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I need to study hard for a month, more than 10 hours/day. The problem is, I cannot concentrate on what I'm reading more than 15 minutes. I lose concentration easily while reading. the most important distracting thing is my laptop, I cannot keep it turned off for more than an hour. The moment I decide to to do so, things come to my mind which I need my laptop to do something about them.

How to get rid of distractions and focus on what I am reading?

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1  
it helps me to put on earplugs; any little sound from the neighbor, a car passing by, etc, will be reduced and you'll avoid an excuse to look away from your intended focus. –  Rafa Dec 1 '12 at 20:51

12 Answers 12

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The answer to your question is a commitment to block a certain bucket of time to a task. If something serendipitous pops up, have your notepad handy to jot down ideas, but immediately go back to the task at hand.

Personally, I like to plan my time based on priorities and urgency. When you say you need to read "10 hours a day" to study, that signals to me that the reason for the reading has high priority in your life, or at least your goals. That's half the battle right there. If your mind knows the importance of the task, and you get into the habit of doing it regularly, you will find in time that it gets easier. "They" say, and I have read in several places, that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit, whatever it may be. The same is going to be true for you. If you are finding 15 minutes a struggle, and need to amp up to 10 hours a day, that is a big change, and you will need develop some self-motivated diligence. As you are starting out, be sure to celebrate/reinforce early successes/milestones. It also helps if you are interested in what you are reading. With only a month to do this in, you will hopefully be able to carry this habit of diligence forward to help with future endeavors (for work, school or leisure).

The lingering question in my head, though, is what you are studying. I suspect that you will learn and retain information better if you don't merely read, but construct your own notes or pursue other interactive methods to study. I find if I try to synthesize things in my own words, it helps to clarify understanding. Instead of reading for 10 hours/day, look at mixing it up and using other avenues of learning.

My final suggestion builds on something a wise man once told me... "If you can explain it to someone else, you truly understand it". It might seem out of your comfort zone, but this could be done many ways. Someone could ask you a question and you have to answer it with and/or without notes. You could record an audio file of your spoken answer and review it yourself or attach it to a simple powerpoint (bare bones so it doesn't take a lot of time). You could write a document and have someone else familiar with the material read it to see if it makes sense. You could read your own answer aloud and be your own audience. You could engage with peers in discussions (via blog, FaceBook, Twitter tags or whatever media others will buy into) related to the content. No matter the method, you are doing the same thing... synthesizing material yourself with an audience in mind. Not as easy for introverts to do, but valuable IMHO.

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Have you tried the Pomodoro technique based on time boxing? See official site or comments on this forum with a tag pomodoro technique. Good luck with your concentration!

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+1 for the Pomodoro technique suggestion. Also, try keeping a notepad handy. When you get distracted by something coming to mind, make a note on the pad and go back to what you were doing. Every 4 pomodoros, process the notes to wherever you keep your task lists.

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  1. It might help to practise Zen meditation. Think of it as mental muscle building. If you are mentally strong enough to put aside distractions from your mind when meditating, it should help to get out of being easily distracted when studying.

  2. Use a low end Kindle. If you can get the study material onto the device and read it there, you will not be distracted by the ability to multitask.

  3. Keep a public log of your progress. As mentioned, this can be the count of completed Pomodoros.

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I think you need to break down that 10 hours into tasks. Rather than thinking "I have to cover 10 hours a day" lay out the subjects or chapters you need to cover. And then time table.

Include in your time table time to do stuff that you need to do on your laptop at regular intervals. Also factor in breaks. No one can study for 10 solid hours and expect to retain it all without getting burned out.

The Pomodoro technique as mentioned may be helpful to you too.

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I found that things "stick" in my brain and "pop up" at inconvenient times so that I don't forget. If you develop a system to get these tasks out of your head, and you use the system consistently and without fail, you might find that you will begin to trust your external system allowi your mind to become quiet. Has worked well for me.

The system I use is GTD-based, a little bit of Zen-to-done. Focus is learned; practise and you will get better. For digital collection I use tools such as:

GTD/ZTD for methodology and ideological theory, the "system" if you will.

OmniFocus and iCal for tracking projects and tasks, and scheduling deadlines (omnifocus can sync with iCal but not yet iCloud).

OmniFocus for iPhone and Calvetica for an improved iPhone cal app.

