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Staying Focused While Learning Remotely: How to Avoid Distractions Online

SkillsSoft SkillsWorking from HomeHow-to

Remote learning has come to the mainstream. But many of us worry that remote learning might leave us struggling to keep up. Without direct classmate engagement or the positive social pressure to pay attention (or at least look like we are!), getting distracted seems all too easy.


But there is hope! Concentration is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and mastered. You can also employ tools that will aid you in your quest to defeat distractions. With a bit of self-knowledge, discipline, and planning, you can maximize your concentration while you study online.


Let’s dive into the best practices for staying focused while learning remotely. And remember — always give yourself a little grace as you learn!

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The longer we focus our attention on one specific activity, the more our brains will want to get distracted by something else.

1. Identify Your Unique Distractions

We’re all different. What distracts me may not distract you, and what distracts you may not be what distracts your classmates.


Before you can reduce distractions, you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses regarding concentrated work. Take a few days to notice your habits while you study online. Start a list of the things you see pulling you off task. Is it your phone? Your fridge? Other websites? Your roommates?


You should also take note of practices that help you concentrate. Some of us love playing music in the background as we work, while others can’t focus unless they have total silence. Maybe you prefer being in a coffee shop with people around you, or perhaps you’d rather be alone in a room.


Track your patterns and habits and document the best- and worst-case scenarios for focus.

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2. Maximize Your Space

The next piece of groundwork is to evaluate your space. Most of us will work best if we have a space dedicated exclusively to classwork and nothing else. For example, studies have shown that working in bed significantly reduces your sleep quality and focus.


You also want to keep your workspace clean and organized. Clutter can decrease your satisfaction with life and increase your cortisol or stress levels. You should also set up your desk so you can sit up straight and feel comfortable.


Invest in a few study-optimizing accessories like desk caddies, a Bluetooth keyboard, or even a laptop stand. 


Accessorizing your desk is also a great way to add a little personality and create a space where you want to spend time. Consider adding a plant, which can help keep the air clean and give you something to make you smile. 

laptop and desk set up

3. Create a Routine

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to set a plan. Routine is critical to getting our brains into patterns of concentration. In fact, geniuses tend to have very set routines!


You should actively map out a routine that works for you and stick with it on days when you need to work or study. Consider others in your life like partners, roommates, or children. Make sure your routine works in harmony with theirs. For example, you may want to choose class times that work around your child’s nap time to minimize distractions. 


As you repeat a similar routine each day, your body and brain will be ready for focus when you need it to be. 

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4. Turn Off Notifications

Nothing eats away at our time like the irresistible buzz of a new notification. You may spend two hours working on a project only to find you’ve made little to no progress because you spent half of it checking your phone. 


We recommend putting your phone on silent and leaving it in a separate room. You can still check it from time to time during your planned breaks, of course. But eliminate the distraction during times you need to concentrate. Few of us are strong enough to ignore the buzz, so make sure your phone is out of sight and out of mind. 


Of course, you may need to keep your notifications on for an important call, or so your family can be in touch. In that case, you can adjust your phone’s settings to only notify you of important calls or texts. You can mute other notifications like social media, news reports, and other apps.

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5. Control Your Access

Remember how we tracked our top distractions up in step one? Here’s where that comes in handy. Take your list of distractions and make a plan for restricting your access to them. 


We all start our morning with the best of intentions and tend to unravel over the day. You’re not alone if you struggle to keep yourself from opening your social media in the middle of writing a paper or checking your favorite website instead of listening in class. 


Fortunately, you can make a plan for that! You can add third-party extensions to your browser to block specific websites or apps. 


A couple of extensions we like:


BlockSite: This extension gives you a variety of options for blocking sites. You can set passwords, timers, and schedules. They also provide a tracking feature so you can see how you spend your time.


StayFocused: This extension is designed specifically for the Chrome browser, but it’s highly customizable and effective. You can block whole websites, subdomains, specific pages, or even specific in-page content.


Freedom: Freedom is one of the foundational web blocker extensions. On Mac and Windows, you can use Freedom to control websites and apps. A calming green screen will appear on sites you’ve restricted.

6. Take Breaks

That periodic breaks throughout your day will dramatically increase your concentration and productivity.


The longer we focus our attention on one specific activity, the more our brains will want to get distracted by something else. Taking a break every hour helps your brain reset and refocus attention on the needed task. 


As you study online, breaks become even more critical for your physical and mental health. Get up, walk around, get some sunshine, and reset your brain and body for another block of focus.


With these tips, you can set yourself up for success and maximize your remote learning experience.


Check out this article to read more on children and being online: how much time screen time is too much screen time?

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