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Imagine you're living in a noisy environment. It means.

  • You're in a flat in block of flats surrounded closely by other block of flats
  • There is a play ground under your window where children and their parents still play and talk loudly
  • You're in a room that is sound transparent - It means that you hear everything in the kitchen next to the room and the neighboring room from the left
  • The room from the left and the kitchen are full of people (roommates and their guests) talking all the time when I'm here.
  • There are other distracting noises like elevator still moving up and down (makes very unpleasant sound when somebody presses the button to move), noisy refridgerator, trains
  • Near to the flat there is a construction site where you can hear jackhammer and other industrial tools frequently.

The question is simple

  • You want to read technical literature with many unknown concepts and ignore the environment
  • There is no problem with programming for me. I can concentrate fully on problem solving but have only problem with reading.
  • You can't move for three months.

I have already tried ear plugs which is not good for me (as well as relaxing music or white noise) and I can't afford expensive head phones or completely make my room sound proof by some materials.

I also don't want to travel to the library all the time.

Could you advise me some techniques helping with concentration when reading in this uncomfortable environment? One zen friend told me that everything is about attention. So don't pay attention to everything else than reading. But he's away and he didn't tell me how.

I don't have problem with programming because I have zest for solving something. Can I transform the reading material with some reading technique into a game or solving puzzle or something?

I'm thinking posting this question to cogsci too.

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maybe this discussion might help you:… – MostlyHarmless Sep 30 '13 at 15:14
What was the problem with earplugs, music and white noise? – Kramii Sep 30 '13 at 16:08
@Kramii earplugs => ear pain due to pressure, white noise => not masking when silent, distracting others when loud, music => only little help, I haven't found which can be listened for long – xralf Sep 30 '13 at 17:35
If you are bothered by the elevator, refrigerator and trains then it might not be the noise so much as you are hyper-sensitive to distractions. It could be your "nature" and it could be that the problem has to do with the type of material you are trying to read. It could be both. I am going to post one suggestion as an answer but I would like to know if there is ANY PLACE that you have found where you are able to read the current material without a problem? Can you find a place that is "perfect" and see how you do for 30 minutes? – Arbalest Oct 1 '13 at 4:32
@xralf, might sound simple, but reading aloud could help. When reading try to focus on your own voice and thus the material you're reading. – superM Oct 1 '13 at 8:35

it's important to not attach negative connections to the noise (I know, it is negative). So when the noise happens don't tut, don't get frustrated. This teaches your brain that it isn't actually important, therefore you won't be 'notified' of the noise when it happens and, because you've paid it no attention it will become background noise.

This is obviously difficult depending on the volume and type of noise but this is by far the best mental approach I have found.

I think this in connection with chilled out music and/or earplugs/whitenoise will be an effective combo

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If you've got the time and energy to try and learn a concentration technique then all power to you - I'll leave possible techniques to others to describe.

On the other hand, if you want a quick win, I'd try White Noise again. With a reasonably inexpensive pair of over-the-ear headphones you can turn the volume up quite loud without bothering other people.

Personally, I've had great success with a pair of Sennheiser HD 201's and a looped mp3 of a rattly air conditioner. By carefully adjusting the volume I was able to block out almost all environmental noise. At the same time, my wife (who sat next to me on the sofa whilst I worked) was almost completely unaware of the white noise in my ears. Bliss!

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In addition to my comment above (i.e, find the "perfect" place and be mindful of how well you can do for 30 minutes as a benchmark) here is something that helps me with very technical and conceptual material.

Your problem sounds like a problem I used to have and sometimes still have. What I do works for me but I don't know about you or anyone else. Decide on the starting and ending points of the material you want to cover in a session. Read it quickly with the aim of getting the big ideas and use a highlighter, post it notes or a light pencil mark to make notes of the LOCATIONS of important and/or technical stuff that you need to get into later. Don't stop and dig into those parts yet. Only stop if you notice that you are not getting anything or that you have missed something that is keeping you from getting something else. Get through the material fairly quick and ask yourself what it was all about including things like: there was a complicated explanation at point A, some formula derived at point B, ways to interpret results at point C. Then make some notes if you want and go back (now or later) and dig into some of those parts you flagged. Study and make notes on those parts.

Why I think this works for me has to do with "Flow". And, the state of Flow is the only time I am not really bothered by distractions.

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The starting and ending point is really useful tip. Some of the material is in pdf and if the chapter I need to read has 35 pages, I'm writing on the first page number 35, second - 34, last - 1 (pages remaining to end of the chapter), which is quite motivating to see progress. Maybe I could measure the reading time (with stop watch) and write it to the pages and then calculate the average time to have a guess for the next reading session - how long will it take. – xralf Oct 3 '13 at 13:38
I will leave the question open for a while yet. – xralf Oct 3 '13 at 13:39
@xralf - some PDF reading apps allow highlighting, etc. – Arbalest Oct 3 '13 at 21:26
Yes, This is what I'm talking about. I only use motivating annotations and instead of highlighting I create notes outside. – xralf Oct 4 '13 at 8:55
@xralf - what is a "motivating annotation"? On paper or PDF I use highlighting where I can (rather than notes) as I mainly want to mark spots that I will examine in more detail on another pass. The goal is not to stop the flow - it takes a while for me to get back up to speed and that is when distractions (like noise) bother me most. – Arbalest Oct 4 '13 at 18:16

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