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Photo by Elizabeth Vidar, 17, North Hollywood HS Zoo Magnet

Distractions are all around us—Facebook, YouTube, texting, TV. It’s sometimes so overwhelming that it can be hard to focus on homework. So we challenged these teens to do their homework without distractions for three days. They were allowed to take breaks to do things like check their Facebook, go on YouTube, talk to their friends or watch TV, but they couldn’t do those things while doing their homework.

By Moviz Dar
18, Hawthorne HS

I usually come home after school and eat, sleep for one to three hours and then watch videos on YouTube. I promise myself that I’ll start my homework the next hour but it never happens. I do my homework from 9 p.m. until midnight. I knew that starting my homework at 9 was bad because I wasn’t getting all my work done.

On the first day of the challenge, I deactivated my Facebook account and put my phone on silent. My brain was telling me every second that I had to log onto Facebook and reply to text messages I assumed I had. But I was able to resist. I finished my economics homework in half an hour. I usually take two hours. And I finished all of my homework one hour earlier than normal and got eight hours of sleep.

Even though I got homework done faster, I felt like I was stuck in a cage and being forced to do it. So on the last two days I went back to my old habits. I texted, watched YouTube videos and went on Facebook while doing my homework. Because of all the distractions, I stayed up until 1 a.m.

I realized that if I want to do my homework fast I need to remove the distractions around me. When the three days were over, I wanted to do my homework without distractions but I was unsuccessful again and again. One day I didn’t even do my homework. I woke up at 4 a.m. and I rushed through it but I didn’t have enough time and I finished only half of it. When my English teacher said, “OK, turn in your homework,” I felt guilty that I let myself procrastinate.

By Jazmine Mendoza
16, Valley Regional HS #5 (San Fernando)

I was excited to do this challenge because I need to learn to stay focused. I do my homework with my computer on because I listen to music. When I get bored I check Facebook or spend an hour listening to new bands on YouTube. When I call a friend for homework help, or to take a break, I end up talking for hours.

I was confident the first day. I left my computer and phone on because I wanted to challenge myself by keeping temptations nearby. I felt more focused because I wasn’t thinking about checking my Facebook every five minutes. I spent only three hours doing homework instead of the six to seven hours I usually take. I even had time to read for pleasure before going to bed. The following day at school I felt better prepared because without distractions, I had fully understood the homework.

During the second night I found myself dozing off and getting bored since I was used to going online or calling a friend when my homework got hard. I didn’t want to cave in though, so I dedicated myself to doing portions of my homework for about an hour and then taking five-minute breaks. I didn’t use the breaks to go online though, because I knew that I’d stay on longer than five minutes. Instead I cleaned my room, got a snack or saw what my family was doing. Then I continued my homework more refreshed.

I repeated the same routine the third day, and will try to keep that routine from now on. Spending less time on Facebook made it less important. I knew I wasn’t missing out on much because I could go on later and nothing had changed. It feels good being on the computer less.

By Jessica Marin
17, Culver City HS

The first day, I forgot that I had to be distraction free until I realized it took me 30 minutes to come back to a government question because I was texting my friends and checking my email. When I stopped replying to texts, I finished my homework in less than 20 minutes. I was able to work on college applications the rest of the night and go to sleep before 11. I usually stay up until midnight and spend about four hours doing homework.

The next two days were not as successful. I tried not to get distracted by my phone but I couldn’t help it. I could have moved it away from my desk, but what if I missed an important call or text? Like what if my friend broke up with her boyfriend? I’m so attached to my phone that if I don’t have it near me I feel like a part of me is missing, which is not normal—it is just an object. Text messages would come in, I would ignore them but then another message would come in and another one after that one. I gave in and texted and called my best friend. We didn’t even talk about anything important, just the usual rundown of how our day went and complaints about our homework.

My mom said she knew I would fail this challenge because according to her I’m “addicted” to my phone. In my defense, the challenge worked for one day but then I went back to how things usually are, staying up until midnight. But I’m OK with that because I feel like I need mini-distractions during homework or else I’d go crazy.

