Battling distractions

Pim Otero

Scrolling through posts on Facebook and Tumblr, Hannah Dains ’16 watches the clock as it turns to 11 p.m. She hasn’t done any homework in hours and knows it will be impossible to finish it all during her free periods the next day. Giving up, she decides to go to bed, turning off the lights and promising to start her homework earlier another day.
Rather than relying solely on her self-control, Dains uses applications to curb her concentration.
“If it feels too hard to make a rule for yourself of ‘no I can’t check’ whatever it is that’s distracting you, [computer] apps that can block you from going on certain types of websites is a great way to keep people focused,” University of California clinical psychology graduate student Ali Cram said.
Blocking websites isn’t the only way to help with procrastination. Apps and websites have been created to help keep notes and assignments organized and online.
For some people, just a little bit of white noise makes all the difference. Background music can also help some students refocus on the task at hand, rather than get distracted by a new post on Facebook.
“There are different theories for what makes people focused, and a lot of theories have to do with the brain structure,” counselor and humanities teacher Luba Bek said. Some people “need to look for different distractions, and that’s where listening to music comes in.”
For those that can’t work in too quiet an atmosphere, but who find songs too disruptive, apps like Coffitivity have been created to create background noise – specifically sounds that mimic coffeehouses or university cafeterias.
“Something about being in a public setting really calms me down,” Abby Shaum ’16 said. “I really like being around people, and hearing the sounds of other people is just soothing for some reason. When my surroundings are silent, that’s when my mind tends to wander. With a lot of ambient sound I feel like I’m in a populated area, then my mind won’t wander.”
The user can hear conversation and clinking cups in the background, none being too loud to intrude on work. Coffitivity is available for free online at
These apps are not for everyone.
“For some people, background noise is very distracting, for other people it might appear that using a little bit of background noise, a kind of white noise might actually help to focus by drowning out other noises,” Cram said.
Alone in his room, Jacob Tucker ’16 spends all day keeping updated on his friends through Facebook instead of finishing his homework.
“[I work at my] desk in my room so my parents won’t bother me while I procrastinate,” Tucker said.
Apps like SelfControl for Mac OS X users or StayFocused for Chrome browser are downloadable for free from and the Chrome app store, respectively. StayFocused allows users to create a private account to pick specific websites (such as Facebook or Buzzfeed) and media (photos, videos, etc.) to block for specified amounts of time, while timers are installed into a user’s toolbar that specify how much time is left until a website is blocked or unblocked.
SelfControl is a similar concept, which also allows users to block incoming emails and websites until a timer has run out, even if the user restarts the computer or deletes the SelfControl application.
“SelfControl has saved me,” Jaebok Lee ’16 said. “Without it, my life would be a mess. It’s not an overstatement that without SelfControl, I would not have been able to go through sophomore year.”
For those with tons of notes, sometimes students can find ways to procrastinate by repeatedly organizing their surroundings before finally starting their work, usually late at night. Organizing is usually a helpful habit, but in these situations it proves detrimental to students by helping them comply with their habits of procrastination.
“A lot of times students, especially girls, when they come home and before they have to start doing work, they need to first organize their desk, organize their computer, write a lengthy to-do list, just do something else,” Bek said. “As opposed to someone who’s not a procrastinator, who can get into his or her messy room and sit down in the middle of the mess and do [their homework].”
Although one solution is to work through a mess, many students prefer to have a clean, organized workspace.
Apps like Evernote can help avert any time students may waste sorting through piles and piles of notes. Evernote allows students to create a free, private account on, and an offline Evernote program can be downloaded to Mac or PC users. Any notes taken on the program are automatically synced to an online cloud, and users can create calendars and alerts to fit their daily lives.
“When I use programs like Microsoft Word, switching between documents on my laptop can be cluttered and clumsy,” Katie Speare ’16 said. “And if I’m studying for a note-heavy subject like history, I have the option on Evernote to search all documents at once for a specific keyword.”
“We are all very, very different,” Bek said.