How To Overcome Distractions When It’s Time To Study

Today, I’m very proud to introduce to you the fourth guest columnist to join the PE family: Daniel Wong, author of the book The Happy Student! :D

Daniel Wong

By now, you guys are probably no stranger to Daniel. :) I had Daniel as the first guest of Celes.TV, with the episode being about how to be a top student. If you haven’t caught the interview yet, do so here: How To Score a GPA of 3.98/4.00 – Interview with Straight-A Student Daniel Wong [Video]

Daniel will be owning the Studies & School column and he will be contributing an article every month like the other guest writers. Daniel’s introduction completes the introduction of the permanent guest columnists I will be having on PE for now—Benjamin Loh (Communications), Alexander Heyne (Health & Fitness), Cornelius Mota (Career & Work), and Daniel Wong (Studies & School).

The guest articles will typically be up every Monday, with Ben’s scheduled for the first week of the month, Alex’s on the second, Cornel’s on the third, and Daniel’s on the fourth.

My intention of having these experts join PE is to share their incredible knowledge with the world, boost the breadth of content on PE, and enrich more lives out there. At the same time, I will continue writing new articles on the areas I do best in—self-awareness, emotional mastery, and personal productivity. I hope you guys will like the content line-up I have for PE.

I will now let Daniel take the stage with his first post on PE. Take it away, Daniel! :)


Does this sound familiar?

You have a big exam coming up next week, so you know it’s time to hit the books.

You sit down at your study table and start reviewing your notes.

Five minutes later, your phone goes off. It’s a text message from your cousin, Lily. She’s asking about the family trip that you’re going on after your exam.

After exchanging six text messages with Lily, you look at the time. 15 minutes have gone by!

You put your phone aside and get back to reading your notes. 10 minutes later, you get the sudden, overwhelming urge to check your Facebook news feed.

You only intend to spend a few minutes on Facebook, but you end up browsing through three photo albums, commenting on four statuses, and watching two videos.

You decide to update your own status: “Life dilemma: Study for exam or check Facebook. Facebook wins.” All of this takes you another 20 minutes.

I’m sure something like this has happened to you before. It happened to me when I was a student, and most of the students I work with tell me that it happens to them far too often.

But there’s hope. There are simple techniques you can use to win the war against distractions.

Here are six tips for you:

1. Put your phone on silent mode and place it at the other end of the room.

If you own a smartphone, you know how distracting it can be. Facebook, Twitter, email, text messaging and yes, the entire Internet, are at your fingertips.

Even a non-smartphone can be extremely distracting!

As such, I recommend that—at the start of your study session—you put your phone on silent mode and place it far away from you. Preferably, you should place it at the other end of the room.

This way, you won’t be interrupted by phone calls or text messages while you’re studying. You can always check your phone every 30 or 45 minutes when you take a break.

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that few of the text messages and phone calls you receive require an immediate response, so it’s reasonable to get back to the other person when you’re taking a break.

2. Turn off your Internet access.

You might intend to use your computer for work, but you can easily find yourself on Facebook or YouTube instead. (You know what I mean. :) )

When you’re using your computer, the World Wide Web is literally just a click away. Don’t trust yourself to resist that temptation. Turn off your Internet access before you begin your study session.

If you need to access certain online resources, then download all of the necessary information at the start of your session before you turn off your Internet access.

The Internet is tool that has the power to both entertain and educate. By turning off your Internet access when it’s time to focus, you’re harnessing the power of the Internet effectively.

3. Take a deep breath when you’re about to get distracted.

Distractions come in waves. The urge to watch TV, clear your room (I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like clearing my room when it’s time to be productive, right?) and check your phone attacks you suddenly—and it can often be overwhelming.

But these intense urges only last for a short while. If you’re able to resist that initial wave, you’ll be able to carry on studying instead of succumbing to temptation.

Here’s how to fight off the urge when it hits you: Close your eyes. Breathe in for two seconds, then breathe out for two seconds. If the urge still persists, repeat until it goes away.

Using this simple technique, you’ll spend four to eight seconds breathing deeply, after which you’ll get back to work. If you don’t use this technique, you’ll probably end up getting distracted for 15 minutes, or even longer.

