Study Time Tips for Students

Here is a recording of a webinar I did on “Study Time Tips for Students.” Please share this video with students you know who are struggling with time and learning.

Garland’s Study Time Tips History #

The reason why I’ve got so many good ways for you to be able to use your time better when you’re a student is that I was a very bad student. So I learned the hard way.

When I was in school I was fortunate that I was fairly bright and I did listen well to the teachers. So high school came fairly easily to me. The problem was that I didn’t develop any good study time habits in high school.

When I graduated from high school and started to take college and university-level courses I was woefully unprepared. I would do assignments at the last minute, scrambling to get things done. The level of focus needed for college-level courses was much deeper than I had ever needed before.

In high school, if you were smart, read the textbook, did the exercises, and listened in class you could skate through. I was skating through instead of really being fully focused. This was not good enough for college, university, or even work learning.

Start With A Study Time Plan #

One of the first things is to have a plan for your study time instead of just winging it. Use an agenda or calendar to organize your study goals and plan for assignment due dates.

In my daily work, I always plan my work ahead of time so that I never have to decide what to work on in my next time block. I always have my time blocks of time set aside. So I know when it’s time for research, I know when it’s time for writing. Similarly, for students, you can have a set block of time aside to be working on the assignments, and a set time set aside for study and material review.

Otherwise, you might spend the first 15 to 20 minutes of your study cycle trying to figure out what to work on instead of just diving in and actually doing the work. Because my plan is already in place, no matter what topic I have to study or research or write on, I just dive right in.

Study Time and Energy #

Another important tip is to realize your energy is limited. You only have so much and discipline each day and your energy level depletes as you use it. For some of us (like me), my highest energy levels are first thing in the morning. Your high energy time is when you want to work on the most difficult task, and then save the easier work till later.

One example is email. Answering emails for me are quite easy and I do those every day in the workplace.  I do my email later in the afternoon because it’s easy stuff. The first thing in the morning is when I have to do the number-crunching, the heavy writing, the heavy learning, the heavy understanding, and during my high energy time is when I dive in and do that.

This is different for some people. Some people tell me they’re night owls and they focus best in the evening and or even at night and that’s fine.  Work with whatever high energy times work best for you.

However it works, make sure you schedule your most difficult study time or assignments for when you are at your highest energy levels.

Study Time Blocks #

Another key technique is to have separate time blocks set aside for study and for recreation.

Keep them separate – you don’t want them to overlap. Too often we end up playing or socializing or talking or doing anything but the work when we’re supposed to be studying and so essentially we give up that that dedicated study time.

You want to make sure that when your study time is scheduled that you do nothing but the study work. You want to be ruthless with yourself, ruthless with your friends about keeping this time sacred. Let NOTHING break into that time – let nothing interrupt that time no matter what.

Having a set time for your breaks for social and recreation times means you’re not feeling like you’re doing nothing but studying or nothing but school. Having a set time of the week that you go out with friends, maybe on a Friday night, gives you a break from studying.

But if you’re taking break times and social times when you should be studying, now you’re beating yourself up for not doing the study work, for not doing the assignments. So you’re not even really fully enjoying a break.

Study Time Focus #

Now let’s talk about creating focus for students. Focus is something many of us are really struggling with. Some studies are estimating that we now have a focus period of about the same level as a goldfish – about 8 seconds.

One of the first things that can help you focus is to have a designated study space. This is the space where you go to into when you study and that’s all it’s for. Your study space could be an isolated nook in your bedroom,  it could be a certain area in your home, it could be your backyard if the weather is nice where you take the laptop out. It could also be a park,  a coffee shop, or a library.

Your productive study space needs to be somewhere where you feel comfortable and you’re free from disturbances. That’s key – free from disturbances. Many people’s homes are not that way. If you live with other people in your home you might get interrupted continuously and that’s when it can make sense to go out and park yourself in a library or coffee shop. This is a little bit tougher right now with the pandemic because seating might be limited but look for a place where you can you can do the study that you need – here you can have quiet and not be disturbed or interrupted.

