A post-it note stuck to your desk. The reminder app on your phone. A neat list in black ink on your planner page. Waking up mentally running through your plan for the day.
Planning study time is a good habit, and helps to keep track of progress and avoid forgotten or neglected tasks, no matter the medium you use to jot it down.
Typically, there are two ways for you to measure the amount of work you get done, and often they are blended. They are the languages, or currencies, if you will, of what goes into your planner or agenda.
You can use time, and dish out checkpoints based on raw numbers: two hours of Math, half an hour of English catch-up work, et cetera.
The other way is to measure by tasks, which would look a little more like: submit paper, catch up on email, finish math assignment, and so on.
There’s a place for each of these, and the way we measure these tasks on a calendar or in a planner or even in our minds affects the way we work.
Measure by time
That said, measuring your studying by time works well when you have a lot of time and are working towards progress, not completion. Examples are usually repetitive tasks, including:
- Practicing flashcards
- Discussing a topic in preparation for an oral exam
- Early preparation (weeks ahead) for a midterm
- Editing a paper
These are things that you could do for a long time, theoretically for much longer than is needed to master the material
It’s a good idea to have an action verb next to your numbers, so you’d have something that looks more like:
25 minutes drill unit circle flashcards
15 minutes collect practice problems to do
Instead of just:
40 minutes math
This specificity and better visualization will urge you to use your time more efficiently. If you’re going to put in the time, you might as well spend it wisely.
Measure by specific tasks
On the other hand, measuring study or work by specific tasks should be reserved for the following instances:
- You have limited time or energy in your study session and need to crank some work out
- You are on a close deadline
- You are working on a variety of subjects in a given time frame
- You are producing or finishing things
It’s smart to begin with the easiest task. Crossing that off your list gets you started with a rush of dopamine. Soon you’ll find that you’ve conquered your list piece by piece, and hopefully cleared your mind with it, too.
The benefit of task-measured work is that it encourages you to find the most efficient way to complete the task, which is your end goal. Instead of shutting your book when the delegated time is up or dredging on for longer than you needed to, just to fulfill your time limit, you will have a short and sweet work session and a solid end result as a reward, be it a printed paper or a fully marked, completed math assignment.
Perhaps you’ll blend the two methods, and set goals in terms of time-bounded tasks or task-guided time limits. Keep in mind that prioritizing and setting realistic goals are important, no matter which of the two ways you choose to measure your work with; pick the most important/pressing tasks and set reasonable and realistic time limits.
I have a lot of aha moments during chemistry class. For me, Chemistry always relates to some abstract, big picture situation, and my latest is the idea of finding and re-establishing equilibrium.
I used to measure productivity with consistency and streaks, and I would expect that productivity everyday. Of course, I disappointed myself often because my life doesn’t happen in the closed system necessary to maintain dynamic equilibrium.
Does this mean I’m done for if I can’t make it to the gym for a couple days or show up late to a class? Nope, and here’s what chemistry has to say about it:
1. Know what your reactants are
If the only days you’re happy with what you’ve checked off of your lists are those with two five hour energy shots in them, recognize but don’t credit your success to those catalysts.
Either you make peace with that expensive, addictive, and kidney-harrowing avenue, or search for another way to get that much done.
2. Change your equilibrium ratio
In chemistry, equilibrium ratios shift if something about the reaction changes.
If you find yourself in a different set of conditions for the upcoming week, month, or year, either settle for less or challenge yourself to more (and plan on how to work your way up to that).
Don’t guilt yourself for how long it’s taking to adjust or compare to what you used to get done in a day. Be realistic; don’t expect too much of yourself, but don’t expect too little, either.
3. Differentiate between irreversible and reversible changes
There are some changes you can and should go after fixing, but some things are out of your grasp and will hold you back.
Oversleeping and missing a class, for example, can’t be made up completely, so try not to lose focus for the rest of the day because of what happened.
4. Proactive time management
This is your best bet. A chemical reaction is always working to establish balance and you should, too.
Make a two-column list. On one side, write every problem your brain is stressing about, and on the other, write what you’re going to do about it.
But be sure to prioritize your problems and solve them as the chance arises or in order of how important they are. You’ll immediately feel better–and once you follow through, you’ll feel even better.