4. Ask people to give you privacy.

I’m sure that something like this has happened to you before while you were studying:

  • Your mom came by to ask you about your day
  • Your friend dropped by to chat
  • Your younger brother asked you for help with his homework
  • Your sister asked you for advice

The list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong; relationships are important. I firmly believe that, in many ways, the quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life.

But when you’re studying, interruptions can be especially disruptive.

Just before you begin your study session, I recommend that you go up to the people who are most likely to disturb you and say something like this: “I have an exam coming up next week, so I need to focus. Would you please give me some privacy for the next two hours and not interrupt, unless it’s something really urgent?”

When you make such an intentional effort to ask others to respect your privacy and your commitment to academic excellence, they’re likely to show you that respect.

5. Get eight hours of sleep every night.

As a student, it seems almost impossible to get enough sleep. There’s always so much homework to do, so many projects to work on, so many activities to participate in, so many friends to hang out with, and so many parties to go to.

Compared to all of these things, sleep seems so unimportant!

But sleep is vital if you want to perform well academically. It’s an established scientific fact that sleep affects your memory, concentration and brain function. If you’re not sleeping enough, you’re not setting yourself up for success in your student life.

When you’re sleep-deprived, you’ll also be easily distracted.

Here are some ways to help you get to bed earlier:

  • Have a nightly bedtime routine
  • Wind down at the end of the day by reading a book
  • Don’t drink caffeine after 3pm
  • Go to bed at the same time every day
  • Set a nightly alarm to tell you it’s time to go to bed (this has been exceptionally helpful for me!)

6. Use a tool like to help you prioritize your tasks.

( didn’t pay me to say this, I promise.) is a web-based tool that allows you to conveniently manage projects and prioritize tasks.

I started using half a year ago, and I’ve found it to be beneficial in keeping my life organized.

Students often get distracted when they think about all the other tasks they need to accomplish. They start to wonder if they should be working on another assignment or studying for another test instead. This hinders them from focusing on the task at hand.

By using a tool like, you’ll be able to stay on top of all of your assignments, projects and other commitments. With a systematic approach toward task management, you’ll make the most of every study session.

In closing…

In our increasingly connected world of smartphones, tablets, laptops and high-speed Internet, distractions are everywhere.

You’ll need to make a deliberate and committed effort to stay on task. I hope these six tips will help you in your quest to become a happy and successful student!

Image: Andy.Schultz

About the Author: Daniel Wong is the bestselling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He blogs regularly on topics related to education and career at Download his popular FREE ebook, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Don’t Do These 150 Things If You Want To Be Happy".
  • Daniel Wong

    Thanks for the opportunity to write for Personal Excellence, Celes!

    I hope that all of you readers out there find the tips helpful :)

    • Celes

      I’m definitely sure they will, Dan. :D Look forward to your upcoming monthly contributions myself!

  • Joe

    This is very important. The potential for distraction seeems greater these days and easier to give in to but I guess young people will always be challenged to cut off the outside world of fun ane interaction.
    As a student I found one other big challenge when studying. That was in being too interested in a subject and burrowing down into facinating but unnecessary trivia. A whole evening could pass this way. How would I have coped with a search engin at my finger tips! Learning how to study took me a year.

    • Daniel

      Wow, Joe– that’s a rare problem to have where you’re too interested in a subject! It sounds like you cultivated the habit of lifelong learning thought :)

  • rahul

    You did a great job Daniel . . I am very big fan of celes but I like your article too. very nice, keep it and thanks to Celes also for introducing such a talented person. :)

    • Daniel

      You’re very kind, Rahul. I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

  • Leonie Goodwin

    Hi Daniel, I would like to thank you for this article …. it is excellent and exactly what I needed to read right now. Even adult students have trouble being focused.

    • Daniel

      Thanks so much, Leonie. I’m glad that you as an adult student found it beneficial!

  • JadePenguin

    Totally agree – the best way to fight temptation is to keep it far away. For #2, I’ve found it also works to use a different browser so it’s free from all my usual tabs – FB, Youtube, Gmail. There’s also programs to have multiple desktops so you can create a 100% work computer feel. Or even working on a library computer.

