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Last Updated on January 29, 2021

How to Learn Effectively in the Age of Digital Distraction

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How to Learn Effectively in the Age of Digital Distraction

One of the inevitabilities of modern life is that we are more accessible. The days when someone had to geographically find you first when they need to contact you urgently are long gone. Now, no matter where you are in the world, they can contact you via your mobile phone number, email address, or social media accounts. These cause what we call “digital distractions.”

In so many ways, this is a wonderful advancement of technology. Why would you not want to be available for your friends and family when they need you? And wouldn’t you want to know of an impending crisis at work as soon as it starts to happen?

Unfortunately, being available to everyone 24/7 can also be a huge drain on your ability to get on with the things you have identified as being important to you, such as learning and education.

In this fast-changing world, staying on top of the latest developments in your industry, being able to adopt new skills, and learning new technology need time, and time is one resource we all struggle to find more of.

These demands for our time from our friends, colleagues, bosses, and customers eat into our precious twenty-four hours each day and take a toll on our energy levels, leaving us feeling exhausted at the end of the day—not the best condition to be in when you want to learn.

So, what can you do to minimize these digital distractions and increase your focus?

Below are some tips and tricks that have worked for me and have helped me to keep up with the latest developments in education, communication, and productivity while minimizing digital distractions.

1. Learn at Your Best Time of the Day

This is the starting point for anyone who wants to embark on a study program, whether a formal college course or an online course to learn a new skill. What do I mean by “your best time”?

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It is easy for us to say to ourselves, “Tomorrow, I’m going to start learning Japanese.” We decide that when we get home after work, we will sit down for an hour and begin.

Unfortunately, most of us will find when we do get home at the end of the day, our willpower has diminished, and we just don’t have the energy to start today. So, we say we will start tomorrow. And the cycle repeats.

What’s Happening?

Your willpower is letting you down. Studies have shown that our willpower has a limit, and as the day goes by, we use up more and more of our willpower.

Making decisions about what to eat (and not eat) for lunch, telling yourself you won’t have that extra cup of coffee in the afternoon, saying “no” to a friend who wants to have dinner tonight (you can’t because you are going to study Japanese)—all these things add up throughout the day, and they deplete your willpower.

Finally, when you do get home, and the appointed hour for your Japanese study arrives, you just cannot do it. You’re exhausted, and you just want to finish watching this last episode of The Crown on Netflix. And the cycle again repeats.

To avoid this, understand the best time to do your learning is in the morning when you have the most reserves of willpower. At this time, you will find resisting all distractions much easier.

Whether you think you are a morning or a night person, the truth is your brain will always be at its best first thing in the morning.[1] It is when you are at your most creative, most focused, and have the highest reserves of willpower.

This does not mean you must wake up at 5 AM to do your studying. What it means is if you want to get the most out of your hour of learning, the best time to do it is soon after you wake up. So, if you wake up at 8:00 AM, try and do your studying between 8:30 AM and 9:30 AM.

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If you have to be at your workplace by 9:00 AM, consider using your commute time to study. You can always listen to podcasts, online courses, and the like on your mobile phone. The key is to use a certain amount of time in the morning for the bulk of your studying.

2. Turn on “Do Not Disturb” When You Study

You knew this one was coming, didn’t you? It’s common sense. If you want to get the most out of your study time and pay attention, you must reduce distractions—full stop—and that means turning off your digital distractions on mobile devices.

I do my reading late at night. I like to wind down the day with thirty minutes or so of reading. I use the Kindle app on an iPad Mini, and that iPad is dedicated to reading only. I have all notifications turned off, I have no social media on the digital device, and the only apps I have are apps associated with reading and my notes app, so I can grab quotes and ideas as I am reading.

I also use this iPad for learning. This means I can listen to an audio learning program and take notes simultaneously. Because all notifications are off, I don’t get disturbed and focus completely on what I am learning.

3. Change Your FOMO Mind

One societal issue in today’s world is FOMO—the fear of missing out—and that causes us to always feel the need to be “connected.” FOMO is one of the main causes of digital distractions. You must prevent this from creeping into your study time[2].

Tips for Minimizing FOMO

    You can do this by checking your messages and email before you start your study period. You need to get it off your mind and not be worrying about what may be lurking inside your inbox. Before you start, do an email and messages check. It will give you peace of mind knowing the world outside is not descending into chaos and that everything will be okay for the next hour.

    Note that I did not say “reply to your emails”—you only need to do a check. I know this is counter to many of the arguments about checking email and messages first thing in the morning, but the problem is if you do not do it, you will be distracted by worrying about what is in there.

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    Put your mind at rest and deal with it before you start. Nine times out of ten there will be no emergencies.

    “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday” –Bas Luhrmann

    4. Tell Others That You Will Not Be Available

    You do not have to be available 24/7, and everyone can wait an hour or so for you to get back to them.

    I have tested this ad nauseam and never once has anyone ever complained because it took me an hour to get back to them—including my wife! The reality is, you are not as important as you think you are.

