Our lives are full of deadlines.
Work deadlines, appointment deadlines, assignment deadlines. There's always somewhere we have to be or something we have to do and if you're studying a short course, a degree or a trade, remembering what you've learnt means fitting study into your routine.
But if you're finding yourself getting distracted every time you sit down with a pen in hand, you're not alone.
Careers expert Michelle Gibbings told HuffPost Australia that while procrastination is the most common reason we avoid studying, there are ways to maintain your focus, stop getting distracted and study more effectively.
We've all sat at our computer ready to knock over important exam preparation and picked up our phone instead of our pen. We've all logged into Facebook instead of logging into our university student portals, and we've all gotten up from our desk to put the washing on because it just can't wait.
Gibbings explains procrastination is the biggest sign you're not focused.
"Sometimes if we don't want to do something we'll find all the other things that we think we need to do before we sit down to start studying, so we'll decide we need to clean the house, we need to have all these other things organised, rather than just starting," Gibbings said.
"We know what we need to do, but we'd rather do other things, so procrastination means we're putting something off because we're leaving it to the last minute and using all the other things around us as something we see as more important -- procrastination is at the opposite end of discipline."
So how do we stop reaching for our social media, calling our friends or organising our social calendar for the next month? Gibbings suggests working backwards.
"Work out when you need to be ready for the exam or have the assignment done and work back from that so you know all the things you have to do to be ready for that due date," Gibbings said.
"If you work backwards from the due date, you can build an approach, a framework, and some dates to work towards."
Give yourself space
How often do you find yourself staring at a blank piece of paper or word document wondering where to start? You don't want to move onto something else because all that does is edge you closer and closer to the looming due date. Sound familiar?
Gibbings recommends giving yourself some space from the task at hand so you can come back to it with a fresh mindset and a new perspective.
"To learn, you need to not be distracted and you need to focus and give yourself space -- by space I mean you look at something, you think about something and then you go away and then go back to it," Gibbings said.
"Giving yourself space gives yourself time to codify what you've looked at to understand it and remember it."
Being focused and achieving something is a good thing so find the ways to motivate you to keep you going and give yourself rewards.
Taking some time out before you pencil in a three hour study block will also affect how much you remember and how long it will stay in your memory.
"If you want something to go into your long term memory, that's a process -- a process of practice, going back and continuing to look at something so you're learning and remembering it," Gibbings said.
"If you just think 'I'm going to cram', you might remember it for the exam, but a couple of weeks down the track, you won't remember what you've learnt."
Study when you're feeling fresh
Some of us are morning people, some of us are afternoon people and some of us feel our best when the sun sets. When it comes to studying and making our study effective, we need to fit our study routine into our natural daily cycle.
"The best time of day is when you're feeling fresh -- it's about working with your natural body rhythm and working out what works best for you in terms of if you get up and do things first thing in the morning or if you get up and go for a run and then sit down to study," Gibbings said.
"Don't plan to do something when you think you'll feel in the mood because you'll never get there -- you only get into the mood by doing the work and being deliberate about your focus."
Give yourself rewards
Whether it's an afternoon break from exam preparation, a trip to the movies, or a weekend away with friends, rewarding yourself for dedicating time to study is one of the best ways to stay motivated.
Gibbings suggests focusing on the outcome rather than the process as the outcome will give you the reward.
"Being focused and achieving something is a good thing so find the ways to motivate you to keep you going and give yourself rewards as motivational mechanisms that you build into your study period," Gibbings said.
Have a 'study buddy'
We know what you might be thinking -- surely studying with someone else screams high levels of distraction, right? Chatting about unrelated things or wondering what the other person is working on can make you lose your focus.
But when it comes to problem solving activities, Gibbings suggests having a study buddy can help you learn something new.
"There are some times when it's much better that you're in a quiet space and by yourself, but if you're trying to solve a problem or if you're trying to come up with an idea, it may help to have a couple of people you're working with to problem solve the idea together and then work through the best approach that you could take," Gibbings said.
"It depends what you are trying to learn but study buddies can help you stay accountable for what you want to achieve over what time span."
Take the stress out
Time never seems to be on our side when it comes to due dates. We find our anxiety peaking when we realise next week's project is actually due tomorrow and instead of working effectively, we panic instead.
Gibbings explains this is where preparation comes in.
"When you give yourself structure, and you're clear on what you've got to get done and in what time frame, it's less stressful because you know you're moving closer to your ultimate goal of passing the exam or finishing the assignment."
Gibbings also suggests taking regular breaks so your mind doesn't go into overdrive.
"Build in breaks -- you're brain will only work at its best for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. After these bursts of attention, you need a break."
As hard as it may seem, being strict on yourself may actually help you study more effectively in the long run.
Most people don't get excited about the thought of sitting down for eight hours to study for an upcoming exam or important assignment. By disciplining yourself to recognise what you want and if it matters to you, you might find your study becomes more efficient and more effective.
"We learn better when we make sense of what someone has told us or something we've seen, so I put it down to discipline," Gibbings said.
When you eliminate procrastination, you boost production. After all the more productive you are, the quicker you can complete your study goals -- that's something worth celebrating.
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