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How to manage digital distraction in your studies

If you suffer from digital distraction, we examine how you can re-engage and improve your concentration.

Written by Lucy Bodenham |

Tree in shape of human head
Our brains are not hard-wired to multitask which can make us 40% less productive.

Sustained concentration is key to completing tasks and getting studies done. Today, we have very many distractions left, right and centre. While watching TV, we multitask, check our phones, swipe through social media and shop online. Studies show that when we check something our mind requires about 23 minutes of refocus time to get back on task.

We now use devices as digital brains, storing information we need to remember. What matters is how we use our devices and that our brains are not hard-wired to multitask which can make us 40% less productive. Several surveys over the last two years also indicate our digital dependence is eroding our memory.

The constant looking up of information prevents the build-up of long term memory. We search online for answers or information and this transitory method does not engage long-term memory or give your brain a workout.

In a 2015 report, Microsoft looked at Canadian media consumption and found that the average attention span has fallen from 12 to eight seconds. Of these, a third would turn to computers to recall information.

Things which erode memory:

  • Distraction from doing several superficial tasks at once – limit multitasking.
  • Lack of sleep affects concentration – ensure you get enough sleep on a regular basis.
  • Long term alcohol consumption leads to brain shrinkage and memory loss at an earlier age.
  • Dehydration will affect your brain’s performance – ensure you drink enough water daily.
  • Stimulants like coffee only offer short term effects – limit these in moderation.
  • Cramming at exam time is not ideal for long term memory – break your study into manageable chunks.

Tips to banish digital amnesia

Your first consideration is to find a suitable place to study to encourage focus. Find a regular spot where you won’t be distracted by people walking about or undue noise.

If you are annoyed by adverts on websites use the Reader View in Firefox or Reader Mode in Chrome. It cuts out distracting images, graphics and moving adverts. You can devote undivided attention to digesting content.

For those who watch video tutorials, turn off the lights is an extension to watch videos on YouTube. It works by diming everything on your screen helping you concentrate on just the video.

If you are distracted by social media or email alerts you can use Freedom to restrict your web access. Use this app on any device to block websites to help you stay on task.

If you want to improve your reading power, HeKu IT is an app to double your reading speed and improve your retention at the same time.

The simple method of note-taking can be an effective learning process. Note-takers retain information better when writing by hand and it aids long term memory retention.

Distractions are habit forming so discipline yourself to stick to tasks. Build up this in stages, do five minutes more or read five more paragraphs. Work on extending this step by step.

iTunes has a plethora of concentration apps of which these three stand out; Peak challenges you to push your cognitive skills with fun, stimulating games. Elevate and Fit Brains have memory, attention and speed games, as well as emotional intelligence workouts. Use any of these apps on the go during your journey to work.

Be a list maker. Get more out of this by setting yourself start and finish times for tasks. Train your memory with a mnemonic method as a creative way to remember lists. This could be the first letter of each word to recall your list. If you need more support, Toodledo is a powerful productivity app for organising your to-do lists and notes.

Exercise is vital for a healthy brain. Brisk walking or jogging helps your brain’s regenerative growth. We produce new cells in the area of the brain known as the hippocampus. One of the things this area of the brain does is turn short-term memories into long-term ones. To keep your brain in robust health, 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times a week is advisable.

The spaced repetition method can be an effective way of learning and your memory lasts longer with each review of what you learn. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus found the ideal method to review information is just before you are about to forget it. Your memory gets stronger with each review. Review after a few minutes, an hour, several hours, a day, a few days, and a week. Cramming for an exam is not effective and you can forget after only a month.

The best tip of all is to make lifelong learning a constant feature in your life. Anyone who keeps learning stays young, so develop new interests and pursue hobbies. These can influence your life in so many positive ways and you will meet interesting people along the journey.

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