Sometimes, finding success academically is less about being smart but rather about being smart with your time.
Being a student pretty much my entire life, I’ve found that the following strategies have worked very well for me. Not just to do well academically, but also to reduce stress and grow/mature as a better human being.
1. Magic Happens in the Mornings
Would you agree that the best time to study is when your brain is well rested?
I’ve found that my productivity, focus and mental clarity are at its best if I am disciplined enough to sleep and wake early to study.
Distractions are usually minimal in these wee hours and only happen if I give in to the urge to turn my phone off Airplane Mode and check for messages. (more on conquering distractions below!)
Some people believe that they work best at night. Logically thinking, I doubt our brains can function at its best after a whole day’s worth of activities. Also, I find that it just doesn’t align with our circadian rhythms. We should allow our bodies (and brains) to start winding down after the sun sets.
Staying up late also builds up sleep debt which you eventually have to repay by sleeping in.
> this then guarantees a late morning and not experiencing the productive magic I’m describing
> which then perpetuates the night owl cycle.
I find that if I study at night, I work twice as slow, don’t absorb what I learn as easily and have to constantly fight a losing battle with the Zzz monster. So these days I reserve my nights for relaxing activities like watching a movie, reading or calling my parents.
2. Rely on Routines
Everything just gets easier once you get into a routine.
My routine now is to sleep by 9pm (I try my best…) and wake by 5am (first alarm at 445am to give me some time to snooze and stretch).
Then after the usual morning routines of hygiene, prayer and journaling, the magic starts at 530am (although these days I spend the 1st hour writing blogposts like this). From here, I get a good 3 hours of work done before going to school.
If there is no school, I still work for 3-4 hours before taking a morning break to exercise and eat. Then another 3-4 hours of work before dinner around 5pm.
Usually it takes a week or two after the school term starts for me and my body to adjust. It always helps to try to stick to your routine even during term breaks to make the transition easier.
I prioritise the most important assignment/revision first and so on.
3. Conquering Distractions
Out of sight, out of mind.
If your phone is your weakness, switch on Airplane Mode and keep it out of your sight. In another room would be good as eventually the trouble of having to go and get it outweighs the momentary dopamine hit you get from social media apps. I just don’t turn off Airplane Mode until I’ve finished my morning study session.
Likewise for emails and anything other potential distractor on your computer – resist the urge to open them! Everything can wait until after your most important study time is over.
4. Work in spurts
Studying is like a never-ending ultramarathon.
Eventually your brain gets tired and you need a break. However, if you’re not disciplined with your break times, 5 minutes eventually turns to 15 or 30 minutes.
This is where the Pomodoro productivity technique has really made a difference for me.
It’s really simple:
- Work 25 mins
- Rest 5 mins
- Repeat for 4 cycles before taking a longer break of 15-20 mins
- Start at step 1 again
These days I’m experimenting with 30 mins work, 5 mins rest. I find that I need that extra settling-in time to refocus after a break.
Most of the time I get into such a good flow that I can’t bear to tear myself away after 25 mins! But I’ve always found that it pays to do so as you give your mind a quick rest break. I always come back with a clearer head.
For the 5 mins, I find that taking a quick nap on the bed really gives my eyes and brain a good rest.
For the first 10-15 mins of each work session (step 1), I normally stand and work as I find that this helps me focus. However, I allow myself to sit whenever my legs start to tire. I find that changing positions from standing to sitting also helps with focus. Ideally, its best not to let your body stay in any stagnant position for too long as circulation is restricted and muscles tighten up.
5. Staying Ahead
The art and practice of foresight can save you from much undue stress.
Over the years, I’ve learnt to start planning and working on assignments as early as possible. Even just 1 hour a day, eventually accumulates and makes completing assignments early a breeze.
The same goes for exam revision. Setting time each week or each day to review/revise what you’ve learnt really helps to reinforce your memory. Even if it is just 30 mins a day, say after dinner, a little every day goes a long way.
6. A Solid Learning Strategy
How do you learn?
Some people learn by repetition, others by pictures, mind-maps and videos.
Ultimately, I’ve found that repetition through active recall to be the most effective. Testing yourself to see what you remember can be done through flashcards or mind-maps, etc.
Also, you learn twice when you teach something to others. Therefore, having a study partner and teaching by testing each other is doubly effective.
Along with revision, I feel like lesson prep is also important. Reading the slides for the lesson beforehand prepares your mind for the lesson. During class you reinforce the learning a second time. The third time happens if you do a weekly review. That’s already learning 3 times!
7. Health Matters
Like everything else in life, you can’t perform if you are not in a good state of health – mind, body and spirit.
Self-care is critical.
Good nutrition is fundamental for the body. Stay away from processed foods, snacks, pastries, sugary treats/drinks and anything that doesn’t look like real food that can be found naturally in nature and you would’ve already won half the battle.
Moderate exercise is also immensely beneficial. Even something as simple as take a walk in nature after your meals can make you feel really good and refresh your mind.
For the mind, adequate and good quality sleep should never be compromised. This helps you compartmentalize information and focus for the next day.
I am sure I’m stating the obvious and you already know all of this. But putting it into practice is often easier said than done.
That’s why having a daily routine that encompasses all these aspects makes things much easier.
Another KEY aspect of my routine is to incorporate some DOWN-TIME every day to relax, unwind and take your mind and spirit off the pressures of studying. This is important to prevent burning out.
Have you asked yourself, “What am I studying for?”
Keep reminding yourself about the bigger picture.
The end goal.
Your purpose for studying.
It will help you through difficult times and help you see the forest for the trees.
Ultimately, I hope you have a strong enough reason to study. No one likes to be forced to do anything. Even if you feel forced, try and find something that motivates or inspires you to learn. Nothing can beat that self-generated spark of interest.
Oh, and stay Zen.