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Nathan’s Hacks: How to Defeat Distraction to Focus 100% on Your HSC

Do you struggle to fight distraction? So did Nathan, until he beat it! In this article, he shows you how you can focus 100% to own your HSC!

In this post, Sydney Boys High School and Matrix student Nathan Ho explains how to defeat distraction to focus 100% on your HSC! He shares his tips and favourite apps that gave him back control over his study.


Me, Myself and I


Nathan Ho


Sydney Boys High School


My HSC subjects

  • English
  • Maths Ext 1
  • Maths Ext 2
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Music 2 (Accelerated)


My strongest subjects were Music and Chemistry

I think that figuring out how to reliably convince yourself to study is the most important trick to tackle your HSC.

I used to struggle to focus and therefore, was unable to study efficiently.

All subjects require focus, but I found that this is particularly true when studying conceptual subjects like Music and Chemistry.

Accelerating Music 2 in Year 11 helped me develop some self-discipline, but the real shock came when Year 12 rolled around. Fortunately, by my half-yearly, I developed some neat techniques to get myself in the study zone.


How to ACTUALLY get yourself to study

In an ideal world, everything we plan to do gets done.

Unfortunately, in the real world, many of us struggle to get things done, no matter how great our planning is.

Recently I’ve been procrastinating by reading about how to stop procrastinating. If you’re anything like me, now you have one more thing to read before you will really get (back) to work.


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3 tricks I use to convince myself to study

1. Looking forward to future study

Whenever I was lacking motivation, it was because I didn’t see much point in studying simply for the sake of studying. I didn’t have much of an idea about what I wanted to study after high school.

Taking the QUT quiz really gave me some hope and direction about my HSC. It was very quick and gave me both broad areas and individual degrees to investigate based on my interests.


2. Remembering to breathe

You’ll be surprised what deep breathing can do for your focus.

One I like to do is:

  1. Breathe in for 4 seconds
  2. Hold it for 4
  3. Breathe out for 4
  4. Hold for 4. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Or whatever way you feel is comfortable.

The main idea is to use slow and controlled breathing calm down, focus and get you into the zone.

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3. Sleeping well

Good sleep creates good focus. Even just an extra half an hour of work at night is completely negated when you’re sluggish the next day. If you’re sleeping in class (which I was very guilty of), you’re probably doing something wrong. Your teacher can’t be that boring! If your school allows it, I found that chewing sugar-free gum helps me to cope with this.

Now all this is fine if we actually get studying.

Getting there consists of tackling two things:

  1. Getting Focused
  2. Staying Focused


Getting Focused

1. Develop an effective Study Environment

Your environment is associated with the things you do. My study environment has a great effect on my willingness to study.

Outside of school, there are two main places that I study at:

  1. At Matrix. Matrix has a large, open area with comfortable desks and chairs. They have great amenities and the general ‘study vibe’ allows me to get a minimum of 2 hours of homework in, even on a bad day. It’s convenient for me, so I’m there most days. Studying at your local library will have the same effect. Make sure to find a quiet space where you can focus.
  2. At home: Your study desk should be neat and inviting. For lighting, I use lots of natural light or a desk lamp. For posture, I use an office chair and cardboard-box footrest, so my back is supported, shoulders relaxed, and feet are at 90 degrees. My monitor is placed on a stack of books, so the top of the screen is at eye level. Merely being aware of how your body sits will reduce common study pains such as back and eye strain. I always have a water bottle and keep a small notebook next to me to jot down any distracting thoughts.
    There are a lot of websites that will have much better diagrams than I could ever draw, which also allows you to see what works for you.

On another note, if you head home straight after school, I don’t recommend changing into pyjamas straight away. That’s telling your body it’s time for bed.

Staying in your school uniform makes it much easier to get into the study zone.

On the weekend or in the holidays, merely changing out of your sleepwear does wonders!


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2. Minimise Distractions

I’ve had a long journey of trying to pull myself away from internet procrastination.

I simply did not have the discipline to stop. I set up nets to catch myself, with each being slightly more restrictive than the last.

