Week Three of SSC Academics

Distractions 101

Photo of students in a lecture

Happy Wednesday, Marauder!


Yesterday we thought about how note-taking can be a pretty demanding exercise for your brain, and today builds on that by addressing another challenge you might encounter in lectures, distractions. I tend to think about distractions of two different types, internal and external. Internal distractions are things that I am most responsible for. The impulse that I have to check my phone, use my laptop for non-academic purposes, or to talk to my friends around me is a dangerous one, but it is not impossible to beat. I have these impulses more often if I’m more tired because I feel less inclined to make my brain do real work in class. External distractions are more out of your control, but you are still in charge of how you handle them. Your peers probably have all the same impulses, and this can affect you if they give into them. When people talk around you and misuse their electronics, it can pull your focus away from the instructor and what they are trying to communicate to you. In time, you will learn what works best for you to avoid these distractions, and this post is a step in the right direction.


To start off with, I talked to some of the other Student Staff here in the Student Success Centre and asked them how they avoid distractions in lecture and this is what they said:

Photo of a student.

Hajirah Mian, Humanities

Don’t be afraid to tell someone to be quiet! When someone is talking near you and you can’t focus on what the instructor is saying, you are probably not going to be able to process the material because you will be too focused on what is going on around you. Quickly mentioning that you can’t hear the lecture material might seem intimidating, but your peers will understand that you want to make the most of class time!

Photo of a student.

Annie Wang, Science

Sometimes when I get distracted in lecture, I think about how much each individual lecture actually costs–this reminds me that I want to get as much out of a lecture as possible! I also know that anything the instructor says is fair game as testable material and that it’s important that I can recall details later on. To combat distraction, I look over powerpoints beforehand so that I know what to expect and don’t get lost during lecture.

Photo of a student.

Jennifer Chan, Kinesiology

When I start to get distracted in lecture, I do a quick sweep of the room to see if other people also seem to have lost focus. When I see that they have, it reminds me that I am not the only one who finds it hard to pay attention and it motivates me because I know I might not be able to rely on anyone else to fill me in after class.

Here are some other tips to help you avoid distractions in lecture:

  • Sit somewhere where you can easily see the instructor. I find that if I sit closer to the front, I am less likely to check my phone because I stay engaged with what the instructor has to say.
  • Prioritise being able to focus on the instructor over sitting with your best friends. We all have friends that we can easily have a conversation with… but these might not be the friends we want to sit with in lecture. When your friend has something to say and they don’t save it until after class, your focus can be derailed by side conversations. Remember that you are in charge of capturing lecture material, and you can’t do so effectively if you aren’t hearing it.
  • Take notes offline or, better yet, by hand. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll talk about a note-taking method that will encourage processing over transcription and will also ensure that your notes can be effective study tools. I know that if I choose to take notes on my computer, I am putting myself in proximity to an entire world of distractions. The other benefit of handwritten notes is that you will keep your brain engaged because you will have to write what the instructor is saying in a condensed and meaningful way in order to keep up.


How do I prepare for lecture? How can I stay organised? Do I really need to do anything before I show up? Lecture Preparation 101 has the answers for you!

What makes note-taking difficult? What is my brain trying to do when I take notes? How can I get the most out of what my instructors say? Read Note-Taking 101 to find out!

What is going to distract me during lecture? Do my peers also get distracted? Is there anything that I can do to keep focused? Distraction 101 has the answers to these questions!

4 thoughts on “Distractions 101”

    1. This is a great tip, Markus–thank you for sharing! I agree that I am most focused when I choose to sit near the front of the room where I cannot see other students’ laptop and phone screens and am more likely to make eye contact with the instructor.

  1. Most of my distractions are internal. Not necessarily because I want to check my phone or something like that, but my mind just trails off and it makes it harder to remember why I was listening. Coffee helps a lot.

    1. This is definitely relatable! I find that if I try to think of questions I might have about what is being said in lecture, I am more likely to stay focused!

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