5. Use imbalance as an opportunity to refresh
I once set the wrong alarm and didn’t realize it until I got to school an hour early. Instead of fretting over lost sleep and empty hands, I meditated for half an hour. I loved it so much that I incorporated 10 minutes of meditation into the start of every morning.
It’s easy to think your routine is the best, because you’re comfortable with it and it’s working, but sometimes you need an uncomfortable push to change things up for the better.
6. Equilibrium occurs in a closed system…
…with constant conditions, but life does not. So don’t expect your balance to stay put without a little effort to counteract stressors. It’s not your fault that it shifts and that things fall through, but you’re not helpless against it…
7. Equilibrium is not a standstill
Equilibrium only requires forward and backward reactions to occur at the same rate.
You will tie your hands behind your back if you think that one step backwards crumbles all your progress and you’ll also hold yourself back if you expect your hard work one week to carry you through the semester.
8. Middle ground, or equilibrium state…
…is all that can define you. Your highs, like showing up to the gym for a week after New Year’s, or studying in the library during finals week, don’t define you if you don’t keep at them.
Likewise, your equilibrium doesn’t die until you decide to stop putting in effort and lose your vision.
9. Obstacles can block equilibrium
If you find yourself consistently hitting up against an obstacle, say a time-draining extracurricular or a study area where you can’t focus for hours at a time, you either need to cut it out ASAP or change your expectations (shift your equilibrium).
This analogy isn’t perfect. Unlike chemical equilibrium, your balance is hardly ever quantifiable. Your brain is capable of seeing problems before they arise and making conscious decisions your best interest.
Be forgiving, work hard, and hold your vision of and motivation for equilibrium tight; you’ll be golden.
Brown, Peter C., Henry L. Roediger, and Mark A. McDaniel. Make it stick: the science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard U Press, 2014. Print.
Kotter, John P. “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.” Harvard Business Review. 13 July 2015. Web. 28 May 2017
Tardanico, Susan. “Five Ways To Make Peace With Failure.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 28 May 2017.
2014, Steve Hacker10 September. “Understanding equilibrium: a delicate balance.” Education in Chemistry. N.p., 09 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 May 2017.
“Equilibrium.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 May 2017.
Hansen, Dr. Randall S. “Key Study Skills Tools to Achieve Academic Success.”
MyCollegeSuccessStory.com: 10 Tips for Finding Life Balance. Web. 28 May 2017.
We all have at least one class like this; you find your seat and before a minute has passed, you’re already bored. Holding onto the teacher’s words is like trying to figure skate backwards. On one leg. With a stack of dishes on your head. You pinch yourself and try to follow along but the harder you try, the further away your attention is by the end of the sentence. The term “painfully boring” has never made more sense.
I don’t think that any subject is hard if you’re interested in it. Once you lose interest in a class, lectures are impossible to sit through. And because you didn’t pay attention, the homework, no matter how easy or straightforward, becomes hard, and you get bad grades. The bad grades lead to lower motivation, and it’s an endless cycle that will leave you burnt out long before midterms, let alone finals.
How do you nip this in the bud? I’ve developed a couple tips that have made class go from unbearable to a favorite:
| Say hi to the teacher after the first class. It’ll be harder to tune out someone you’ve had a conversation with, plus the teacher will like you for it.
| Make friends out of your classmates. It helps to have a study buddy or a couple of familiar faces to learn the material alongside.
| Good posture and a smile are the power pose that’ll do wonders. This often helps me snap out of my daydream, and looking like I’m paying attention almost always leads to making that a reality.
| Don’t complain about the class! If you’re always complaining to your friends about how boring Calc is, you’re never going to have the right attitude to enjoy it, because you’ve designated it as a boring class.
| Reward yourself. If you anticipate a dredgingly long class, bring in a tea, gum, silly putty: anything that makes you happy and doesn’t distract you. You can set aside a set of pens that you only use for this class. Or, if you’re feeling particularly high on determination, promise yourself that if you make it through the class and pay attention, you’ll get a cookie, jam out to a favorite playlist, whatever.
| Sit in the front row. You’ll be held accountable if you pull out your phone, fall asleep, or blank stare for minutes at a time. You’ll also probably be closer to the board and the more active participants, engaging more with the material and lecture.
| Listen: don’t just hear. There are a lot of ways to challenge yourself to really think about the words, especially for long periods of time. For example, you can translate each sentence into an icon in your notebook, if you’re visually inclined. You can write down a key word every once in awhile in your notes. If I’m really desperate, sometimes I live translate the lecture into Spanish in my head, which makes me think twice about each word I’d otherwise tune out. Be creative!
