Postgraduate Study Tips: Five ways to avoid distractions while studying

A female postgraduate student studying online in her quiet study space at home.
A female postgraduate student studying online in her quiet study space at home.

Online postgraduate study involves using one of the most powerful and equally distracting tools ever invented – the internet. It can give you access to the deepest research in the world’s most esteemed institutions, while simultaneously connecting you with friends and family who are probably doing something much more fun than studying. And let’s not even mention the cat videos! 

Thankfully, with some preparation and planning it’s possible to carve out some distraction-free time for postgraduate study. Try these five ways to avoid distractions while studying.

#1 Create a safe study space

With laptops and mobile phones, it’s technically possible to study anywhere, anytime. But if we’re honest, studying in a café is usually much less productive than we think. It’s actually more effective to create a safe study space where you can keep your important resources.

A safe study space doesn’t have to be a whole room, just a comfortable space that says, ‘I’m studying.’

The ideal space for postgraduate study is a quiet, clean environment with no distractions. It could even be the corner of your bedroom, with all of the mess hidden behind you!

Before you start a study session, let others in the house know so that they don’t disturb you – you could even create a sign for your door.

And reward yourself for your decision to take on postgraduate study with a set of noise-cancelling headphones. The latest models are amazing at cutting down background noise. You might choose to listen to a quiet instrumental playlist, or just enjoy the sound of silence.

#2 Schedule your study

Use a diary to block out time in the day when your brain works at its best. Don’t leave your study until you’ve done everything else you need to do in the day, and you are exhausted.

Once you’ve scheduled your study, you can set your status on social media accounts to ‘away’ or ‘busy’ so that your friends know that you don’t want to be disturbed. Alternatively, you can post a message to let them know you’ll be uncontactable while you’re studying.

If you can create a regular schedule for postgraduate study, share it with the rest of your household. That way they can also plan their activities around your schedule to give you more peace and quiet for distraction-free study.

A male postgraduate student setting his electronic devices to 'do not disturb' while he completes an assignment.

#3 Manage your electronic devices

It’s a sweet irony that the electronic devices that enhance our lives so much and make it possible to learn more than any other time in history are also our greatest distraction. Luckily, technology has come to our rescue with some apps that can reduce the noise.

Whether your computer has an Apple or Windows operating system, it’s quick and easy to turn off notifications at the start of each study session. You can turn them back on when you’ve finished studying and binge on updates. 

For Apple computer users there’s a bunch of apps that can help you focus by blocking access to apps, websites and even blurring things in the background. The App options aren’t as varied on Windows but you can achieve similar distraction-free results on both operating systems with web browser extensions

Now let’s talk about that mobile phone. Both Apple and Android phones can be tamed for the duration of our study session with the ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode. The beauty of ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode is that you can set it to allow important calls through. You can also schedule it to run overnight to ensure you’re not disturbed unnecessarily in your sleep.

Once your phone is set to ‘Do Not Disturb’ put it face down on your desk, or even better outside of your field of vision. Research has shown that this will enhance your study and possibly make you smarter.

If you simply can’t let your phone out of your sight or bear the thought of switching it to ‘Do Not Disturb’, there are some apps that can help you manage your digital relationship.

#4 Try the Pomodoro study method

Okay, so you’ve created a safe study space, scheduled some study time, silenced your phone and now you’re ready to study for three hours straight – right? Wrong! Most of us are only capable of maintaining our attention span on a focused task for around 20 minutes – then we start drifting and trying to remember where we put our mobile phone or what we’re having for dinner.

Francesco Cirillo realised attention spans were short when he was studying at university, so he came up with the Pomodoro Technique for studying. It simply divides a large task into smaller tasks with refreshment breaks to help you maintain your focus. Francesco used a tomato-shaped timer from the kitchen (pomodoro is Italian for tomato) and set it to go off at 25 minutes. Then he had a five-minute break before another 25-minute study burst. 

During that five-minute break you can do whatever you want – check your phone if you like, or maybe do some star jumps to get the blood flowing.

Here’s an online pomodoro tracker to help you beat distraction. 

A man taking a ten-minute break from online study to practise some mindfulness.

#5 Meditate

The opposite of distraction is being able to focus on the here and now – otherwise known as mindfulness – which is being practised in major organisations like Apple, Google and Nike. Mindfulness is also making its way into classrooms around Australia to enhance learning.

Meditation is one of the key elements of mindfulness and something that can be practised almost anywhere at any time. One of the simplest meditations is to focus on the breath, something that is always with you. All you have to do is find a comfortable position sitting or lying down, breathe normally, then with each inhale and exhale repeat the words ‘in’ and ‘out’ in your mind. The idea is to practise focussing on your breath, which will enable you to improve your focus on other tasks throughout the day – such as your online postgraduate study.

Learn more about our online postgraduate courses. Get in touch with our Enrolment team on 1300 974 990.