Harnessing the power of blocking apps is a major step toward fighting distraction
It’s hard to imagine a harder time than now to be a student. This is paradoxical as more resources are available for students – at the press of a button – today than ever before. But those buttons are a part of the problem. We live in what’s called the digital age, but it might better be called the digital distraction age. There’s always something to see, hear or comment on. Finding the willpower to concentrate and the self-motivation to focus is a challenge for even an adult studying for their Ph.D., let alone a high schooler. Throw in the pandemic and the rise in remote learning and you’ve got a formula for a complete breakdown in 21st century learning. Procrastination, lack of motivation, the difficulties of fighting the internet and other digital distractions – these all add up to an extremely stressful experience that isn’t conducive to absorbing information. Luckily, there are some scientifically-proven methods for helping get students of all ages back on track.
We might as well start with the most obvious. Digital distractions such as social media are clearly an issue for a huge number of students. But they don’t have to be. Despite that strange feeling many of us get when we are away from our phones for too long, a phone is not actually essential to human life. But there’s a decent case to be made that a phone, tablet, or laptop is a tool for studying. So, we need these devices as tools, but they are also our enemy. This seems like a hopelessly unsolvable problem. But it’s not. Millions of people around the world are discovering the benefits of what are known as ‘blocking apps.’ This is a kind of app that once downloaded, syncs across all your devices – with your permission – and then after you’ve set it up, it will block websites at the times you desire. Removing the element of willpower is the overall goal. If you know that you’re supposed to be studying from, let’s say 9:00 a.m. till noon, why rely on self-control when you can block social media and perhaps that one shopping site that constantly draws you in? Blocking apps also come with scheduling features and timers that can help you plan out your study day.
The key is to make sure you set up the blocker in a way that will be truly helpful to you, and that requires you to be honest with yourself. Instagram may be an important part of your life – it may be how you socialize and even relax, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you are ‘on the gram’ when you should be preparing for an upcoming test, it’s a problem. It would be better to block Instagram for those hours that you need to study… and then afterward enjoy uploading photos and checking out your friends’ profiles guilt-free because you know you got your work done. Science also makes it clear that a study ritual is essential. Humans are creatures of habit and if you have a pre-study ritual that involves something like perhaps clearing your desk, laying out your pencils and study materials, or whatever the ritual is, it reinforces the idea that you are now in ‘study mode.’ Digital distractions can be curtailed with a blocking app but the space around you can also be distracting. For most of us, an uncluttered workspace is the key to an uncluttered mind. Staying in the realm of distractions is sound. If you’re lucky enough to have a near-silent place to study, congratulations. Most of us, however, do not. Some people like to use earplugs to block out sounds that include anything from family members doing house chores in the next room to traffic noise. But a more modern solution is noise-canceling headphones. You could consider listening to Lo-Fi music as you study although there is debate over whether music is an aid or a hindrance to learning.
All work and no play make a dull student they say, and play is not only a cure for boredom but also a reward. Rewards are important as they inform the brain that something was accomplished and reinforce the idea of work-equals-reward. After you have accomplished a good study session, give yourself some time to do something frivolous or fun; you’ve earned it! And finally, exercise. Oxygen. Blood to the brain. –You know how it works. But even if you don’t have the time or the desire to go pump iron, you can still take a 10-minute walk around the block for some fresh air or head to your nearest park for a little bit of ‘green time.’ A walk is a form of reward, while at the same time getting your circulation moving and being good for your health in general. To summarize, scientists have been studying studying for decades. The results of these studies are not mind-blowing. Distractions are bad. Concentration is good. But of course, easier said than done. Start today by downloading a blocking app and cutting out the digital distractions that often trip you up. After you’ve taken step one, then move to step two and consider other distractions such as your workspace or noise. Tackle the challenges you face one at a time as you move towards the goal of self-regulated studying with a smart regimen and schedule that results in real learning.