    When you tell people what you are doing and that you are not available, people will respect your time. This has been tested with clients, bosses, family members, and friends. No one has ever said to me “you must be available for my messages, calls, and emails every minute of the day,” and if they ever did, I would be questioning why they are in my life at all.

    Imagine you had to go to the dentist for an emergency to take care of an unbearable toothache. As you are in the dentist’s chair with the suction tube and drill in your mouth, your most important client called. Would you answer the phone? Of course not!

    Treat your study time the same way—no calls, messages, or anything else that will detract you from your purpose of learning.

    5. Turn Your “Should Do” Into a “Must Do”

    We all have things we “should do” and, invariably, it’s our “should-dos” that never get done when we run into digital distraction —“I should exercise,” “I should lose weight,” “I should clean out my closet,” “I should call my parents,” etc.

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    All these “shoulds” pile up and never get done because they are not priorities. “Should-dos” have no urgency attached to them, so they fall to the bottom of the pile of things we want to do.

    If you want to free yourself from distractions so you can spend time learning, then your learning needs to become a “must do”—“I must study today.” When you change a “should” to a “must,” it becomes a priority.

    The trick with this is to plan the day ahead. We all have things we need to do each day, but not all of those things are priorities. Many of them are things that we would like to get done today. Before you close out the day, give yourself a few minutes to look at your calendar and to-do list and flag one or two things you must do tomorrow.

    Doing this the day before prepares your mind for the day ahead. You begin each day knowing exactly what you must do, and you are much more likely to focus our attention on those one or two items. Make sure your learning is one of those you have assigned a flag to, and make it happen.

    A good way to do this is to use your calendar for your priorities and your to-do list for your non-priorities. When you use your calendar for these, you are allocating time for them. When you have allocated time, you reduce your excuses, and they are much more likely to happen.

    Key Takeaways

    Remember to allocate your study time to the mornings. Your brain is at its best, and you will find concentrating much easier. Second, turn off all notifications while you are in your study time. Don’t worry, the world is not going to end while you learn.

    Tell your friends, colleagues, bosses, and clients that you are not available during your study time. And lastly, block time off on your calendar and make it a must, not a should.

    If you have a hard time getting focused and avoiding digital distractions, remember these tips, and you’ll notice improvement.

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    More Tips on How to Avoid Digital Distraction

    Featured photo credit: Maxim Ilyahov via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Carl Pullein

    Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

    How to Become a Morning Person: 8 Steps to Kickstart How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity 7 Best Free Scheduling Apps That Make Scheduling Easier Why You Need Intermediate Goals And How To Set One 6 Golden Rules to Make Progress Towards Achieving Goals

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    Last Updated on September 9, 2021

    The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work

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    The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work

    Everyone has their favorite habits for boosting productivity. Your desk setup, morning routine, and diet all play a role. But there’s one thing that everyone agrees can make a difference: focus music.

    Soothing beats can keep distractions at bay, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Whether you’re trying to drown out mowers or simply get into a groove, put on a pair of headphones. Music can make all the difference in your focus.

    With that said, not all music is equally conducive to productivity. You need to be careful about what you listen to. Getting work done calls for very different sounds than getting a workout in.

    If you need a little more help to get rid of distractions, check out Lifehack’s free guide End Distraction And Find Your Focus. In this guide you’ll learn the simple techniques to stay focused and boost productivity. Grab your free guide here.

    This article will walk you through selecting the best music for productivity, as well as a list of tunes to help you get started.

    How to Pick the Best Focus Music For Yourself

    With so many genres and artists out there, there’s a lot of music to choose from. Before you press play, keep the following guidelines in mind:

    1. Stick With Instrumental

    Songs without words in them make it easier to focus. Lyrics can distract you from what you’re trying to accomplish because you might get the words mixed up with what you’re trying to read. If you’re writing something, you might find yourself typing the lyrics instead.

    Intelligence and instrumental music are correlated, perhaps because instrumental music is less intrusive.[1] Instrumental music tends to fade into the background, giving you a rhythm without pulling your mind away from the task at hand.

    Stay away from instrumental versions of songs you recognize. It’s easy to fill in the blanks with the lyrics if you’ve already committed them to memory.

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    However, some exceptions can be made. Creatives who produce videos or audio might prefer tracks that get their creative juices going, lyrics and all. However, if you find lyrics to be distracting, switch back to instrumental tunes.

    2. Take It Easy

    Not all instrumental music is calm and relaxing. Focus music should be, however. So, beware of instrumental songs that are too loud and stimulating. High volumes and tempos can work you up when you need to stay calm.

    Again, some roles can make exceptions. Physical laborers can use more rambunctious tunes to keep them energized. While calm tunes work best for those in desk-based roles, don’t go too extreme. Something that’s too soothing might make you feel tired, and yawning all day isn’t exactly the path to productivity.