All of these tools are free, and I recommend testing if you smash through the 1st net before you try the other ones.


Net 1: Deleting the problematic program

If it works, great. Except soon I went on the web version or just hopped onto my laptop instead.


Net 2: Blocking websites on your smartphone

For iPhone users, setting restrictions on Safari is very simple. You may ask someone to set a password for you to make it mostly inaccessible. Type in your problematic websites and you’re good to go! Remember to include mobile sites. (e.g.

For Android users, the app Blocksite also uses password protection, blocking both apps and websites. Sadly, I got so desperate that, even when activated, I still managed to access them through other means ☹. If you’re not as bad as me, the app works quite effectively.

I also use Blokada for Android, which blocks domains everywhere, even when integrated into other websites and apps. I use Blocksite’s password protection to restrict access to the app.


Net 3: Blocking websites on your computer

Cold Turkey for Chrome and Firefox is pretty powerful for blocking websites. Give it a try.

If your parents are tech savvy, you can block sites on the router’s blocklist (although how you do this will vary amongst different types of routers.)





Net 4: Setting your devices to Greyscale

What also works for me is setting my phone and laptop to greyscale. Videos and images become dull, but reading and typing are fine, if not better. Greyscale eventually becomes a trigger for focus, allowing you to work more efficiently.


Net 5: If all else fails, all you have now is the power of sheer willpower and guilt. Good luck!

The goal is to use these tools as a safety net, not to fight through them.

Eventually, you are going to check what’s up on the sites you abandoned. The aim is to ration this. Tracking your usage habits help solidify your results. iOS has this integrated and there are plenty of different programs to suit your tastes.

My habits

I set up email notifications for important school groups on Facebook, which usually gives me most of the post in the email itself.

Usually, this can wait until I wind down on Friday evening. It is very important to set and restrict the time and conditions to catch up.

When you’ve deserved it, it doesn’t come with the crushing guilt.


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Staying focused

1. Music for study

Ideally, your study music playlist should be used only for study. Something simple like slow, relaxing piano or guitar pieces work best for me. You’ll associate this with studying, which helps you get into, and stay in, the study zone. Music helps keep studying interesting but keep fun music for fun times.
If you are studying something that requires your full attention, such as memorising terms and definitions, I do not recommend using study music.

2. Timed work and break sessions

I have an attention span of about 10 minutes, so I use this when I need to focus for a longer period of time. However, it is only effective if you stick to it. I use my smartphone’s timer app with pre-set times and make the ringtone joyful and encouraging. If you’re in a quiet zone such as a library, it’s best to set it to vibrate.

Here’s how it works:

  • 1 rep is 25 minutes work plus 5 minutes break.
  • 4 reps make 1 set, after which I take a longer break.
  • After each set, 2 hours will have passed.
  • Record each rep as a tally and strikethrough to mark a completed set.



Staying on task

As I study, my mind is always racing with so many other things I’d rather do.

To minimise distractions, I write them down in a small notebook.  Then, I can either quickly tend to these in my short breaks or leave them for another time.

In the long breaks, it is important to take some time away from the desk. Walk and stretch a bit, refill the water bottle, go to the restroom, etc. Remember to get back into it after the break.

blog-success-secrets-nathan-ho-how-to-defeat-distraction-to-focus-100%-on-your-hsc-diary-notebook-for-staying-on-task-with-text"Write matrix blog.... I got distracted not sure how long it took"

I’d use my notebook to stay on task by tracking time (or trying to!)

Getting yourself to set the timer is already one big step. The next leap is sticking to it. I use the breaks as a motivator, meaning I can do what I’d rather do while still having done effective study.

Being distracted and breaking a rep causes me dissatisfaction and guilt, which means I don’t even get to enjoy my time either way. Even if you’re in the zone, I still recommend quickly finishing off and still taking that short break to prevent tiring out later.

If you did what you set out to do, I think that already qualifies as an amazing study session.



Written by Guest Author

We have regular contributions to our blog from our Tutor Team and high performing Matrix Students. Come back regularly for these guest posts to learn their study hacks and insights!


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