Boston College is a hectic place, whether on a weekday or the highly anticipated weekend. Finding time to study between sporting events, club meetings and class can seem impossible, and often multitasking appears to be the only way to get everything done.
But according to reputed scientific research, multitasking makes us significantly less efficient and prolongs the time we actually spend studying.
A study conducted at California State University, Dominguez Hills found that students who were tasked with studying for something important and had access to phones and Internet were quickly drawn away. While working, it was found that at the two-minute mark, their “on-task behavior” started to decline, and by 15 minutes in, the students had only spent about 65% of their time actually doing school work.
Can we go longer than two minutes without checking our feeds? Is it actually possible? It often seems like adults look down on our generation and our need for connectedness. However, their claims may be based in truth.
Evidence from psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience research suggests that when we multitask while studying, our learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had our full attention. Understanding and recollection abilities decrease, and there is greater difficulty transferring our learning to new contexts.
The major problem with multitasking and distractions from media sources is that the operations necessary for interacting online are often quite mentally complex. These distractions are drawing on the same mental resources demanded by schoolwork, such as using language and analyzing meaning.
Each of the mentally demanding tasks that we often distract ourselves with (iMessage in lecture) use the same area of the brain as schoolwork and studying—the prefrontal cortex. While you may be a pro at listening to a podcast while folding laundry, that is not conducive to playing with the new Snapchat filters and reading Aristotle.
Researchers have documented countless negative outcomes that occur when students multitask while doing schoolwork. First, the assignment at hand takes longer to complete because when students switch to distracting activities and back, they then have to refamiliarize themselves with the material; this dropping and picking up of mental threads causes mental fatigue and leads to more mistakes.
There is a cognitive cost associated with task-switching, especially when the tasks call for a different set of expressive “rules.” This can be seen when switching from the formal and precise language required for an English paper as compared to the relaxed, friendly tone of a text sent to a friend.
All this is not to say that effective studying can only take place in climate-controlled isolation. To get the most out of your time and retain what you learn in an efficient way, minor changes in your study habits can have huge, positive influences.
Listen to familiar music.
Studying for organic chemistry is not the time to check out Drake’s new album. To study, listen to calm background music that you’re familiar with. This makes it intentionally easy to tune out and focus on the thrilling work material in front of you. This background music will help to drain out annoying sounds (like the heaters in Bapst) and dually create associations that will help you remember what you’re studying in the long-term.
Take off into airplane mode.
Breaks are great, however, having a full-blown Snapchat conversation whilst studying is not good for retention. Put your phone on airplane mode, or if you’re up for a real challenge, turn it off. Not receiving notifications will solve half of your problems.
Once you open one Snapchat, you might feel obligated to watch every Snapstory from the day before. Cut off this habit at the source; make a commitment to yourself by setting attainable goals (like reading one chapter) and then indulge in some selfie action.
Build up stamina.
If it’s necessary for you to check social media every waking minute, set small goals and work up. If you really can’t stand reading for five minutes without going on your phone, set a seven-minute timer. If you make it out alive, set your next time for 15 minutes.
Starting out with small goals and working your way up to a full hour, undistracted, will make it seem less like an insurmountable feat, but more of a long-term goal to work towards.