Life can often feel like a rat race. Day in, day out, there's so much demanding our attention but only a finite number of hours in our day to get it all done. If you're juggling a demanding career, busy family and social life as well as study, we're pretty sure you understand this all too well!
As you can't create more hours in the day, and you certainly shouldn't sacrifice sleep, learning how to use your study time more effectively is key. Enter our top tips for building positive study habits into your schedule and ending each week with the satisfaction that you're getting more done!
Create positive habit loops
While human beings may be more sophisticated than Pavlov's salivating dogs, we're still creatures of habit. Handled correctly, that tendency becomes a powerful tool to help us be our better selves.
If you always crave a pick-me-up snack at around 3 pm, make sure you have a piece of fruit on hand for when that hunger hits. If you're too tired to think about exercise when you get home from work, pack a bag with gym clothes and leave it at work or in your car. We all know that just getting to the gym is often harder than the workout itself! The positive feedback your body will give you for feeding it nutritious food and exercising will help entrench those habits, creating positive habit loops that are easier to maintain.
The same principles can be applied to your study. If you're already in the habit of treating yourself to a coffee before work every morning, use that 10-15 minutes in the coffee shop to skim over your required reading on your phone. That way, your lifesaving morning coffee will become associated with studying.
Similarly, if you try to fit more study in during the week, you may be able to enjoy a study-free weekend quite regularly. If that's the kind of weekend you're keen on, you'll be more likely to work hard during the week around work.
Plan tomorrow’s study today
Taking five minutes at the end of each day to plan the next is a powerful weapon in the war against procrastination. There are two major reasons why.
The first is simple - If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. When you wake up with a clear plan for how your day is going to go down, you'll be far more likely to stick to it. By mapping out what tomorrow will look like, you're making a promise to yourself to get as much of that done as possible. There will always be derailments and distractions, but a plan will help you get back on track.
As well as your schedule or daily to-do-list, set up your physical environment and the resources you'll need. Pack your study materials ready for you in the morning and charge the devices you're going to need. It sounds simple, but a flat device without a charger could be the difference between a productive study day and a day wasted.
The second involves being kind to your brain, as planning your next day will help to offload some of its contents. Humans can only hold a certain amount of information in their mind at one time. Overload that amount, and we start cycling through thoughts so as not to lose any of them. 'Downloading' them to paper or a digital list means we can relax a bit, concentrate on the other things in our lives, and hopefully get a better night's sleep.
Factor in your body clock and when you get most done
Did you know that 80% of our work is done in 20% of our time? For most people, that productive time occurs in the first few hours after waking up, but it can be different for everyone. We suggest identifying the most productive hours that you have available tomorrow and maximising those for study. Instead of checking your email and responding to things on the fly, you can get right down to whatever you have planned.
If you're working as well as studying, it's rarely going to be appealing to wake up at 4 am to study, but the principle still applies. By tackling your most important work when you're super productive during the business day, you'll be more prepared to leave work on time and have your evening free for study.
Do the easiest parts first
This advice seems counter-intuitive, but it speaks directly to the procrastinator in all of us. Too often, we find ourselves staring at a blank screen, not knowing where to start with a difficult assignment, or overwhelmed with the list of things to do. While it might seem like a good idea to tackle the hardest thing first and get it out of the way, if you're not feeling super-productive at that point, the approach can be paralysing.
Instead, if you do the bits you're the most confident with, it can give you the momentum to keep on going. Work 'inwards' from the easiest to the hardest part, and by the time you get to the trickiest aspect, you'll be nearly done - so why not push through?
You might even find that while you're putting together your reference section or executive summary, your mind makes the connections it needs to create that compelling introduction or novel hypothesis after all.
So, don't punish yourself when you're not ploughing through work and kicking goals. Take a step back instead and work up some momentum by starting on your simplest tasks.
Build small study tasks into your daily routine
Like interest in your bank account, every little bit of study you do throughout your week accumulates. Bit by bit, you're chipping away at your tasks and assessments. The trick to doing little bits that add up to a lot is in establishing habits that you commit to on a daily basis that are achievable, rather than overwhelming.
For example, if you commit to reading five pages of your required reading a day, soon you will be able to look back at the big chunk of learning material you’ve already tackled.
Best of all, as you test out and build in new habits, you'll learn what works for you. Studying regularly will help you build the stamina to keep doing so, and those habits will compound like any other. Before you know it, you'll be walking across that graduation stage!
Also read: How to Set and Stick to Your Study Goals
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