Skills Hub

Dealing with distractions

It can be easy to get distracted when studying. Try to work out what is taking up your time so that you can avoid distractions.

Time-use diary

Keep a time-use diary. Draw a grid with 24 squares for every hour of a day. Start now and list what you do in each hour. After 24 hours, see where you might be able to save time.

For example, are you spending too much time on these activities?
• Reading
• Rewriting notes
• Chatting with friends over coffee
• Online.

If you get distracted on the internet, try a tool like RescueTime (Lite). It tracks your time on websites and apps so you can see where you could save time.

Tips for avoiding procrastination

• Focus your reading
You don't need to read all the books on your reading list from cover to cover. Try to be selective and focus your reading. If you have problems remembering what you've read or are easily distracted, check Reading strategies for advice.

• Set clear goals
Remember to break down your assignments into smaller tasks and set deadlines for each one.

• Good location
Find a place to study where you won't be interrupted. You may find it easier to concentrate in the library or a quiet spot on campus than at home.

• Sounds can help
Depending on the type of work you are doing, classical music, movie or game soundtracks, or ambient sounds (rain, waves, coffee shop etc.) might make you more productive - see Sounds to Help you Work Harder.

• Find the best time
Work out when in the day you concentrate best. If you work most effectively in the morning, try organising your time so you study early in the day and take breaks or socialise later on.

• Take breaks
Study in short bursts and then take a break. You might like the Pomodoro technique, in which case Tomatoid is a good tool for keeping yourself to time.

• Avoid digital distractions
You can use apps to restrict access to websites that may tempt you away from your work:

SelfControl for Macs
StayFocusd for Chrome
LeechBlock for Firefox
Cold Turkey for Windows

If you are distracted by emails or text messages, turn off your phone or put it in another room while you spend a couple of hours studying. Then give yourself half an hour for calls and emails.

• Give yourself incentives
Arrange something to look forward to after your study session, even if it's just a small treat. It will help to motivate you and avoid distractions.

• Start with the interesting bit
If you're struggling to concentrate, start with the most enjoyable task or one that will get you thinking about your assignment. Write down some questions, e.g. what do I want to get out of this reading? You could jot down some ideas for an essay plan.



Third-year Chemistry

View Jess's student perspective


I generally have between 13 - 24 hours of actual contact time a week. So it is quite a bit of time in lectures or labs. There is usually 4-8 hours in a lab depending on what course you are doing and what you've got to do.


There are lots of lectures each day and generally I have a lab report and a problem set to hand in a week. So I'll spend a good amount of time in the library or at home reading or studying but most of time will be spent with lectures and in University itself.


Second-year Electrical and electronic engineering

View Aron's student perspective


During the year I normally study best at home because I come in to uni every day. However, for exams I find that it is best to study in the library because it is nice and quiet.

Learning to say no

You've planned your termly and weekly schedules; you're working as effectively as you possibly can; you've found ways of dealing with the things that distract you - but you still don't have enough time! Maybe you're trying to do too much. University study is a significant commitment, like doing a full-time job. If you have too much on, you might need to learn to say 'no' more often.


  • You're not expected to read everything on the reading list.
  • If you don't organise the social/game/party, it will probably still happen. And if it doesn't, the world won't stop.
  • You don't need to reply to every email or message immediately.
  • A real friend won't mind waiting a bit longer to chat.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, ask for help. Talk to your Academic Advisor or visit the Student Life Centre.
Print Friendly and PDF