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How to Stay Focused When You’re Studying: Four Crucial Tips for Students Using Virtual Computer Labs

studying in collegeDo you struggle to stay focused when you’re studying for an exam or working on an essay? Staying focused on demanding material can be a real challenge when you’re a student, especially if you were used to more structure and support during high school.

Physical Computer Labs vs Virtual Computer Labs

Twenty years ago, many students did much of their work in physical computer labs. This often made it easier to focus, as there were other students working alongside them, and none of the distractions of a typical dorm room.

These days, you’re much more likely to be using a virtual computer lab: one that you access from your own device. Virtual labs have a lot of advantages, like being able to work from wherever you want, and having all your favorite applications and websites at your fingertips.

But it can also make it tough to stay focused. If you find yourself writing a sentence or two then watching YouTube videos, or reading over your lecture notes only to end up messaging a friend, then these study tips should help.

#1 Create a Plan of What You’re Going to Work On

If you simply sit down to “study” or to “write an essay”, it can be tough to know where to begin. Instead, create a plan of action.

For an essay, that might mean coming up with some key points that you want to cover and deciding which you’re going to tackle during your writing session.

If you’re studying for an exam, your plan might involve a list of the skills you want to deliberately practice. Highlight the ones you’re going to work on during the next hour.

#2 Use the Pomodoro Method for Sustained Focus

The pomodoro method is a very popular time management tool for students as well as for plenty of other people. It involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, working till the timer goes off (that’s one “pomodoro” done), then taking a break for 5 minutes. Every 4 pomodoros, take a longer break for 15 - 30 minutes.

Almost everything in your life can wait for 25 minutes till you get to a break. If someone texts or messages you, then respond once your pomodoro ends. If you get a call, let it go to voicemail and return it later. Only break a pomodoro for a true emergency, like the fire alarm going off.

#3 Block Distracting Websites (or Turn Off Your Internet Connection)

Many students find that the internet is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a wonderful source of information and entertainment, 24/7 … but it can also be a huge distraction when you’re trying to focus.

There are lots of apps out there that let you block distracting websites, and these can be very helpful – especially if you use them in conjunction with the pomodoro method. If you don’t actually need the internet while studying, then you could even turn off your internet connection altogether. 

#4 Use Headphones to Block Out Noise

If your roommate is watching TV, or if there’s a party going on down the hall, or if your corner of the library has been taken over by a chatty study group, then it can be really tough to concentrate. Headphones are definitely the way forward. 

Find music that helps you to concentrate: lots of students find movie soundtracks helpful, or you might want to try some of the many options on YouTube designed for better concentration. You can also use sites like Noisli for ambient noise. If possible, use noise-blocking headphones that help cancel out some of the noise around you. These don’t need to be expensive: in-ear headphones often do a good job of muffling noise.

If you struggle to focus, know that you’re not alone. Many students do – but you don’t have to give in to procrastination. Simply follow the above tips, and try to do a little better with each study session. Soon, you’ll be making focus and concentration into a habit … and it’ll get easier each time.