A chapter to read, a video to watch, a discussion post to write, a paper to complete, lecture notes to review… your life as a student can often feel like a long to-do list. On top of scholarly demands,  you may also be balancing a job or family responsibilities, which certainly should not be shirked. And yet, you also have many options that are a bit more enjoyable in the moment: a phone call from a friend, an impromptu shopping trip, a pickup game of basketball, an outdoor concert at the local park…  you name it, it’s out there, ready to divert you from your weightier or more urgent concerns.

In and of themselves, these aren’t bad things. In fact, it’s important to maintain balance in your schedule, and participating in recreational activities is certainly a positive way to do that. However, if you regularly find yourself allowing these momentary diversions to take precedence over your responsibilities, you may have noticed that you’re losing the time you’d intended to spend on other, more critical tasks and priorities. For that reason, it’s smart to think about how you’ll address these situations before they derail your original intentions.

In Practicing College Learning Strategies, Sixth Edition, Carolyn H. Hopper recommends creating a “plan of attack” that you can use to confront potential distractions and time-wasters. Consider these scenarios based on those she covers in her book, and determine your “Plan A” and “Plan B” for handling them as they arise. Can you come up with ways to address them proactively?

  • Your friends stop by your dorm room for an unexpected visit. (Example Plan A: If they stop by frequently, start studying in the library to avoid the distraction altogether. Example Plan B: When they come to the door, let them know you’re working on your assignments, and ask if they’re free to spend time together later in the evening.)
  • It’s almost time to start studying for tomorrow’s exam, and your roommate is home, watching your favorite team’s game on television.
  • You didn’t get much sleep the night before, and despite the fact that you have a mound of homework to finish this afternoon, a nap now seems very appealing.
  • A close friend calls and asks you to drop what you’re doing in order to pay attention to his or her own concerns.
  • You turned on your computer to start your paper… but you notice several notifications in your social-media stream, and you wonder what all your friends are discussing. (pp. 44-45)

Once you’ve thought about how you would manage these situations, think about other things that commonly tempt you to waste your time, and write down some ideas for addressing those as well.

What are your strategies for tackling time wasters and distractions? Share your ideas below.

Reference: Hopper, Carolyn H. 2013. Practicing College Learning Strategies, 6th Ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.