Flagging, smart folders and consistent archiving in Mail for my email - Omni can also use an email as an attachment to a todo item, so you can attach an email to help you know the context around a task, and therefore how to best accomplish it. You can then archive the email so it's not in your inbox, in order to reduce clutter and use the inbox only for collecting items that still need your decision about what to do with them (do, defer, delegate or delete/archive).

I also use a tool called MailActOn which allows you to use keyboard shortcuts to quickly apply rules to email - a must have for efficient and quick culling of an overflowing email inbox. I use it a LOT.

Use your system. Learn to trust it. You won't trust it of you don't use it all the time. The iPhone with Omni helps you enter data while away from the laptop. Syncing allows your phone and laptop to stay consistent with tasks, emails and calendar items.

Finally, for digital documents I use a combination of Leap and Yep as well as some folder hierarchy to tag, find an organize digital content. I scan many of my documents and tag them for later searching. Helps me reduce my office down to nearly-paperless.

The most valuable tool of all: CrashPlan with unlimited backups. $50/yr to keep my computer backed up- including revisions of files. iCloud does the same for my phone (also with occasional backups to my computer) for free.

These are Mac tools btw.

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I too have a hard time with focusing on reading -- I find that if I take notes using paper and pen (not computer b/c I'll get way off task) I retain the information better and I read more carefully. I don't even read my notes -- I just use it as a way to slow myself down and commit the information to memory.

The other trick is chunk the information. Reading a 35 page chapter is overwhelming, but, reading 5-pages over 7 intervals is a breeze.

Depending on how dense the material is -- you might estimate the # of pages you can read in a 25 minute span & arrange your reading task list based on that. (1. Read pages 114 - 120 (3 minute break) 2. Read pages 121 - 127 (3 min break) ......)

I wouldn't just keep on reading and reading and reading either -- I would probably do 3 - 25 min segments of reading and then 1 - 25 minute segment of 'review -- what did I learn - what did I read - what don't I understand'

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I think its better to write down what you want to do with your laptop. It will make sure that you won't forget it.

A statement that helped me a lot:

Just sacrifice your fun time for a while to study; it's hard but it always pays off in the end.

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while you are reading, imagine yourself giving presentation on the subject you are reading about; imagine people listening to you with great attention, asking questions etc;

give this 'mini-presentation' after each chapter - this will help to keep your concentration sharp and add more 'anchors' (visual/verbal/kinestetic) to the information you are processing

also, create a mindmap of the material; this will help to keep creative side of your brain turned on

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One thing I realized helps me retain information and stay focused while studying is to write down on what I am reading.

Instead of keeping your laptop away or closed (which will make your envy to get back to it more important, in my opinion), you could use your laptop at your advantage while studying.

Just keep every social network webpage closed, all instant messenging clients turned off and your e-mail client closed, and keep only a text editor open. Keep it close to you and when something you are reading about is getting more intense or complicated, type it down in your own words.

That way, you will satisfy your regular need to type on your laptop, in addition that you will do it at your studying advantage. This really helps staying focused.

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It's important to keep in mind that training attention is much like other kinds of mental and physical training. It helps to establish a routine and to approach the training of your attention incrementally just as you would going to a gym: the bigger goal might be to lose 50 pounds or bench press 250 pounds or, in this case, build up your attention skills so you can read for multiple hours. Block the time out in increasingly long "chunks," track and plan with a calendar, use Pomodoro or some other sprint technique, and when you get distracted take a moment at that time to reflect on what the distraction was and what actually motivated it...often there is an subconscious purpose that goes beyond, at times, simple procrastination.

Base your planning on your study plan. Some people, like myself, are more engaged with reading by taking notes or even alternating reading with quick reflections or mind/concept mapping...for others this just adds to the distraction. Similarly, I motivate myself with simple spreadsheet tracking on some projects...I can graph my results and I end up wanting to keep up the productive cycles and best myself.

Finally, pay attention to literal physical habits and activities: exercise, the kind of food you eat...these can have radical effects on concentration and focus.

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If you have to study for 10 hours per day, break the day into three segments, morning, afternoon, and night. Most people usually have a time of the day they work best and worst. Decide you will spend the time of day (for me night) that you work worst doing whatever else you want/need to do besides reading.

If you are reading/studying without your laptop, stuff it in a bag in a closet so it is not in front of you. If you are using it to study, consider this technique, it has helped me a lot.

Good luck.

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