If you are at home and you’re getting interrupted talk to your roommates or your family and say I’m going to be studying for the next hour. Put a sign up on your door – please don’t interrupt me for one hour you.

If others in your household don’t listen, then escape. Go to the library, find a coffee shop or find another place to go.

Using a Study Focus Timer #

Setting a timer for your study time has two benefits.

First, it keeps you focused on a single task. Second, it provided dedicated focus time on each of your study topics.

Set a timer for 30 minutes at a time, then take a 5-10 minute stretch break. I usually use a timer on my smartphone, but if you find your smartphone too much of a distraction, put your smartphone in airplane mode or purchase a low-tech kitchen timer to use instead.

You’ll be amazed at what you can get done in 30 minutes of focused time when you’re not interrupted, when you’re working on a high priority task or something you need to study.

It is critical that your smartphone is put away, turned off or in airplane mode during study time. I know this is hard for many young people but it is critical to gaining focus. When your focus is broken it can take you 20 to 30 minutes to get back to the same level of thinking that was working before you got interrupted. So that means every time you get one text on your phone, you waste 20-30 minutes trying to get back to the same level of thinking.

This focus-breaking is insidious so we need to be turning off all these notifications during your peak focus sessions. If your friends or family um cannot handle that you can’t contact them for one hour, well it’s time for new friends and maybe a new family. 🙂

They need to understand that your focus on your education is important and that you won’t you may not answer for a few hours.

And that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that you’re not going to miss anything urgent by being out of touch or disconnected for an hour or two.

Music and Focus #

A lot of people like to listen to music while they study or work on assignments. The problem is a lot of music isn’t that conducive to studying and focus.

Some music has been shown to calm you down which can let you be more productive. Music it can elevate your mood and motivate you to study longer.

When you’re studying you want to choose music that does not have voice lyrics to it because otherwise you start listening to the words. If you find yourself tapping your foot or moving to the beat then it’s the wrong music because the music is pulling your focus away from what you’re supposed to be working.

So choose instrumental music. Instrument music is music without voice, This might include classical music, ambient music, meditative music, or nature sounds.

The standard music that you love to listen to by yourself or with your friends is probably not your study music because it will pull you in. However, I do use my favorite rocking to the beat music when cleaning because I like the energy and there is no deep mental focus needed.

Breaks, Walks and Movement #

I have mentioned short stretch breaks after each 30 or 45 minutes of work. Short stretch breaks really help but it is even more helpful if you get active at lunch or in the evenings.

I go for a walk every lunch break for 20 minutes. I do a brisk walk and I find that it just re-energizes me for the afternoon. I take my walk no matter what the weather, and I live in a colder climate with lots of snow and cold in the winter. I just dress for the weather.

When I’m taking a walk on a brisk winter day coming back in the cold wakes you up better than coffee or caffeinated drinks will and getting outside in nature gives a mental break as well.

Another great thing about my walks is that my mental back burner keeps working on my problems and feeds me up the solutions during my walk. So my walking becomes additional deep thinking time. I always carry my smartphone with me on my walk so that I can take notes or add to my to-do list when my mental back burner comes up with ideas.

Your scheduled breaks such as lunch or coffee can also be when you reconnect with the digital world. That’s where you check your email, social media, and texts to see if anybody’s contacted you. This way, you’re only out of touch for a couple of hours at a time but it’s key that you are out of touch for that couple of hours to have that full focus so that your focus is not being interrupted.

Planning for Future Assignments #

Sometimes you get an assignment that is due a long time down the road. Perhaps you start school in September and you’re told an assignment is due in six weeks.

Six weeks sounds like lots of time to get it done so most of us promptly shelve the assignment and forget about it until “Oh crap that assignment’s due this week!.” And suddenly we’re scrambling and trying to get everything done, trying to find the research, do the writing and pull everything together.