    I’ll have to try #3. It might also help to use the short time-out to rethink “why am I doing this?” and realise that FB etc are quite meaningless next to self-improvement :)

    • Daniel

      Thanks for sharing the tips, JadePenguin! I especially like the one about using a different browser– I’m going to try that :)

  • Mondli

    Hi guys,

    I’m doing my final year MBA research. Been having major setbacks in terms of distraction. FB and Smartphones being the culprit. I am so lost from my original plan I think I should start having a new one. I deactivated FB. I can see that Im starting to focus again. Bit by bit. The devil is me :)

    Thanks for this article.


    Mondli :cry:

    • Daniel

      All the best, Mondli– I know you’re going to do great!

  • Whatif

    Hi Daniel,

    I find your tips useful and I will use it when i go uni this year.((:

    I do have some questions regarding “get 8 hours of sleep every night”, (assuming you set at 11pm to sleep)

    1.there may be occasions where lessons end late, and you have CCAs after that. After you reached home maybe around 10pm and you start doing your tutorials…..and your nightly alarm rings, but your tutorials are still not done, what do you do?

    2. Let’s say the next day your lessons are in the afternoon, do you suggest us to stay up later than 11pm to finish our work, and get our 8 hours of sleep afterwards or sleep by 11pm, wake up early to clear it? (because some teachers had advised me to clear today’s work by today, and if there is a need to sacrifice sleep, so be it)

    do you have any advice regarding fast adaptation to university/change of environment? (I took almost 1 year to adapt and get used to JC learning style and I am afraid that I might need the same amount of time for uni as well)

    I always face this problem. I review my notes often so to keep the content in mind. But sometimes, when i re-read my notes, the information seems messed up/ i get confused. Is it because i review more than the ” 1,3,7,21 ” or I did not truly understand my content?

    Lastly, I have seen many people working really hard, studying every single day, reading notes before lecture, listen attentively and copying every single thing the lecturer says, doing all the tutorials on time……….. but results aint as good as those who slept through lectures. Why is that so?

    Thank you(:

    • Daniel Wong

      Hey, your questions aren’t that straightforward, so I’ll try to answer them as best as I can in a comment:

      1. Usually, the tutorials aren’t due the next day. In the case that you make sure most of the tasks you are working on are important but not urgent, you should be able to go to bed on time, and then work on the tutorials the following day.

      If you are managing your time well, but still find that you can’t get enough sleep, then I think you might need to reduce your number of commitments. Learning to say “no” is an important life skill :)

      2. I recommend going to bed at roughly the same time every night– it’s much better for your overall health and mental focus. If that means waking up early to do the work, then that’s the better option.

      3. My advice on adapting to university life: Build good relationships with your professors and don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance.

      4. If you get confused when you’re reviewing your notes, that’s an indication that you probably didn’t understand the material well in the first place. I encourage you to talk to your teacher and clarify your doubts.

      5. Studies actually show that students who do well in school study FEWER HOURS than average students. Students who do well are just more focused when they get down to work.

      Those students who sleep through lectures and still do well… they are probably just incredibly gifted and talented and lucky!

      Hope this helps :)

  • Dr Jitesh Arora

    Thanks a lot Daniel. You have covered an excellent topic. There are number of students who can t even start their study session due to world wide web and other distractions. Even if a person starts a study session he can’t focus more than ten minutes. Maintaining focus is difficult but this habit is very important for success in every field.

    • Daniel

      You’re welcome, Dr Jitesh Arora! Focus is indeed important in your student life and beyond.

  • Khema

    It’s a very nice thing to see. I’m a student. When I see what you’ve wrote, it’s remind me what am I going to do for my better future. Thank you for your six tips.

    • Daniel

      You’re very welcome, Khema. Wishing you all the best for your bright future! :)

  • mala

    Thanks a lot for your article. ;) You have mentioned all things clearly but I have another problem. When i start reading, my mind doesn’t concentrate. My mind is full of things that I watch or things that happens in class hence studying is very hard for me. Can you give me any suggestion?