| Don’t look at the clock. Not only is it rude, but it makes time pass so slowly. Cover up your watch or angle yourself away from the clock, if possible. Challenge yourself to see how long you can go without checking the time.
| See it differently. You might as well find a way to relate the class to something interesting or valuable to you, and tie the topics you learn about to that interesting point.
| Don’t give in to the following cycle: confusion> give up> get bored. When you’re trying, you’re engaged. There’s nothing more boring than sitting through something you’ve already lost hope on, especially if you don’t care much for it.
Whether this is a required class or one you actively chose, there is a benefit to doing well in it and a disadvantage to doing poorly. Making the class interesting will help you to do better in it, and you might find that you’re good at what’s being taught, but hadn’t yet cared enough to find out.
In a perfect schedule, you should always get 8 to 9 hours of sleep, and wake up at the same time every morning. This keeps you alert and combats fatigue.
But let’s face it: If you’re a student, sometimes this schedule is impossible to keep.
Some nights, you need to stay up late to get things done. Whether that’s due to procrastination, or the sheer amount of homework you have to do, it doesn’t matter. Either way, we’re here to make you focused and productive, and get you to sleep.
It’s late, and it’s not getting any earlier. The clock says it’s time to get moving. Here are three things you need to think about the next time you’re up late getting things done.
Part 1: Caffeine
I’m sure you’re familiar with this solution. To stay awake, drink some coffee, tea, or grab a pop. But if you do, plan carefully.
Caffeine has a half-life in the body of about 6 hours. That means, every 6 hours, your body gets rid of half of the caffeine in its system. So, a “5-hour energy” shot (200ml caffeine) at 2 pm will have a similar effect on your sleep to drinking a caffeinated soda after midnight (up to 55ml caffeine).
Caffeine can become unhealthy when you have too much, and it can be very addictive. Make sure you know how much you’re getting and when. This will help you balance times of productivity and sleep. Learn how it affects your mind, and develop a conscious plan to keep yourself healthy and avoid caffeine dependency.
Part 2: Staying Productive
Staying awake isn’t the only hard part. Once you get past midnight, it’s much easier to find yourself staring at the paper, or your computer screen, completely zoned out. The key to finishing your work at night is maintaining concentration.
You can try to combat this by keeping your environment changing. If you feel your concentration slipping, move to another room and continue. Experiment with music or noise in the background. I find it helps to set a timer for every 15 minutes and force myself to refocus every time it goes off.
Work out your own system that keeps you focused and engaged.
Part 3: Rationalizing
When you work late at night, you will want to go to sleep. As a result, you will begin to rationalize.
“This section isn’t as important.”
“I’ll have time tomorrow morning.”
“I can make up for a low grade on this assignment.”
You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t grocery shop when you’re hungry. Similarly, the best solution to avoid this kind of thinking is to make decisions about your work when you’re not tired.
Before 10:00 pm you need to make two decisions. First, decide what you will get done in your late night session. Second, decide when you are going to sleep. For both of these, it may help to set both goals and requirements. Let’s say you have a long night of writing and math ahead of you:
Goals: Finish essay and math assignment, go to sleep by 1:30
Requirements: Finish essay and half of math assignment, go to sleep by 2:00
Best-case scenario: you meet your goals. But if you don’t, and you have to start bending goals and requirements to reach others, you still have a solid framework in place that will stop you from spending too much time rationalizing and convincing yourself not to finish.
If you can concentrate and avoid rationalization (perhaps with a little help from caffeine), you can study at night at least as effectively as you do during the day. So follow your plan, get the job done, and then get some well-deserved sleep.
Do you have any tricks for studying or working late at night? Leave a comment below. And be sure to check out this article on defeating bad sleep habits for good.
As recently as the 1970s, it barely made financial sense to go to college. In 1979, among full-time workers aged 25 to 32, the typical high school graduate earned 77% of what the median college graduate made.
“But starting in the 1980s, the education premium started to grow and hasn’t stopped,” writes New York Times Columnist David Brooks. “Today, money follows ideas.”
According to research by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, the median American with a graduate degree is part of a family making $93,000 a year. The median person with a college degree is in a family making $75,000. The median person with a high-school degree is in a family making $42,000, and the average high school dropout is in a family making $28,000.
