Online Learning

5 Tricks & Tools to Help You Focus When Studying Online


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Studying online can be much more flexible, cheaper and more customisable than other types of study.

But there is one aspect that worries a lot of students unnecessarily when it comes to studying online – staying focused when you’ve got a world of distractions at your fingertips!

Staying focused when you’re studying online doesn’t have to be scary. 

Here are 5 of the best tricks – and tools to go along with them – that you can use to help you focus when you’re studying online. 

Limit your procrastination on other websites

The trick

Sometimes, if you’re knee-deep in a really boring task, it’s natural that your mind will begin to wander.

Whatever the task, at some point, you’ll probably find yourself drawn down a Wikipedia Wormhole into a completely unrelated topic, camped out in the comment section of a social media post, or trapped in a playlist of ‘Unlikely Animal Friends’ YouTube videos as your focus begins to wane. 

As this fascinating article exploring how the internet distracts us and changes our brains points out, in a way, your procrastination gets rewarded by the internet – there are always new notifications, new comments and new content to consume, after all. 

The tool

A trick to become more focused when studying online is to break the cycle of distraction.  

StayFocusd is an extension for your Google Chrome browser, designed to help you maintain your focus and keep your productivity levels up by limiting your access to websites that you find yourself wasting time on. 

The app will give you an allocated amount of time that you can spend on particular, problem websites. Once you’ve used up that time, the app will block access to those sites for the rest of the study session. 

Where to download: Chrome Web Store

Set clear study goals

The trick

Setting a goal when you’re studying is a great way to improve your motivation and help you tackle an intimidating project. 

Psychologists have spotted clear links between goal-setting and success in a project for decades. In the 1960s, work psychologist Edwin A. Locke found that those who set specific, challenging goals are more likely to be successful in achieving them rather than those who set easy or vague goals. 

Goals help to root you in reality, making your progress seem more real and less idealistic. They also help you to more regularly self-critique yourself which can help you tweak your improvement. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about the psychology of goal-setting, this article goes through the main concepts in fascinating detail.

The tool

You can set goals without any specific equipment: just a pen and piece of paper is fine. Making sure that your goals are informed by the ‘SMART’ acronym can help:

  • Specific - Is the goal very targeted?
  • Measurable - Can progress towards the goal/success be measured?
  • Achievable - Is achieving the goal within your power?
  • Realistic - Is the goal realistic
  • Time dependent - The deadline in which you need to achieve the goal.

The Goal Tracker & Habit List & Workout Calendar Free app is a great free app that can help you to set, monitor and achieve your targets and goals. 

Where to download: Google Play 



3. Create a study schedule

The trick

Managing your time when you’re studying can feel challenging sometimes, particularly if you find it difficult to get motivated or to stay focused on your studies.

Creating a defined study schedule can go a long way to combatting this!

Study schedules are suited to both online and physical study, and they’re really simple to make. They are essentially a timetable of your week, breaking your subject down into smaller topics and listing what aspect of your subject you want to focus on during a particular day.

The tool

My Study Life - Digital School Planner is a versatile app that you can use to plan your study schedule. It allows you to manage multiple timetables, track your tasks, homework and assignments and store documents on a Cloud system – quite a lot for one little app!

Where to download: App Store

4. Take regular (short) breaks

The trick

You might be reading this and thinking, “How stupid. I don’t need to be told how to take a break,” but hear me out. There is an art to taking successful breaks that actually recharge your study energy rather than sapping it. We all might think that taking a break is easy, but in reality, there’s a knack to making the most of them.

If we’re particularly busy, it can be tempting to forgo regular breaks and plough on with a task until we’ve finished it – no matter how we’re feeling – and promise ourselves one big break at the end to make up for it.

Some studies have suggested that this is the wrong approach though, and that the optimum time to take a break to maintain good productivity is every 52 minutes, and that you should be aiming to take a break of 17 minutes then.

The general logic is that it’s better for your productivity overall if you take short breaks over a shorter period of time too, rather than working for ages and then having one massive break.

The tool

Stand Up is an app that you can use to track your break times and to give you reminders about when you should be taking a break. It’s fully customisable to your own schedule and routine, and encourages you to stand up and get away from your desk – something that’s been proven to help your concentration.

Where to download: App Store

5. Make use of the Pomodoro Technique

The trick

Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s, this time-management technique takes its name from a humble, tomato-shaped kitchen timer – pomodoro is Italian for tomato!

The basic principle involves focusing on a task for 25 minute sessions at a time, which you set a timer to denote. At the end of the session, if you managed to focus completely on your task for the whole session, you put a tick on a piece of paper and repeat the process. If you didn’t manage that, take a 3 to 5 minute break and repeat the process again. After you’ve completed the whole process 4 times, you can take a longer, 20 to 30 minute break.

The tool

The only tools you need to do the pomodoro technique are a timer and a pen/paper. Most smartphones have built-in timers which you can use, but there are a few apps that are based on the pomodoro methodology that you can use as well. One of the most popular is Focus Keeper – Time Management.

Where to download: App Store | Google Play

We hope you’ve found this blog useful and that it’s given you a few ideas for helping improve your focus when you’re studying online!

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