    • Daniel

      Hi mala, I recommend using your finger or a pen as a guide when you’re reading. This usually helps you to concentrate better. If you find it hard to concentrate, it might also be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep.

      Hope this helps!

      • Celes

        Hey Daniel! That’s an interesting tip–to use your finger or pen as a guide. I also agree that difficulty in concentration probably means a lack of sleep–Mala, you might want to ensure you get enough rest before hitting the books. Thanks for sharing! :)

        • mala

          thanks a lot for your advice . now i will try to get a lot of sleep. ;)

  • Celes

    Hey Dan!! :D Seems like your post is quite a big hit among the readers. Everyone’s getting great value from your tips. Thanks so much for writing such a great post! :D

    • Daniel

      Thank you, Celes! I need to thank you again for the honor of writing for PE :)

  • Lisa H.


    This was interesting. I never thought of distraction coming in waves. And I never thought about taking a deep breath when distracted. I find that I am most distracted in the afternoons when my energy wanes. My concentration starts to falter and my mind has difficulty focusing. These tips will be very helpful in getting me back on track. Another thing you can do to overcome distractions is to take a complete break from the activity. I’ve done this and many times, I’ve come back refreshed.

    • Daniel

      Lisa, thank you for sharing! I like your idea about taking a complete break from the activity– that’s definitely helpful.

  • Sam

    Thanks Dan,

    These are great tips! Although it’s been awhile since I completed my Bachelor degree studies, I am always open to taking new courses and perhaps pursuing a Master’s in the future; the marketplace is quite competitive and I figure further knowledge and certification can assist me in expanding my career. I feel that your tips will assist me in strengthening my concentration.

    I noticed some people have asked you questions here; if you don’t mind, I’ll ask one as well. I have, in the past, studied pretty dry course work that would cause me to feel very sleepy (it can be quite embarrassing especially if the student is in a public venue, like a quiet coffee shop or library). Is there a tip you can share in regard to how one can get re-energized and resume immediate focus on the material at hand?

    • Daniel

      Hey Sam, that’s exciting to hear that you’re thinking of pursuing a Master’s in the future!

      With regard to your question about getting re-energized, a tip I’ve found helpful for myself is to imagine the end goal. For example, I remember taking a course in university called Fluid Mechanics– and there was a lot of dry material that I needed to learn.

      At the start of each study session, I would take 30 seconds and imagine how I would become a master of Fluid Mechanics by the end of the semester: I would understand how aeroplanes fly, why golf balls have dimples, how wind tunnels work, how cars are designed for aerodynamic efficiency, etc.

      The thought of becoming a master of Fluid Mechanics inspired me to get to work, even though the work itself wasn’t the most fascinating stuff.

      I think it’s about having a strong sense of purpose, and about beginning with the end in mind.

      I hope that helps!

  • Marcus

    thanks Dan!!!all of this tips are very impt and as a student, all these distractions are making losing track of what i have wanted myself to study for the day.

    Just a question, what advice will u give to people like me, who are slow learners and usually takes very long to understand concepts? I have seek help from lecturers to clarify, friends to help me to explain concepts but somehow, my grades just did not really pick up. I have wanted to go to university, preferably NUS or NTU..

    well other than that, just want to say again that your site is awesome!!!way to go dan!!

  • Daniel

    Thank you for your encouragement, Marcus!

    That’s a pretty complex question, but I’ll try to give you some practical advice.

    I think that if you feel like maybe you’re not so academically inclined, you could check out a book like Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. You should be able to see where your giftings really lie, and then go and pursue that field.

    Hope this helps :)

  • Rico Compagnie

    Thanks for the tips! Meditation can also help. It helps you keep focusing. And focus can come in handy when you need to study :p

    • Daniel

      Thanks for the tip on meditation, Rico!

  • muna

    Hey Daniel

    Thank you so much for those tips. Being in the middle of my xams this article was what I exactly needed.
    Though there is a prob with me. I cannot study alone. I get easily distracted. I need someone near me studying to make me feel that constant urge which is not possible (especially when i am leaving my hostel in about 20 days).

    plzz guide me


    • Daniel

      Hey Muna,

      I have another article that’s going to be published tomorrow at PE. I trust those tips in my next article will be helpful!


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