Homework is frustrating enough on its own without any distractions, but a minor life-catastrophe can make homework into an overwhelming problem. For instance, if my computer dies and I lose an almost finished project, or something goes wrong with the program I’m using, homework can go from frustrating to maddening. If I come down with a fever and I feel slightly delirious, my homework pile can seem insurmountable. The list goes on, and when I consider all the various distractions that can happen in life, it’s easy to imagine how having homework can easily escalate into a full-fledged crisis.
But what is a distraction? By my definition, a distraction is any non-homework related issue or interference that gets in the way of my ability to complete an assignment. Based on this definition, I like to classify distractions into two groups: external and internal.
External distractions are self-explanatory. Anything non-homework related that gets in the way of doing assignments is an “external distraction.” One distraction that I run into a lot (those who don’t own cats probably won’t be able to relate) is when my cat walks in front of my computer screen, or decides to cough up a fur ball when I’m in the middle of a thought or have just gotten into a workflow. A possibly more relatable example would be a phone call or a text from a friend in the midst of a heavy homework session.
I’ve found that the best way to deal with an external distraction is to take care of them immediately, if possible. For instance, if the phone rings, I can either take the call or turn the ringer off. Obviously, some external distractions can’t be dealt with, like loud construction projects going on nearby, or a catfight right outside my window. I usually deal with these sorts of things by putting my headphones in and trying to drone out the noise, and if I can, I move to a new, less distracting location.
Internal distractions, on the other hand, are persistent thoughts that refuse to be ignored. In my opinion, this is the most bothersome type of distraction. Whenever I have an internal distraction begging for my attention, I try to address it right away so that I can continue working on my project. Sometimes I go for a short walk to work through some of my thoughts. Other times, I stare off into space for a couple of moments. Some thoughts require more attention than others, but if I take a short break to at least work through my thoughts somewhat, my work goes more smoothly and is usually of a higher quality.
Distractions, although not directly related to homework, add to the stress of deadlines. I know that in any given hour that I’m working on an assignment, it’s likely I’ll get interrupted by some distraction. Some days are better than others, but it’s rare for me to get into a workflow that’s totally focused and free of external distractions.
Every week when I sit down and work out my schedule, I take into account all of the distractions and inhibitions that might arise while I’m working on my schoolwork. The way I prioritize my homework assignments is often based on two things: 1) the amount of resistance I have toward doing certain projects and 2) what homework assignments can be done efficiently even with numerous distractions. Most often, the last thing on my list of priorities is whichever assignment can be done even with frequent interruptions and distractions. Then, if something comes up and I can’t work on said project for an extended period of time, I can stuff work time into gaps in my day and I’ll still be able to finish the project. Meanwhile, the assignments that require the most concentration tend to go further at the top of my list of priorities.
Ultimately though, factoring in the potential distractions and interruptions that could happen in any given day is practically impossible. There are set times when I know I won’t be able to work on homework, like when I’m in transit to a class or appointment. I can work with these interruptions pretty easily by planning my homework schedule around them. It’s the unforeseen distractions and interruptions that are annoying. They slow down my workflow, interfere with my ability to think straight, and even lessen the quality of my work.
But distractions aren’t all bad. They are frustrating, no doubt about that, but they’re a part of life. I’ll probably always have to grapple with distractions, and find ways to get around them as obstacles. College is like a training ground that lets me safely and comfortably practice working with distractions before I go out into the real world where I’ll have to deal with distractions within the context of whatever work I do. I prefer to look at the distractions that arise when I’m doing my homework as an opportunity to practice self-control and discipline, rather than as a major interference. After all, the distractions aren’t going to go away anytime soon.
Webzine Team Member