If you are like most students, your workspace looks something like this: A cluttered room piled high with papers, textbooks, and binders. You likely have a television, a cell phone, an mp3 player, a laptop, a video game console (or two), and a DVD player. You’re playing music, have the TV on, and are surfing the internet with your textbook perched on your lap. There’s probably an open bag of chips and a soda within arm’s reach.
This might seem like the ultimate in convenience, but the sheer volume of choices and forms of mental stimulation can wreak havoc with your ability to focus on important tasks, such as writing your college essays.
Studies have found that the amount of digital information college students now consume is staggering. The average young adult now consumes eight and a half hours of media every day. However, these hours are compressed into just six and half hours of real time media use due to multitasking, such as listening to music on an mp3 player while surfing the internet.
The upshot is that multitasking leads to decreased performance, according to several studies that examined the effects of multitasking on the brain. Dividing one’s attention between two or more tasks actually makes people less effective at both tasks. In one study, scientists compared multitasking students to students told to focus on a single task. Those in the multitasking group did not did not perform as well as those who performed only one task.
“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said Anthony Wagner, a psychology professor at Stanford University. “That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”
What this means for your college essays is that you need to create a low-distraction environment that will help you to focus on your writing without dividing your attention among many other tasks. To do so, follow these simple tips for creating the perfect essay writing environment.
TIP 1: Set aside time to write
Pick a time and block off an hour at a time for nothing but essay writing. Be consistent and try to write at the same time each day. At the end of the hour, take a quick break to mentally recharge. Having a specified writing time will help you get in the right frame of mind to work.
TIP 2: Turn off the Phone, the TV, and the iPod
This may seem obvious, but the first step to focusing on your writing is to eliminate distractions. Don’t watch TV or listen to music when you should be devoting your mental energy to writing. Turn off your cell phone, and don’t take calls during essay writing time. The same goes for checking email, Facebook, and other online distractions. Restrict yourself to your word processor and your research during work time.
TIP 3: Turn on the lights
Light helps keep you alert and focused. Be sure you have enough light to work. Sunshine is best, so open the curtains or the blinds and let the natural light in. If you’re working at night, make sure you have a strong, bright lamp that will give you the light you need to stay awake and focused on your work.
TIP 4: Work at a desk or table
While laptops have made it convenient to take your computer and your work everywhere, sitting upright at a desk with your computer on a flat surface (not your lap!) encourages focus and better understanding of your work. It helps to produce the “feel” of real, productive work. Sprawling out on the bed can produce the opposite result, and tempt you to distraction.
TIP 5: Have your research handy
Before you write, be sure that you have all of your research materials close at hand. Keep your textbooks and library books within reach, and have your internet research bookmarked and your PDF files in an open folder on your computer’s desktop. That way you won’t have to stop during your writing to look for missing research or make last minute trips to the library (physical or digital).
By following these simple tips, you’ll have created the perfect environment for writing your essay. Being focused and being prepared are essential to the essay writing process. While the right environment can’t guarantee that your essay will earn top marks, it is a huge step toward enabling you to write the best essays you can—and turn in your best performance on any essay or assignment you receive.