By Brian Yu
17, Walnut HS

I knew the challenge would for the most part be cake. Last year I would go on Facebook or Tumblr while doing my homework. I would also go on YouTube for a lecture and get distracted by the sidebar, wasting an hour or two on random links. So I installed an app on my browser called Stayfocusd. I gave myself 50 minutes a day for browsing and once those minutes were up, the sites were blocked. My only distraction now is instant messaging my friends about girls, classes and schoolwork.

For the challenge I chose the Stayfocusd option that didn’t let me browse at all, and I didn’t log in to AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) until I was done with my homework. I came home from band practice at 7 p.m. and napped for two hours before starting my homework. I got bored while working on my essay about Fidel Castro and I had the urge to use AIM or check out videos on YouTube. However, I was doing the challenge so I made myself a sandwich and went back to work. After I finished my stuff, it was around 2 a.m. Not bad for a school night; I usually finish around 3.

On Day 2, I went home after band practice and woke up around 8. I put on my headphones and started my AP Spanish homework. It wasn’t hard staying off the Internet. Because band practice leaves me exhausted, I just wanted to finish my homework and go to sleep. I finished around 12, which was faster than usual.

On Day 3, I studied for my history test and did my homework for my other classes. Occasionally I would wonder what my friends were up to and how they were doing, but the essays I had to outline brought me back to reality (and homework) really fast.

This distraction-free way isn’t hard, but a little too restrictive for me. I like to have AIM open on my browser window to have a friend to talk to while I’m working. You can only focus so much before you get distracted. Taking breaks helps keep me refreshed.

By Maria Khan
17, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies

I’m always telling my friends how exhausted I am because I stayed up until midnight doing my homework and woke up at 5 a.m. to finish it. Little did I know that I spend most of my time texting, instant messaging and on Facebook.

The first night I decided to socialize until 6:30 p.m. and then start the challenge. Bad idea to start off with dessert before dinner. A few hours later, I’m talking to five people on AIM, listening to music videos they sent me, helping them with their homework and feeling guilty for being on for so long! I didn’t start my homework until 9 p.m. The first 30 minutes, my hands felt awkward not grabbing my phone every five minutes. I had to turn my phone off and put it in another room. Except that didn’t work since I ran across the house to grab it because I “had” to tell my friend to bring me blue nail polish the next day. So I gave it to my older sister to hide. After those first 30 minutes were over, I focused on my homework and finished in an hour and 40 minutes. Usually three hours is a minimum. I did not go to bed at midnight for once!

The second night I was stressed from all the assignments and tests I had. Learning from the night before, I started my homework right away. I spent an hour in the middle on a shower/dinner break and 30 minutes before going to bed replying to my messages. I went to bed at 11 p.m.

The third night, I was able to leave my phone turned off on my desk. I was tempted to turn on my phone but I didn’t and focused on my homework.

The challenge showed me it was was worth missing out on talks about who broke up with who. I got more sleep and I felt on top of everything during a stressful week. I’ve realized I can get my work done as long as I ignore the “dings” and “rings” tempting me.

By Tyler Bradshaw
15, Redondo Union HS 

At 7 p.m. I usually turn the radio to 104.3 FM or turn to channel 299 to watch Friends so I can do my homework. I’ve never seen anything wrong with listening to the radio or watching television while doing homework because that made it fun.

Doing my homework without the radio or TV sounded boring and it was. I told my little brother that he couldn’t distract me so he would tiptoe by my bedroom door and peek inside. Because I was bored and was dying for human contact I asked, “What you doin’?” My brother said “Nothing.” I continued that useless conversation for two minutes. When my brother wasn’t there to spy on me I started singing a song in my head and the next thing I knew I was dancing. One second I was trying to find the value of x, then I was wondering how paper and pencils are made. It took me about an hour to do one homework assignment and I felt even more distracted because I was trying to find anything to do but homework.

The second night I didn’t want to do my homework because I knew that it would be boring. When I did start, I was surprised that I did my geometry homework in about 30 minutes. Since it was quiet, I was able to work out the problems without going to the back of the book to look up the answers. Since I finished my homework so quickly, I had time to listen to the radio. The third night I did my history homework in 10 minutes because I wasn’t distracted.

Before the challenge I sometimes wouldn’t finish my homework, but during the challenge I was turning it in. I would love to say that I will continue doing my homework without the radio or TV, but knowing me, I won’t. Homework without the radio or TV is just too boring.