Students are extremely inefficient. There. I said it.
I know it’s a bold statement, so you are probably wondering how I’ve come to this conclusion. Maybe you know a handful of students or have been one, and your opinion of a student is one that is dedicated, hard-working, and laser-focused on achievement. But just hear me out.
One year ago, I graduated from university. Since then, I’ve been pondering the very topic of inefficiency in student schedules.
Students spend endless hours in the library. They stress over impending deadlines and stare with vague interest at their laptop screens hoping for a well-earned break. We all know this. Surely that means they’re hard workers?
With study, comes work. Naturally. But, in the rat race of keeping up, students are basing their efforts on how much time they’ve spent in front of their laptops, and not embracing smart approaches to workload that could equal more efficiency and less time dedicated to tasks.
Now, I’m not alien to this. I can empathize. In my younger years, our teacher assigned us a times tables test to copy out. You needed to choose a times tables to repeat up until the number 50. I chose the one times table. The most long-winded, but easiest. This pattern of over-complicating study and work approaches extended into my years at university too.
There’s no doubt that college is tough. Depending on your courses, the workload can easily span from half a week to the full 40-hour work week and beyond.
Society promotes hard work in students, but not smart work, and this is productivity danger. It’s not only dangerous for a student’s future career, but also for their mental health. Getting things done should be all about outcome and endorsing a smart way of working.
Let’s take a look at some strategies you can implement as a student so you can reduce study time, take control of your schedule, and set yourself up with successful habits that will benefit you later in the workplace.
Cutting Back Study Time Is Key
Efficiency needs to be at the top of a your priority list.
It can be achieved by breaking time into actionable chunks and aiming to complete work in a timely, but sensible, manner. For example, let’s say you have a 2,000 word essay that's due in two weeks.
The typical approach is to complete this in one sitting. For the average student, this might take a total of two hours, with research and final edits all included. Add-in the additional time spent on Instagram, getting distracted by friends, and a few coffee trips to the library coffee machine and you have yourself a five hour session.
During these five hours, you don’t complete the piece. You accomplish 1,300 words and the majority of the research completed. But for many students, this is a victory.
Time with friends is important, but time procrastinated you won’t get back. Here are three core things you need to consider when approaching study time vs. social time:
1. Where You Study
Many students head straight to the library with their friends, which is fine if that works for you. But have you tried the empty coffee shop ‘round the corner from your apartment? Or the public library? Or even the city/town in which your college resides in?
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve had some fun times in the library with my friends. In my final year, however, I spent less than five hours of the total year in the library. This is entirely based on the fact that it lacked a productive environment for me to get things done. By removing myself from spots where my friends were studying and hanging out, I was able to focus on getting my assignments done and wasn’t tempted by social distractions.
2. How You Study
2,000 words isn’t five hours. Splitting this into phases will help you to break down and chunk your essay. A smashing quote by Abraham Lincoln encapsulates the strategy you should take with planning: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”.In other words, spending time on the plan is vital. Chunking your essay down into three parts would help and assigning a specific time slot and goal for each will help. This is a working example of what this might look like for this essay:
- Research: Find five sources, with three fact-based quotes (30m)
- Writing: Execute on 2,000 words including links/references (1hr)
- Editing: Read aloud two times and get one friend to check (30m)
Completing phases will help you to chunk your essay into something more achievable. Once you’ve finished a phase, you feel like you are making progress. Naturally, you can adjust this to the size of the essay and the many phases it might have.
3. The Way You Spend Your Study Time
The third and final piece of the puzzle focuses on the sessions themselves — making sure they are distraction-free and spark productivity, not full of procrastination traps. Now that you’ve broken them into phases, you can get working on them. Use the Pomodoro Technique as a way to break your sessions into 25 minute cycles. After every 25 minutes, you can spend a 5-minute break catching up on Insta
The Pomodoro technique will give you a way to channel your work sessions so you have focused periods of time. This way you can plan your distractions, let your friends know when you need to focus, and gamify the process.
One of the best ways to break down or visualize your phases and pomodoro sessions is using Trello boards. Using the classic kanban system to drag a card into “working on” will help to provide you with a defined focus and goal to work on.
Own Your Study Schedule, Own Your Time
Now that you’ve crunched down your study time, using efficiency methods like Pomodoro, a fresh new study spot, and phase-based chunking, it’s time to make better use of all your time.
Once you’ve applied the techniques and continue to grow them, all of your subjects will become easier to manage and there will be plenty more resources that you can combine to make managing your workload a lot smoother.
A famous book in the productivity space, The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, focuses on managing the work week’s main activities in the space of four hours. This became a favorite of mine at university, and helped me to apply the same concepts to study.
The pareto principle, for instance, is the perfect example of how to invest your time as you revise for an exam or focus on an assignment. The principle establishes a method of applying your attention to the 20% effort that produces 80% of the work. Essentially, the principle removes all of the excess around a task and allows you to complete the majority of it without wasting too much time.
More time spent on the things that matter and less time on details will help you to complete assignments faster and will allow for additional time to review your work afterwards. You need to change how you think about your schedule. Your time is valuable, so putting your attention into only academic work won’t win it all.
Paying close attention to your approach to studying can help to relieve stress and focus you on what matters at college/university. Taking time to learn these methods and improve approaches will help to save time, stress, and effort.
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