Boost Your Concentration with these Free Resources

There are times in every research student’s life when you’ve just got to buckle down and get $%*t done. When you need to go hard, distractions are your worst enemy. It’s so easy for one little Facebook check to lead you down a four-hour YouTube rabbit hole.

Here are some free resources that can help you beat distractions and prime your mind for a day of quality, focused work.

Productivity timers

Productivity timers work by reminding you to take short breaks in between work sessions. They are often structured around an optimal ‘schedule’ of work and break periods. The Pomodoro technique is a famous example – it prescribes 25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute rest period. After 4 repetitions, you take a longer break.

There are loads of variations on this theme, so check out a few productivity timers to see what suits you best. You can find a list of options here. Or, if you want to get started right now, try the Tomatoes web-based Pomodoro timer.

Music & soundscapes

A beautiful soundscape can help you to maintain a sense of calm and drown out distractions. Visit for over 150 different customisable soundscapes. You can listen to the soothing sounds of a Japanese garden; an Irish coast; a primeval forest; rain on the roof; and much more. Some soundscapes are specifically engineered to block out noise and distractions. Plug in your headphones, browse, and enjoy.

Distraction-free writing tools

If visual clutter on your screen distracts you, you might benefit from using a distraction-free writing tool. These typically minimise what’s in your field of vision as you write by providing writing interfaces that strip away unnecessary buttons and gizmos. Again, there are lots available and they’re all a bit different. Check out this list of options to find something that suits you. Alternatively, you can turn Microsoft Word into a distraction-free writing tool by pressing Alt+v then “u” to enter full-screen mode. Hit Escape to return to your usual view.


Try this guided yoga video especially designed to aid mental focus. Invest half an hour first thing in the morning and get clarity for the day ahead.

Calming your smartphone

Curses on the inventor of the smartphone. It’s yet another device that can distract us from our work. However, most phones allow you to turn off notifications in one way or another.

Minimise notifications

iPhone users: you can customise the notifications you receive from different apps by going to Settings –> Notifications. These changes will apply at all times.

Android users: there are a few different ways to customise app notifications depending on which version of Android you’re running. Check here for details.

Make it all stop for awhile

Most phones include a few options to temporarily stop your phone from buzzing. You can silence your phone, obviously. You can also activate ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode.

iPhone users: in the swipe-up menu, select the moon icon. You can access lots of options to customise this mode from the Settings menu. You can even set certain exceptions if you still want to hear calls from particular people.

Android users:  in the swipe-down menu, select the ‘do not disturb’ icon. You can quick-tap the icon to turn it on; or long-tap to go to your Settings menu and customise your options, including any exceptions. (Note: this may not work if you’re running a version earlier than Android 6.0).

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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