It is the start of a new semester or maybe halfway through a current one. You know that your study habits aren’t the best. You know you can’t seem to focus on studying.
You’ve read the instructor’s suggestions for good study methods.
They include all the tried and true methods: Pomodoro (timed study sessions, with short breaks), SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review), use of acronyms (silly sayings using initials to help memorize lists of things), and – she suggests firmly – turning off your television, loud music with words and the Internet.
But I NEED the Internet
“But I need the Internet,” you think to yourself. “I’m writing a research paper. I’ll need to do research.”
You set your Pomodoro timer for twenty-five minutes of study. You open your word processor.
Oh, wait, you haven’t checked your email yet today. Need to do that for sure. Um…it can’t hurt to look at just one silly dog story.
Silly dog stories make me laugh. I don't want to do my homework just yet. Laughter makes everything go better. Oh, hey, there’s a notification that my best friend just posted on Facebook. Mom (or dad, spouse, kids or inner parent) isn’t looking, I’ll just do a really fast check. Oh, wow!
My friend recommends this goofy website. Laughter…remember laughter? Yeah! Uh-oh. Where’d my twenty-five minutes go? The timer just dinged, and I haven’t typed a single word or cracked open even one textbook.
Well, all right. That’s one Pomodoro, one twenty-five-minute study time for doing homework gone. That’s O.K. It isn’t bedtime yet. I’ll just set another one. Oh, hey…there’s an invitation to get some farm animals for Farmville!
Facebook - The One-Armed Bandit
Well, all right. That’s one Pomodoro, one twenty-five-minute study time gone. That’s O.K. It isn’t bedtime yet. I’ll just set another one. Oh, hey…there’s an invitation to get some farm animals for Farmville!
Oh, yeah, there’s that Donkey I’ve been waiting for!
It can’t hurt to just nip in here and get one little old Donkey. Oh, wow! There’s a sale on seasonal decorations. Oh, that is just TOO cute.
I can’t miss out on that. Only one dollar. I can spend one dollar. Well, then there is that special seed. Just one more dollar. Now, I’ve got to plant them.
Oh, no! The seed requires a special greenhouse, and I don’t have that yet. That’s another dollar. Now, to set it up…got it. Um…
Another pomodoro gone by? Dear me, how time flies when you are having fun.
Why can't I focus?
You search on google for "How to do homework fast?", "How to stay focused on homework?" and "How to concentrate on studying?"
No magic focus tips to be found.
Finally, to Work
This is my third Pomodoro. If I’m going to have this paper written by 10:00 am tomorrow, I’d better get to work. Let’s see, where to start. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
Gosh, how did that thing go?
And why was it such a mixed-up time?
If I look up the quote I can get some background. French revolution. Well, it doesn’t have much to do with macro-economics. Or maybe it had everything to do with macro-economics.
Let me see if I can prove that. No, not that website. No, not that one starting with "f". Oh, look at that!
Kim K. is doing something interesting on Facebook. I can tie that in. Well, yeah, sure I can! That’s economics, right?
And You Turn in the Homework
At 9:45 am the following morning, you stumble blearily toward your ten o’clock class. A hastily thrown-together paper is clutched in your hand. You can't concentrate. It barely meets the minimum word requirement, and you aren’t totally sure what you have written because you can't focus on anything.
You turn it in. You wait for the result.
Why Are the Fates Picking on Me?
Meanwhile, your bank statement comes in. Remember those three or four dollars you spent on Facebook? The one-armed bandit has struck again! You only had two dollars in your checking account because you had bought study snacks before you started.
So now you have four, (count them, FOUR) insufficient funds charges from your bank. At $35 each, you now owe the bank $140, plus the $4.00 you spent. Your paycheck will be $180 and your bills are due.
F = Forgot to Study
Your paper comes back to you. A large red F is blazoned across its text. Thank goodness you remembered the cover sheet or the shame would be too much to bear.
Attached is a list of the things that should have been mentioned in this paper that just sort of fell by the wayside, along with a note at the bottom of the list: “The French revolution would have worked as an example.
The Kim K. idea was worth developing, but you didn’t go anywhere with it. But what did the rat stuck in the manhole cover have to do with economics? Or running through a field of daisies?”
The note ends, “Please see me during my office hours. Don’t be late.” This is what happens when you can’t focus on studying and willpower doesn't work.
The Professor to the Rescue
As it happens, you have a kindly, understanding professor who hasn’t forgotten what it was like to be a clueless undergraduate. She smiles at you kindly across her desk and says, “You have an Internet addiction and a bad case of Facebook-itis.”
“I do?” you stammer.
“You do,” she says. “Fortunately, there is a solution to break internet addiction. I’d like for you to go back to your place of residence and install the following programs: a plain desktop word processor, and a website blocker like Self-Control or StayFocusd.
Block everything except the school’s dedicated research website and the school’s learning portal.”
Then she adds, “And do one more thing for me: turn off the Internet access and remove any social media apps from your smartphone. That even includes word-of-the-day, and interactive Scrabble. You can keep your Pomodoro timer. Then, sit down at your desk and re-write that paper.”
The End Result
You go back to your home. You find out you can quit SelfControl by opening the System Preferences > select Date and Time > Change the day 1 day in the future.
Not good. Instead you find another software that does the job.
- You install FindFocus, which can selectively block websites.
- You install a plain desktop word processor.
- You uninstall everything extra from your phone.
- You set the Pomodoro timer.
And you haven’t a clue where to begin. You still experience that lack of focus...
But after a few minutes of floundering and cursing the teacher, you pull out that list of what should have been in the paper. You pick up your textbook and discover that all your “research” is between those very ordinary pasteboard covers.
Within two Pomodoro’s (that’s fifty minutes if you are using a standard 25-minute study period per pomodoro) you have a paper that covers all the points. One more Pomodoro, and it is spell-checked and revised.
You go to bed on time. You have work the next day, and you arrive feeling rested and ready to go. You have a discussion with your boss, who was also young once and negotiate a short-term loan to pay your overdraft and outstanding bill.
Your revised paper comes back with a proud “A-Minus” on its front page and a “Well-done!” note from the instructor at the end.
The Moral of This Story
The Internet, in general, and social media, in particular, are rigged games.
Even though the original intent of the Internet was to rapidly exchange and collaborate on written work it didn’t take big businesses and even small entrepreneurs long to discover how to exploit it.
Advertisers spend millions of dollars discovering just how people think and how best to pull them into spending their money with their company. It isn’t your fault you are getting sucked in.
It isn’t easy resisting the pull of silly little games and funny stories.
Once you are mesmerized by all the shiny toys, you get the price-tag at the end of the day’s fun.
It can range from failed grades to a seriously failing bank account, without even a medal or gilt trophy to show for your day’s work.
Sometimes you set a thief to catch a thief. There are programmers, educators and others who are acting as whistle-blowers on the Bad Practices brigade.
They provide software which can help you with blocking the most harmful websites and offer advice for dealing with social media if your work or school requires certain aspects of it.
As a result, you can get on with researching and communicating, but harness this thing called the Internet to your advantage.