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I have observed that whenever I'm studying something, or solving an assignment, whenever I would hit a question which I am unable to solve or is taking too long for me to do, my mind wanders away from that task, no matter how urgent or important my current task is. I would maybe end up surfing the net, or thinking about a conversion ,etc. I end up wasting 15-20 minutes of my time . This is very frustrating. How can I curb this problem ??

  • 2
    This isn't enough information for a diagnosis, but consider getting screened for ADHD. I spent four years trying to "try harder" and hitting walls before getting diagnosed, and I can confirm that no advice will help very much if you have that and don't act against it specifically (with therapy or treatment or both). – Elzo Oct 2 at 18:09
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    Avoid reading Academia.SE and other SE sites for too long.... :-( If only it were so easy! – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 3 at 23:40
18

A very simple solution, that might work, and is worth a try. When you reach such a block, jot a note to yourself that captures the problem or the crux. Then get up from your desk and take a ten minute or so walk. Get your blood moving a bit and break the flow explicitly. Take the note and a pencil/pen, so that you can write ideas that might occur.

You may find that the solution will come to you, but at least, the break may help to clear your mind of the reason you may be pursuing the wrong solution.

This won't work for everyone, of course, but it is a painless way to experiment.

Oh, and don't be checking your phone on the walk or texting, or ... It might even be best to leave it behind since you will only be away for a few minutes.

9

Try to print out your assignment and the relevant notes. Keep all tech (laptop/phone) out of reach.

I'm sure you catch yourself visiting a website or checking your messages, not consciously remembering when you stopped working. Breaking this habit will require training your brain to focus for longer periods of time. Having physical copies of your work helps with that. If that's not possible, download a program called SelfControl, it allows you to blacklist websites for a set amount of time.

Also, remember to take breaks and get exercise. It will help with maintaining focus.

  • additionally also a very important aspect is, to get enough fresh air and to drink enough water to be more concentrated – Sparkm4n Oct 2 at 13:33
6

This is quite common. There are few things to consider. Possibility of ADHD is one of them. More on that is left for medical proffesionals. Other things to consider,

  • almost every piece of digital content you consume is designed to catch your attention. Companies often use incredibly sophisticated deisgn choices to abuse the human element, very often in a similar fashion to what casinos do. Getting rid of all electronics would probably help. Getting paper copies, going to a corner of the library, with no (including a smartphones) electronics possibly can improve your concentration.

  • similar to Erik's comment about exercise, you should try to supply your body with its basic needs (if you weren't). A healthy dose of exercise, healthy diet or social interactions usually help me.

  • your mind is not your slave. You can't force it to work or concentrate. This is one of the reasons why cramming often does not work. You have to negotiate with yourself.

  • compartmentalizing also help some people. Obvious example would be to change the room when you want to study. Get to a desk different than the one you surf the web. It can be in a library, a university working hall or even some picnic table. I sometimes even go and work on the dining table in the kitchen.

  • Another tactic might be to "abuse" your sense of shame. For example, if you go to your library and start to procrastinate, you might feel being judged by the others. Hence it might be a good way to control yourself. Going to your department's communal areas might work better if you are more "afraid" of "judgement" from your proffesors / colleagues.

    It is not likely that every single one of these will work for you. These are the tricks I use or see other people use. I hope it helps a bit.

3

Boaty McBoatface's suggestions are excellent, but I disagree with getting rid of all electronics. Struggling with distraction will not go away after university, and often your work will require that you are online. Here is what works for me:

  • Make yourself accountable to another person. This is a permutation of Boaty's "sense of shame" suggestion. You can have a study partner, or a significant other who asks you how focused you were during your study session. Working in the same room as someone else, with them able to see your screen, can be very helpful as long as this person is not a distraction in and of themselves.
  • From consulting: track your hours at the end of the day. It is incredibly depressing to have to stay late at work because you spent an hour on Wikipedia. If you were to be charging someone for your study time, could you reasonably charge them for 7.5 hours of work? Does the product (notes, knowledge, flashcards, etc.) reflect that? The simplest way to do this would be a spreadsheet.
  • Be honest with yourself. Can you focus with music playing? Can you focus with a 15-minute facebook break every two hours, or does this balloon into a 15-minute break every 30 minutes? No? Then set hard controls on your access to these distractions. Try removing access to music, or using a browser extension such as StayFocusd.
  • Others' suggestions that are vital: sleep, eat, exercise, make dedicated time for social engagement, and leave your phone out of reach if you don't need it.
  • Lastly, if this is a serious problem, ask a doctor about being tested for ADHD. I've been putting that off indefinitely... Mostly because of distractions like Stackexchange!

Good luck on that exam.

1

Your mind can only focus for so long before it needs a break. This is completely natural. Eliminating sources of distraction will only help so much, and if you can't eliminate them all the time, they will be even more distracting when they are available. If you notice it happening a lot, you may be burnt out and need a real break, or you may have an attention disorder that a doctor may be able to help with.

There is no "magic pill" or single solution to fixing this, and some options are harder than others to enact.

Others have already mentioned good options that work for me as well, so I don't repeat them. Some things that are miss are:

  • Simply realize you are off topic and get back to work. If you struggle to do so, you need a real break.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, maybe take a few sips from your drink, maybe a bite or two from a snack, and refocus. (This really is different than the suggestion above.)
  • Try to realize your mind staring to wander before it gets very far and refocus on your work.
  • Open floor plans in offices and libraries are full of distractions and we are finding people actually like cubicles at work. If you can, move to a location where physical/real life distractions are minimized. This includes getting away from the kids, laundry, dishes, dusting, mowing the lawn, etc.
  • If you work from home, take a walk or drive around the block when you "go to work" and "come home", which may include entering a different door than you left. This helps to disassociate your home life from your work life, even when it's in the same building and helps to remove the distractions of home life listed and hinted at in the previous bullet point.
  • Finish out the train of thought that distracted you so you don't rehash it again later, then refocus.
  • Take a note of the topic that got you distracted so you can consider looking at it later, when you aren't working or studying, and refocus.
  • Schedule regular, real breaks every 1-2 hours so that unscheduled breaks happen less frequently.

And last but not least:

  • Close StackExchange when you aren't actively using it.

FYI, even when you aren't actively working on something, your subconscious mind still is. That's why you can wake up in the middle of the night with "the answer" to a question you struggled all day and it'll be "so obvious". This can happen at any time. Sometimes I will purposely take a break from a tough project so that my subconscious can take over. This works especially well when you "hit a wall". When that obstacle seems insurmountable, sometimes you can beat your head against it until you overcome it, and sometimes you need to walk away and let it crumble away on it's own. Sometimes you can even just get a fresh perspective from leaving it for a while. Breaks definitely have their uses.

0

As a variation on Buffy's answer, set a timer for a maximum of about half an hour - say 25 minutes. When the time is up, STOP WORKING, physically get up and do something else for 5 minutes, then reset the timer for another 25 minute work session and repeat.

You will gradually condition yourself not to give up or get distracted before the timer "gives you permission."

If you can't keep working for a 25 minute period, even when you know the timer is going to "tell you to stop" at the end of the time interval, that would suggest there is some underlying cause that needs professional diagnosis.

Once this technique is working for you, you might want to increase the length of the work periods - but you may find that regular short breaks every half hour are more productive than one long session anyway, and you don't need to use the timer to maintain that working pattern.

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