Studying Distraction-Free

Chris Hornung '18

Update 12/11/2017: Click HERE for a complete compilation of tips for optimizing your device settings

Step back and think about how much easier the internet and computers have made getting our homework done. Back in the day, when students had a question, they had to dig out an encyclopedia, run through the index, and hope that the topic they had in mind was included in that edition. Now a quick Google search can point us to answers in a matter of seconds! Made a spelling error in your paper in today’s world? You have a spell-checker in Microsoft Word that will detect it for you! Want to learn about the Krebs Cycle? Check out a series of Khan Academy videos and you will be well on your way to acing your next biochemistry exam! When we use our technology intelligently, it can truly make our lives easier and more productive. However, technology comes with a catch-22. While our modern digital tools can make us hyper-productive, they can also keep us so distracted that we find it difficult to get any work done. When we can’t get our tasks completed, we start missing out on doing the things we really want to experience in college. Instead of going to dinner with friends, we’re still sitting in the library trying to finish that paper we started two hours ago.

Why are we still in the library?

We told ourselves the paper should only take an hour to complete but here we are still staring at a blank word document. The truth is, you told yourself you were going to start your paper after you checked Facebook. You checked Facebook and saw a super cool video of a guy doing a handstand on the top of the Empire State Building. Naturally, this led you to Google search a list of the greatest stuntmen of all time. Evel Knievel was on the list so you read his entire Wikipedia biography. Further intrigued by him, you watched him jump over 14 Greyhound busses in 1975 at the Kings Island theme park. Wondering what a man that survived the number of crashes he did could possibly die from, you search his cause of death and learn he died of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis at the age of ... STOP!

By the time you look at your phone to check the time you realize you have already wasted an hour and a half! How do you avoid this? See the tips below.

   1. Put your phone and laptop on Do Not Disturb

If you’re like me, notifications are the bane of your existence. I get easily distracted when I have a bunch of dings and pop-ups coming from my devices and it makes it very difficult to get my work done. That’s why I put my phone and laptop on Do Not Disturb while I study. Activating Do Not Disturb on your iPhone is pretty easy. All you need to do is swipe up the control center and select the widget that looks like a waning moon.

Turning on Do Not Disturb on you Mac is a bit more obscure. You’re going to need to select the button at the very top right of your screen, this should open up the control panel. In the control panel, scroll up and the option to turn on Do Not Disturb should appear.


If you keep Do Not Disturbed on while you get your work done, you won’t have to worry about your friends blowing up your phone or accidentally picking up a call from that annoying telemarketer. You can simply focus on your work and reap the benefits of solitude on your productivity.

   2. Use StayFocusd to block distracting websites while you study

StayFocusd is a Chrome extension that allows you to set limits for and block distracting websites. Think of it as a supplement to your reflective system (S/O to Dr. Richard Thaler).  Basically, you identify websites that you like to log onto when you feel like procrastinating and while StayFocusd is activated, like the angel on your shoulder, it will keep you from using them. When I know that I need to get a paper written or put in a serious study session, I find it helpful to “Go Nuclear” and block all sites I have designated as distracting for the amount of time I expect to be in the library. This way, I’m prevented from going on Facebook and going on the ensuing quest for knowledge of Evel Knievel’s life. Also, in case you were wondering, he died in 2007 at the age of 69. Check out StayFocusd website here

   3. Use the Pomodoro technique 

The Pomodoro technique was created in the 1980 by Francesco Cirillo as a time management technique for students, writers, lawyers and everyone else that sometimes have issues with procrastinating (aka everyone). The basic principles of the technique are that you: pick a task, set a timer for 25 minutes, and then only work on the specified task for that amount of time. After the 25 minutes are up you take a five-minute break, then reset the timer and repeat until the task is finished. For more information on the technique you should check out Cirillo’s website. I used a variation of this technique while I was studying for the MCAT last spring and it helped me stay focused enough to put in 6+ hour study days! You can also tweak the technique a bit but the basic idea is that you set a timer for a different amount of time (studies suggest not more than 90 minutes) where you will only work on a specific task distraction-free. After the timer is up, take a short break (perhaps a little longer than five minutes if you are going for 90 minute intervals) and repeat until the task or tasks are completed. It is amazing how much more you can get done when you are completely focused on only one thing. What’s more is that you don’t feel like you are missing out on anything else going on in the digital world. You can check social media and surf the web during your breaks just as long as when the break is over, you get back to work!

Tommies Unplugged thinks that your technology should improve your life, not detract from it. With all of the tools our tech has to offer us, a little foresight and tweaking of our study habits can put us well on our way to becoming the high achieving scholars we can be, with free time to spare. How you spend your time after you get your homework done is up to you. Personally, I like to go grab Chipotle with friends but more power to you if this article gets you really excited to learn more about Evel Knievel.

For more information and tips on how to improve your relationship with technology visit the Tommies Unplugged webpage at