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How I Write and Learn

How to Manage Distractions on Zoom

By a Distracted Student

Text message from "Netflix" that reads, "I know you're in class...but imy"Sometimes it feels much easier to just ignore academic duties when I feel like something will become overwhelming. I realized very quickly that staying focused while attending a Zoom call made things even more difficult than I anticipated since I could distract myself with things like Netflix or online shopping. To nobody’s surprise, this habit was not allowing me to fully understand the content of my courses, and I was often left scrambling to catch up.

So there was my task: How do I efficiently tackle my Zoom lectures with the ever-looming distraction of the world at my fingertips? Honestly, I didn’t even know how to begin to work through this, but after a few trial and error runs, I finally nailed down some tactics that seem to work best for me. Broken down, it works something like this:

I had to look at the way I approached my traditional lectures in comparison to those on Zoom.

By doing this, I was able to get a clearer view of what aspects of traditional lectures were able to keep my attention and what aspects did not. I decided to incorporate more of the things I normally would do in a traditional lecture into my Zoom lectures. In my traditional classes, I would aim to participate more and interact with my professors and classmates, but in a Zoom lecture, this looked like using the unmute button to ask questions/participate, utilizing the chat function, or simply turning my camera on. These simple changes significantly altered the way that I viewed class time and I felt a legitimate shift in my motivation to do schoolwork. In a regular lecture, I wouldn’t have the ability to mute myself or turn off my face as I do in my Zoom lectures. I was, for lack of better words, forced to interact with my professor and peers. I found that the more I interacted in the class (just like I would in a traditional classroom setting), the more I thought I got out of the time.

I had to remind myself to take a step back and breathe.

Of course, I know that there are always going to be instances where I am doing everything in my power to stay focused and it just seems impossible. Fear not! Whenever I feel like I am in a situation like this, it always helps me to take a step back and breathe. For me, I usually get up to stretch and take my eyes off the screen when I start to feel restless, even if it is only for a brief moment. Sometimes I forget that I am human and not a machine, which makes it harder to give myself breaks whenever I feel worn out.

Being online for so long and doing so much in a short period of time can feel taxing, and I usually see it reflected in the effort I put into my work. When I take a step back to breathe and refocus myself, I find that participation and engagement come much easier than when I force it.

I had to make room mentally and physically to pay attention.

Still, what about those times where I engage in class regularly but still find myself distracted? For me, this usually occurs when I have other priorities sticking in my mind during the middle of class, or I am distracted by something in my immediate space (like things on my desk). If it’s the former, I like to quickly jot down the most pressing thoughts I have at the time and then list why it is on my mind at the time. This works especially well for me since it gives me the ability to acknowledge my distractions in writing while giving my brain permission to forget about them while I am in class. By doing this, I am less distracted than I would be by dwelling on my distractions throughout my class.

If it is the latter and there is something in my physical space that is distracting me, then I usually take the necessary steps to remove it (if possible) or move to a space that is less distraction-heavy. I have a fish whose tank is located on my desk, and on occasion when he is feeling rambunctious, he likes to splash around while I am in class (although in this picture he is being camera shy!). In instances like this, I usually just move his tank to another location to avoid this.

On top of the author's desk is a fish tank, tissues, hand sanitizer, lamp, and her laptop.
My fish likes to steal my attention during my classes!

Although I still feel overwhelmed sometimes, especially now that online classes can make coursework feel dull and boring, I also find comfort in the fact that I can control how I tame the world around me (at least while I’m in class). It’s nice to know that I’m improving, and just like anything else, it’s a process.

This blog showcases the perspectives of UNC Chapel Hill community members learning and writing online. If you want to talk to a Writing and Learning Center coach about implementing strategies described in the blog, make an appointment with a writing coach, a peer tutor, or an academic coach today. Have an idea for a blog post about how you are learning and writing remotely? Contact us here.

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