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Four Tips for Staying Focused During Online Research

Tina Shanahan
July 20, 2016

When it comes to concentration, the struggle is real. If you’re desperately trying to stay on task, the computer can be your best friend and worst enemy. All those social media temptations are nothing but a few taps of the keyboard or clicks of the mouse away. What is a student to do? Well, struggle no more! Check out a few of our tips to stay focused. Hopefully, with these simple suggestions you’ll be able to surf the web for your school work, without getting pulled in by distracting websites.

Rule #1: Stay on the path

It is easiest to stay on track when you have set goals. Have a clear purpose for being online and avoid distraction. When you log on to do homework, pledge to focus solely on your studies for a certain amount of time or until you complete a specific, pre-determined task.  Close all apps, windows, and tabs that do not relate to the task at hand. Despite our claims to be multitasking masters, studies repeatedly show that performance suffers when we engage in multiple tasks at once. To truly reduce multitasking, also put your phone out of sight, turn off the television, and find an area to study where you can concentrate. Staying focused will improve the efficiency and quality of your work. 

Rule #2: Stop and smell the roses

To improve your online experiences, think about and interact with important information in multiple ways. This means taking time to reflect. Think about important information in the context presented, and then think about how the information relates to other areas of your life.  Another way to experience information in multiple ways is to take notes with old-fashioned pen and paper when reading or watching videos online. A 2013 study found that the negative effects of working online were reduced when students took notes by hand. Find ways to see, read, reflect, and engage with information to make your online learning meaningful.   

Rule #3: Learning is a journey, not a destination 

You don’t just start on a path and suddenly arrive at your destination. Exposing the underlying processes that take you from Point A to Point B will help reinforce your learning process and make future searches more efficient. Take time to understand how a database retrieves and sorts search results for you. This will help you evaluate and appreciate the access to information technology provides. Know the steps for performing calculations in Excel. This will help you realize that your formula needs revision if your results do not make sense. Technology makes things so simple, yet we tend to take for granted what the digital representation actually represents. When you understand how your computer got you to your final results or solution, you can more effectively navigate technological pathways.

Tip #4: There is such a thing as virtual blockage

If all else fails, then you know it’s time to pull out the big guns. Programs such as, Cold Turkey, StayFocused and more will block distracting websites with brute force! These productivity tools will pretty much force you to stay focused. These programs are designed to restrict your access to distracting websites for an allotted amount of time. You choose the amount of time you want to stay focused and these programs do the rest. This may sound rough, but sometimes to get the job done, you have to take unexpected measures. Social media, gaming, dating, whatever website you’re into will be temporarily blocked. With those websites out of sight, it’ll be easier to focus on your homework or research with ease. 

When working online, be careful to avoid distraction by staying on the path, remaining engaged, taking the time to reflect and paying attention to underlying processes that bring you to your final results.  Keeping these tips in mind will help you effectively navigate the digital landscape.

Tina Shanahan is Associate Professor of English at Herzing University and a doctoral student in the Language and Literacy program at Cardinal Stritch University.  She feels grateful every day for the opportunity to work hard at a job she loves, fuel her passion for literacy through her doctoral studies, and raise two young boys.  


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