you’ve got screaming kids running around. Trying to get a research project done can be impossible if you’re constantly fulfilling the requests of family members and friends who need help.

What Focus Is (And Why We Lose It)

Focus is the intense concentration of interest or attention on a specific task, topic, or thing. When we focus, the brain’s neurons in the visual cortex fire along the relevant synapses in synchrony. This has been observed to coincide with a marked decrease in all other neurons firing. This suggests that at a molecular level, the brain actively tunes out all additional information other than what the brain is registering, placing the immediate visual stimulus at the forefront.

There are many reasons why someone may lose focus. It can be a disruption to visual acuity, or external factors forcing the brain’s neurons to fire over the visual synchrony of the visual cortex. Additionally, some medications and a lack of sleep may cause issues with focus and concentration.

Famously, a key roadblock to consistent focus is ADHD. This neurodevelopmental condition is famous for the challenges it places on those living with it when attempting to stay on task. However, it also includes a multitude of other symptoms, including depression, anxiety, depersonalisation, intense periods of focus or concentration, racing thoughts, compulsive fidgeting, impulsivity, emotional deregulation, and more.

Keeping Focus Amid Distraction

One of the greatest challenges to maintaining focus is to stay on task in an inherently distracting environment. This is particularly relevant to people working from home who may also have to look after kids, keep the house tidy, cook, and attend to standard domestic occurrences. However, even the office itself can be a distracting environment, with the sounds of phones going off, conversations happening in the background, people microwaving food, or getting e-mail bombed with new tasks. The office can be a haven of distraction. We’re going to provide you with some tips for maintaining focus in a heavily distracting environment.

1. Recognise what is distracting you.

As surprising as it may seem, not everyone is distracted by the same things. Some people find it difficult to keep their eyes on a task, other people find it difficult to ignore sounds or mobile phone alerts. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a wandering mind or just being dragged into conversations by excessively chatty co-workers.

It’s a good idea to make a mental or physical note to yourself about when you get distracted and what causes it. For example, if you mind that you’re frequently distracted by email notifications, it may be worth turning them off and then setting regular reminders about checking your emails. If you find that you become distracted by going through research for your job, it may be worth working alongside completing your research, ensuring that you stay on topic. Or if co-workers are intruding on your work time, practice setting boundaries.

2. Start big.

Do you have a certain approach when you try to get your work done? A popular method used by many people is to get little jobs out of the way first, however, this may exacerbate and place additional strain on your brain when trying to focus.

This is because when you do multiple little tasks, you’re using the same mental processes as for large tasks. The difference is that rather than focusing on one thing, you’re working those same processes over, and over again. This leads to an expedited sensation of tiredness or exhaustion because even though you’ve only done small jobs, you’ve been doing multiple sets of mental gymnastics.

If you take care of a larger task first, you get the opportunity to “get into the swing of things.” Tackling large tasks demands elongated attention and allows you to settle into the mind space slowly without starting, working on, and completing multiple little tasks, thus tiring you out before the end of the day.

3. Block the office.

This sounds meaner than it is and varies from office to office. However as we stated before, the office can be a veritable treasure trove of distracting input. If your workplace will allow you to, it can be worth investing in a pair of high-quality noise-cancelling headphones and listening to your favourite playlist while you work. Or if you find it difficult to work with music playing, try white noise or binaural tracks. Alternatively, you can get good-quality earplugs that can help filter out excess noise.

4. Start with a plan.

It may sound obvious but starting your day with either a mental or physical plan can go a long way to improving focus. Having a list of what you want or need to accomplish in your head or in front of you can be a real boon in setting your mind straight when working on a task. It creates a reminder for your brain that you will get x amount of tasks done, and throughout the day it gives you another tool to pull yourself out of a distracted state.

5. Ignore your phone

We would never suggest that you ignore your loved ones calling you in an emergency, but with social media a person’s phone can go off a lot. It may be worth turning off notifications while you’re at work and simply ignoring the outside world for a while unless you get a phone call.

Diverting Distraction

Productivity isn’t always fun. Sometimes we become distracted simply because we’re bored, but when we’re on the clock it’s not enough for us to just say “I am bored by this.” We work our jobs so that we can care for ourselves and our loved ones, and when we experience a chronic lack of focus it can be detrimental to our job. If you have tried all of the above and are still experiencing a lack of focus, we suggest seeing your doctor immediately to ensure that there’s no medical reason for your faltering concentration. Otherwise, we hope that these tips helped!

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