    3. Pick Music You Enjoy

    At the end of the day, the best focus music is what you enjoy. If you hate classical music, don’t put together a classical playlist just because you stumbled on a study about its benefits.[2] Your dislike of the music will take away the productivity you’d otherwise get out of listening to it.

    Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’ve never worked while listening to jazz before, why not? Save songs you like for later listening. Over time, you’ll build a playlist of tried-and-true focus music.

    4. Update Your Setup

    Before jamming out to your productivity tunes, make sure you have the right equipment. Invest in a music streaming service so you don’t have to listen to ads. Purchase noise-canceling headphones to avoid distracting your co-workers.

    Focus music is all about ambience. Anything that interrupts your flow—whether that’s poor sound quality or glitchy streaming—needs to go.

    Expect to spend at least $100 on headphones or speakers. For the streaming service itself, Spotify Premium is the standard at $9.99 per month. Slacker, Apple Music, and YouTube Music are also popular.

    Building Your Perfect Playlist of Focus Music (With Recommendations)

    Now that you know what to look for in focus music and how to listen, it’s time to build your playlist. Get started with these smooth, instrumental genres, artists, and songs.

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    1. Chillhop Music

    This YouTube channel has almost 3 million subscribers. Its music videos run 24/7 and feature driving yet relaxing beats.

    Most songs on this channel fall into a category called “lofi hip hop,” a type of electronic R&B. Unlike traditional hip hop, lofi hip hop songs follow a slow, steady pattern that induces focus and relaxation.

    Chillhop playlists can also be streamed on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp. Popular artists include nymano, No Signal, and Sleepy Fish.

    2. Andy McKee

    Andy McKee is an acoustic guitarist who became famous after “Drifting,” one of his early songs, went viral on YouTube. “Drifting” exemplifies the creative, quiet guitar techniques found in the rest of McKee’s music.

    Today, McKee has six albums of primarily acoustic guitar. One of McKee’s most popular pieces, “Rylynn,” is a perfect example of his soothing yet upbeat sound.

    3. John Butler Trio

    The band John Butler Trio became popular after releasing “Ocean,” a 2012 hit with more than 50 million listens on YouTube.[3] Heavy on acoustic guitar, “Ocean” is an intricate ballad that ebbs and flows like the ocean itself.

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    Known for flowing changes in key and mood, the John Butler Trio proves that fast songs can stand in as great focus music. The group’s long songs—“Ocean” is 12 minutes long—are less disruptive for long projects. Two other favorites by John Butler Trio are “Betterman” and “Spring to Come.”

    4. Classical Radio on Pandora

    Classical music has long been a staple for music lovers looking to get work done. Pandora’s classical station features a great mix, from Beethoven to modern artists like Maria Callas and Jorge Bolet.

    Pandora has radio stations for every genre imaginable. You can generate playlists based on genre, artist, or even a specific song.

    Other music apps offer similar playlists and radio stations you can turn to for your classical music fix. From piano-heavy tunes to violin concertos, you’ll find plenty to perk up your ears.

    5. Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack

    Movie soundtracks are full of amazing focus music. One of my favorites is the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which is lively and adventurous but not in your face.

    If you like what you hear, Hans Zimmer, the mastermind behind the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, has worked on a huge array of films. Zimmer also put together the soundtracks for The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Inception.

    One thing to watch out for with cinematic music is associations. As iconic as the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack is, if you’re thinking about Jack Sparrow instead of balancing spreadsheets, you should probably switch to a new song.

    6. Legend of Zelda Soundtrack

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    Another hotspot for instrumental music is video games. If you’re not sure where to start, check out selections from The Legend of Zelda.

    Anyone who’s played The Legend of Zelda games will immediately recognize what they hear. The soundtrack is light, airy, and full of awe. Keyboards, harps, and flutes feature prominently.

    Although you could spend hours listening to The Legend of Zelda music, don’t forget about fan-produced songs in this genre. The video-gaming community is robust, and instrumental re-creations of your favorite games’ soundtracks can be found all over the internet.

    7. Nature Sounds and White Noise

    This genre may be too relaxing for some, but others prefer less structured focus music. Sounds like thunder, wind, and rushing water can transport you to a quiet, idyllic place to get work done.

    One type of white noise to avoid is city-related sounds. Even without lyrics, honking horns or chattering crowds can be distracting.

    An advantage of this type of focus music is that it can be set on a loop. If you find a track you like, go ahead and put it on repeat. When it starts over, you won’t even notice.

    Ready, Set, Play

    The best part about focus music is that nothing is off-limits. Some people work better listening to Tom Petty tunes than instrumental music, and that’s okay. What’s important is that it’s motivating without being distracting.

    To unlock your next tier of productivity, spend a couple of hours clicking around on your favorite streaming music site. You’ll get more done, and best of all, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

    More Tips to Improve Your Focus

    Featured photo credit: Lala Azizli via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] New York Post: Smarter people listen to instrumental music: study
    [2] Forbes: Does Classical Music Help Our Productivity?
    [3] YouTube: Ocean – John Butler – 2012 Studio Version

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