Skip to main content

Within Reach home


Staying Focused While Learning Remotely: How to Avoid Distractions Online

College • May 1, 2020 • Chris Morrison


What you’ll learn

  • How to set-up a study routine
  • The importance of silencing notifications
  • How to block distracting websites
  • The value of taking screen breaks and getting rest


Have you ever sat down to complete your schoolwork online only to find that you have somehow wandered over to YouTube and are now binging some playlist of crazy cat videos? Yeah, me too.

Let’s face it, the Internet can be a very distracting place. Whether you’re taking an online class or simply trying to complete your schoolwork outside of the classroom, all efforts of productivity can fly out the window as soon as a viral video pops-up on your social media feed.

Although the Internet is an invaluable resource containing more knowledge and information than any other thing to ever exist, it can be a major distraction and hinderance on your classwork. Last year, a study by the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning found that nearly 50% of college students surveyed reported that the use of technology for non-class purposes was distracting to them.

So, you may be asking yourself, what are some ways that I can avoid distractions when doing my classwork online? Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to do. It just takes some determination, self-restraint, and planning.

And to get you there, here are five tips to you help you stay focused and avoid distractions when online:

  1. Get into a study routine.

    Developing a daily routine to complete your schoolwork online is a great way to avoid distractions. By establishing and sticking to an online study schedule, you can make sure that you are focused during the times you plan to do your schoolwork, resulting in better productivity!

    Start by creating a study plan. Identify periods of the day when you are most productive. If you’re a morning person, maybe the quiet hours of 7 – 9 a.m. will be best for you. Or, if your family is out and about in the afternoons, use that time to hunker down and study. Force yourself to treat your new study sessions as “distraction free” sessions.

  2. Silence all nonessential notifications.

    Nothing is worse than having constant pings, buzzes, whistles, and bells throw off your concentration. And if you’re someone who can’t help but check their phone or social media every time a notification comes through, you probably know the frustration of spending two hours on schoolwork only to find that you’ve made very little progress.

    To alleviate yourself of these distractions, make sure to temporarily silence all nonessential notifications when you are working online. That includes applications on your phone, tablet, computer, and any other personal electronics that could be considered distracting.

    When it comes to your computer, make sure you close all nonessential applications to prevent notifications from popping-up on your screen. That should include any social media, video chat, instant messaging, or gaming apps. In addition, unless you plan to use it for studying purposes, closing your email is also a good tactic to prevent getting distracted online.

    As for your mobile devices, put the ringer on silent (not vibrate) and turn off notifications from apps that can serve as a distraction (e.g. social media, games, etc.). You can even try setting your mobile device in a different room or somewhere not within immediate reach to eliminate the temptation of constantly checking.

  3. Block access to distracting websites.

    Do you ever find yourself mindlessly typing in the URL to a social media website only to get there and realize you don’t know why you wanted to go there in the first place? Again, me too.

    If you’re someone who might want a little more impulse control, then you might be interested in getting a free third-party application or browser extension that blocks access to distracting websites. Third-party extensions, such as StayFocused and Block Site on Google Chrome, allow you to create a blacklist of distracting websites and then easily activate when you plan to study. For example, if you mindlessly begin to type the URL for your favorite social media channel, you’ll be greeted with a sad puppy reminding you that you’re still in the middle of studying. Then, when you’ve finished your online schoolwork for the day, simply turn off your blacklist until you plan to study online again.

  4. Take a screen break.

    Factoring periodic screen breaks into your online study schedule is a great way to avoid burnout, increase your productivity, and let the class material sink in. Therefore, try to schedule five to fifteen minutes every hour or so to get-up and briefly disconnect from the computer screen. Use this time to refill your water bottle, grab a snack, step outside, and destress.

    However, if you plan to return to schoolwork, make sure your break doesn’t extend beyond your scheduled limit. Try setting a timer so your study routine stays on track. In other words, try to avoid checking any nonessential notifications, going on social media, watching online videos, or doing anything else online that can distract you and throw you off your study groove.

  5. Get some rest.

    Trying to be productive online when you’re exhausted can be incredibly difficult. Not only is your attention span wavering but chances are you won’t get as much out of your online classwork as you should. Therefore, make sure that you’re getting plenty of rest.

    First look at your sleep schedule for opportunities of improvement. If you’re not getting the standard eight hours, try to go to bed earlier, reorganize your daily schedule, and eliminate any late-night distractions that could be keeping you up.

Overall, staying focused and increasing your productivity online is easy and totally doable when working on schoolwork. With a little determination and self-restraint, you’ll be getting the most out of your schoolwork.


Chris graduated from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he received a bachelor’s degree in business marketing. An analyst for Sallie Mae, Chris is interested in all things college, personal finance, and the Washington Nationals.


Within Reach home

Sallie Mae does not provide financial, tax, or legal advice and the information contained in this article does not constitute tax, legal, or financial advice. Sallie Mae does not make any claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in this article. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax advisors regarding any financial strategies mentioned in this article. These materials are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Sallie Mae.

External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties, and Sallie Mae assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.