Instead, if you’ve got a longer-term assignment such as something due in four to six weeks, set aside a block of time EACH week to work on those future assignments until they are done. This reduces stress because you’ve already started the assignment. And every week you spend an hour on it gets more and more of the assignment done. So when the due date comes up in a week you’ve maybe only got an hour left in the assignment – or maybe you’re done.

This reduces a lot of stress and gives you the time to do a better job. A lot of people say “Oh I do my best work under pressure. ” It’s not true. What happens is the pressure finally forced you to get off your butt and do the work – it doesn’t mean it’s your best work. Giving yourself enough time to work on it ensures you do the best job possible. The other benefit is that your mental back burner helps. When you’ve worked in the assignment last week and it’s coming up this week, you start thinking about it and go oh i could add this and this or I could do a section on that, or I could work in this concept. So suddenly your mental back burner is doing a lot of extra work for you and it will create much better quality output. Whether it’s your thesis or an essay or whatever assignment you have to do it will be a lot better quality if you’re giving your mental back burner time to work.

Learning Better #

Let’s talk about a few ways to learn better. When I was in school it was easy. I could just listen to the teacher and the teachers gave you help with understanding everything.

Once you go to university or college there are too many students so the instructor can’t spend a lot of individual time with each one. Basically it’s like a lecture format and suddenly you have to learn on your own and all those study skills you didn’t learn in high school you need them now.

One of the key things for learning that I already mentioned is to reduce distractions. This includes turning off your social, text and other notifications off in your phone, computer or laptop while you’re studying or while you’re in a lecture to make sure that you’ve got the focus.

If you are reading texts while the professor is lecturing, you’re not really listening to the lecture,  you’re not learning the material. It is important to be fully present with what you are learning. Do a mental reset to make sure that you’re fully there. This is this class – stop thinking about the other class, stop thinking about the party you’re going to this weekend, stop thinking about the the cute girl or guy you  might like to ask out, and don’t sleep during class.

Be fully there, be present, be awake, alert, and ready to learn. Ask questions if things aren’t making sense or you feel like you need more information.

Ask questions might not always work in a really busy lecture setting since you don’t want to be the one person asking all these questions and delaying the lecture, but you can also ask your teaching assistants or your professor during their open office hours.

You can also ask questions of a peer network such as others in the class. You can form a study group with friends or other students.

There’s often a lot of online tutoring as well that you can access that will help.

So if you’re struggling in your history class with a concept go and look for YouTube videos on that history concept. Having two or three different ways of looking at it will help you learn better.

Handwritten notes have been proven to help you retain information better just the movement associated with the pen and your hand helps you encode and retain information. I don’t take handwritten notes myself even though I do understand how this works because my handwriting is horrible, so I often can’t read my notes later. I prefer to take my notes on a smartphone or a tablet or a laptop and i’m a real fan of mind mapping for note-taking. When I do my time management coaching all of my coaching notes are taken in a mind map.

It’s really easy for me to jump around to things on a mind map. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a mind map has a central concept and then all these different sub levels and then sub levels after that. You can add notes, you can add pictures and it’s a great way to learn and study.

If I’m reading a book and I have to apply the principles, meaning I have to use what I’ve learned so I’m not reading this book just to pass the course or an assignment, I mind map the book and that creates almost like a checklist – a step by step system I can follow because books are not often set up that way.

Another cool note program I’ve been playing with is one called Rem Notes. Rem Notes is a great note-taking program but what it lets you do that is special is to let you generate your own flashcards for studying.

When you’ve learned something new you want to review it quickly within 24 hours because reviewing that information again moves it into your long-term memory. Have you ever learned something new and then six months later you can’t remember how to do it ?  That’s why when you’ve got a new skill you need to practice it every day or every week.

More Study Time Tips Help #

I hope you found this study time tips video and article useful. If so, please subscribe to my YouTube channel and share these videos with others. If you are a student, or have a student in your family that needs help, check out my Time Management: Step by Step online course or my one-on-one coaching.

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