By Eric Garneau
Undoubtedly, laptops (and more recently tablet PCs) have been a boon to many students who don't want to lug around endless stacks of notebooks and all-too-losable pens. But it's so easy to turn a potent classroom companion into a toy that destroys your productivity... and your grades. With that in mind, here are five tips to hopefully help you avoid digital distraction. Your professors can thank us later.
1. Only keep open the programs you need.
This seems like the simplest of all possible solutions to your attention problem. Chances are you've brought your laptop to class for the purpose of taking notes, right? Well then, do you really need Chrome or Firefox running? Keep a Word or Notepad doc called up on your screen to type down whatever information seems relevant to you, but leave all other programs in the digital garage. It may sound silly, but you'll be a lot less likely to fall into a World Wide Web rabbit hole if it takes two clicks instead of one.
2. Failing that, do not check your e-mail... or Twitter... or Facebook.
The most insidious of all time-suckers, these three activities lull you into a false sense of security in the form of a number with parentheses around it. If your mind starts to wander away from a lecture for a second, how easy does it seem to navigate over to an open Twitter window and just check out that one (1) new 140-character bon mot? But as Lay's potato chips knew, you can never eat (or read) just one. Soon you'll be clicking all around, following chains of messages, status updates, conversations or check-ins, and what was intended to be a 10-second distraction has sucked five minutes of your class time away. Oops.
3. Failing that, DO NOT turn on chat programs.
Seriously, don't do it.
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4. Learn to multi-task better.
If you insist on chatting, Facebooking and generally living it up like the digital-social animal you are, you're going to have to develop a keen sense of when you really need to pay attention to your professor if you want to do well in class. Unfortunately, that probably means you'll have to spend more than a few class periods paying attention only to your teacher. The horror, right? But the truth is that most instructors have cues you can read that tell you when what they're covering is really crucial, when it's interesting to know but not central and when it's just them taking time off the clock. Once you can tell what those cues are (occasionally professors will say 'THIS IS IMPORTANT' outright, but don't count on it), you can at least get by only half-heartedly paying attention some of the time. Of course, we don't necessarily recommend doing this, but Gchat can be a hard habit to break.
5. Don't bring your computer in the first place.
This probably sounds like some horribly apocalyptic scenario, but sometimes it's got to be done. If you absolutely can't pry yourself away from your laptop's powers of distraction even for the most crucial piece of information, it may be time to think about leaving that bad boy at home. In fact, there is a real argument to be made that taking notes the old-fashioned way - with a pen on notebook paper - engenders more familiarity with course material, simply because the process of committing it to paper (versus typing it) is a more intimate one. This writer never brought a laptop to class throughout his college career, and taking handwritten notes served him fine. Seriously, give it a try. It's not as stone-aged as you think, but you won't know until you yabba-dabba-do it.
Did you know, in fact, that you can survive college without a laptop?