How to create a distraction-free environment where you can actually study

People are yelling in the hallway. Your roommate has been on the phone with his mom for the past TWO HOURS. The group chat is going crazy, and your phone sounds like an electric toothbrush. Studying for tomorrow’s test feels like a lost cause.

While a distraction-free study zone can be hard to come by in college, you can curate a focus-friendly space with just a little planning — and a lot of discipline. Here’s how.

Consider your options carefully

When choosing a study zone, it’s important to identify where you’ll find the least amount of external distractions. Maura Thomas, productivity expert and author of Attention Management: How to Create Success and Gain Productivity—Every Day, explains, “I wouldn’t go to a coffee shop in the middle of campus where everybody comes between classes.” On the other hand, if your favorite cafe is quiet and low-traffic, that’s probably a good place to park the study mobile.

For most people, the dorm can really test one’s attention span. You’ve got roommates, RAs, and friends knocking on your door. You already use your dorm for sleeping, socializing, and maybe even eating. It’s tough to add “working” into that mix.

The library is a popular choice for studying, but that also means it can end up just as distracting if you don’t stake out your space wisely. If your friends study on the second floor (and always end up chatting more than studying), consider a different floor. If you know classmates will be passing by and waving if you sit by the entrance, stake out somewhere deeper in the stacks.

Control your environment as much as possible

Wherever you end up, there will always be something begging for your attention, be it a barista’s loud laugh or your text notifications. Acknowledge the distractions around you — then do your best to hide them.

You can’t tell the barista to quiet down, but you can put on headphones and listen to ambient noise. Maybe the library is packed, and the only open spot is in a busy area. Try facing the wall instead of the door. Someone scoping out the extra seat at your table? Mark your territory: spread out your textbooks, journals, and laptop. (A savage move, but effective!)

If you absolutely need to WFD (work from dorm), at least do it at your desk and away from your bed, and try to clear any surrounding clutter. If your roommate is lingering, let them know that you’ll be working for the next *insert timeframe here* and ask for either a bit of privacy or quiet time. That said, your dorm is a shared space, so if your roommate isn’t being courteous, put on the handy headphones or seek out a study room in your dorm building (if you have one).

Don’t let your technology control you

This brings us to perhaps the biggest distraction of all: technology. “Unless you control your technology, your technology will literally run your life,” Thomas says. It goes beyond just silencing your phone. Thomas suggests removing the phone from your space completely. “[Put it] in your backpack or under your desk. Just seeing the phone — even if it’s face down, even if it’s silent — is a distraction for most people.”

If you’re working from your computer, make sure to silence notifications on that screen, too. Close out of your email and any other tabs or applications you might have open that aren’t necessary for the studying at hand.

“Your device is designed to get you to use your device as often as possible because even when there isn’t a distraction [and] you’ve locked yourself away and put everything on silent, your brain goes, ‘Hey, but there's probably something you should be checking right now,’” Thomas said.

The challenge is to train yourself to resist that urge. One way to do that is to look for tech that will actually help keep you on track, such as productivity timers like Forest and Pomodoro. To help resist the FOMO of your friends texting and calling, tell them that you’ll be unavailable for the next *insert timeframe here* and will hit them up later. Whatever you do, don’t let the devices win!

Find the right friends to motivate you

Working alongside others can be a useful technique for staying on track. “If you only make an appointment with yourself, it’s very easy to break it. If you have an appointment with someone else, you’re probably not going to blow them off,” Thomas says.

But, if you choose the wrong people or put some guardrails up, inviting friends along can also push you into procrastination. Don’t invite someone who has nothing to do or someone who will tempt you to joke and gossip for an hour. If you and a friend both have important assignments to do, feel free to meet up and complete your tasks together — but get the chitchat out of the way for about 5-10 minutes and then work in silence for the next hour before taking another short break.

Continue until you’re both done with your work and can celebrate by actually enjoying each others’ company.

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