College 101: Dealing with Distractions During Crunch Time

We have officially reached that time of year – midterms. Every college student’s worst nightmare and arguably worse than any other part of the semester. Now, don’t get me wrong, procrastination and distraction are always problems, but for some reason they are always worse during midterms. It’s like I am always at peak productivity when all I have due are a few smaller writing assignments that do not exceed a page or two in length. Once I get to midterms, though, I literally lose all motivation and my productivity plummets to depths that no human has ever gone before – I procrastinate worse than ever because I am so overwhelmed that I don’t know how to prioritize my assignments and I become far more easily distracted than I ever was before. During a normal week, I can sit down and only get distracted every now and then, but midterms are a whole different story. That weird noise in the corner is like there’s an actual elephant in the room, that thing that you said to someone months ago is somehow fresh and requires serious analysis – literally the smallest thing is the biggest distraction. I’m a senior now and, while I can assure you that there is no magic way to cure this chronic lack of motivation, I’ve developed some strategies over the years for minimizing distraction. Here are 5 common distractions and ways to combat them:


1. Is Netflix calling you? 

Netflix is probably the biggest distraction out there. At any given point in time, we are either in full binge or are searching for our next binge watch. Obviously, this is much more fun than writing that paper for that class that you really don’t enjoy, but what toll is it going to take on you later? Before you sit down to do homework, do yourself a favor – put the remote out of arms reach, close your web browser that is inevitably always open to Netflix, and make sure that everything you need is within reach. Study or work on your homework until you start to feel that you’ve hit a wall (approx. 2 hours maximum) then give yourself a break, watch one episode on Netflix and then get back to grinding. It’s all about balance!


2. Listening to music, but not just any music – your jams!

Every time I try to listen to music when I study, I get distracted. Naturally, I put on my playlist that is full of my favorite songs which means that I likely know all of the lyrics. The more I listen, the more distracted I get because I start to focus more and more on the song – lyrics, beat, things I hadn’t noticed before – anything that gives me an out and allows me to stop studying. Now, if I feel like I need some background noise, I put on a Spotify playlist titled Classical for Studying because it plays only instrumental music and I don’t know most of the songs. Next time you’re studying, try listening to something unfamiliar or out of your comfort zone so that you aren’t distracted by your favorite song right when you are getting into the zone of studying.


3. That friend who means well but keeps talking and you’re too nice tell them to stop.

We all have that one friend who means well and says that they won’t talk, but they come over to study with you and just won’t stop. There’s nothing more distracting than being interrupted every two minutes because your friend has to read you that funny thing their professor wrote or that weird fact they found in their textbook. The hardest thing ever is to tell that friend to stop talking – you invited them! If you tell them to stop it would be rude, right? No, it wouldn’t! You invited them to study with you, if they are impeding your ability to focus, you have the right to either tell them to stop talking or to get up and move somewhere where you can get quiet. I always preface with my friends that I need to do work and that they can join me at lunch if they want, but that I won’t be chatty and really need quiet. If you preface this beforehand, they can’t be upset if you ask them to stop talking or if you find a new table.


4. Online shopping? Is that you?

You know what’s worse than getting an email notification about a major sale at your favorite store while you’re studying? Nothing! That is the #1 way to derail my efforts at being a good student. Suddenly I find myself spiraling into a world of sequins and fabric and rompers and dresses and tops – none of which I can afford as a broke college student. So then I add everything that I like to my cart and keep that tab open on my computer in the hopes that I will eventually come across some miraculous pool of money that will allow me to buy all of the things my heart desires. If only... But, alas, that will never happen. My best advice for this one is to literally unsubscribe from every store email newsletter so you aren’t tempted to check out their new product every time you get an email.


5. Why do homework when you can do literally anything else?

My absolute favorite way to procrastinate homework is cooking. This usually happens on a Sunday afternoon when I know that I really need to start getting work done, but instead I decide to cook. I cook literally anything and everything that I have the ingredients for and I will spend hours doing this. I feel productive because I am ensuring that I have food for the next week that I do not need to prepare when I get home from a long day, and I’m avoiding my responsibilities. It’s a win-win – except when it isn’t and Monday rolls around, I still haven’t worked on that major assignment, and I’m forced to stay up into the wee hours of the night to make sure that I get it done in time. Then I’m stressed, sleep-deprived, and emotional simply because I had the urge to cook exorbitant amounts of food for one person for one week.


I’m sure you’ve heard all of these suggestions before but honestly I don’t think anyone will ever have enough willpower to stop themselves from turning on that show or picking up their phone if it’s right there tempting them. The only way to truly avoid distraction is to remove the temptation altogether. If you’re like me, putting my phone out of reach is enough to deter me because once I sit down, the chances of me getting back up are slim. As hard as it is, you kind of have to force yourself to sit down and do your work. Eventually, if you put your phone out of reach and stare at that blank page for long enough, your boredom will fuel you to do something, and usually that something will actually be helpful.