Needless to say, there are big financial rewards for attending and completing college.
Unfortunately, the college admissions process seems to favor higher income students at the expense of those in the middle and lower class.
Researchers Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose surveyed the top 146 U.S. colleges and found that only 3 percent of the students there came from families in the bottom economic quartile. Seventy-four percent of students came from families in the top quartile.
Not only do lower income students typically have fewer resources for applying, preparing, and paying for college, there is also a confluence of factors that may hinder their ability to weather the extreme pressures of college once they arrive. In many cases, they drop out.
According to New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat in an article in The Atlantic, a child born into a family making $90,000 has a 50 percent chance of graduation from college by age 24. A child born into a family making $70,000 has a one-in-four chance. A child born into a family making $45,000 has a one-in-ten chance. And a child born into a family making $30,000 has a one-in-seventeen chance.
One in seventeen.
So what does this mean for you? Well, wherever you land on this spectrum, I think it’s a good idea to reflect upon your situation. Now I fully realize that each person’s situation is complex, and these broad statements below won’t apply to everyone. But in general…
If you were born into the upper class, be thankful for your situation, stay humble, and work hard. Keep in mind that, while you may work extremely hard, many of your opportunities can be attributed to the financially secure upbringing you have had. As the perennial saying goes, don’t walk around like you hit a triple; you were born on third base.
For students in the middle class, if you work hard, you will have a solid chance of attending college, but you will likely need to incur burdensome student loans in order to graduate with a college degree. College financial aid packages are rarely enough, so it is an excellent idea to pursue scholarship opportunities.
As a lower income student, you will have to fight because the process is rigged against you in many ways. Find a mentor or counselor early on who can help you get on the right track to go to college and who will ensure that you stay on that track. Take advantage of free online resources and guides to help you through the process. And once you get to college, you will have to be mentally tough in order to ride out the stress and pressure. One often overlooked challenge that lower income students must face is the unplanned social cost of college. On a campus where the majority of students have more resources, many students may be unaware of other students’ financial limitations. While lower income students don’t get the same return on a college degree as their more financially secure peers, lower income college grads still earn significantly more than if they had not received a college degree.
The education system itself is not entirely to blame. As America has become an increasingly unequal society, our response has been to heap more and more expectations on the education system to single-handedly close the achievement gap. In his book, Twilight of the Elites, Chris Hayes explains, “We ask the education system to expiate the sins of the rest of the society and then condemn it as hopelessly broken when it doesn’t prove up to the task.” Despite great efforts by America’s public university system to combat inequality, cuts to education funding threaten its ability to do so.
So what should you do? Well, start thinking about college early on. Starting in freshman or sophomore year of high school, visit nearby schools to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. Decide what your dream schools are and use them as motivation. Think about which subjects you feel most engaged in and work to excel in those areas. You do your best work when you like what you’re doing. Once college applications come around, start writing your admissions essays as soon as possible and apply Early Decision or Early Action.
Whatever your aspirations may be—if you want to graduate from high school, college, or even graduate school—it’s all up to you. No one can motivate you if you aren’t motivated yourself. No matter what your current situation is, you need to take responsibility for getting yourself where you want to be.
Brooks, David. The Social Animal. New York City: Random House, 2011. 327. Print.
Brown, Sarah. “Bottom Line: How State Budget Cuts Affect Your Education.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Nov. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.
Hayes, Christopher L. Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. 1st ed. New York City: Crown, 2012. Print.
Hershbein, Brad. “A College Degree Is worth Less If You Are Raised Poor | Brookings Institution.” Brookings. The Brookings Institution, 28 July 2016. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.
Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, Creating an Opportunity Society (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 127.
Rose, Stephen J. “3.” America’s Untapped Resource: Low-Income Students in Higher Education. By Anthony P. Carnevale. Socioeconomic Status, Race/Ethnicity, and Selective College Admissions. New York City: Century Foundation, 2004. 106. Print.
Ross Douthat, “Does Meritocracy Work?” The Atlantic, November 2005.
“The Rising Cost of Not Going to College.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. Pew Research Center, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.
Image Credit: Library
Congratulations! You’ve made it… almost.
Seriously, if you’re at this point, you’ve really accomplished a lot. And don’t stress out about choosing which college you’ll commit to. I’ll quickly walk you through it.
1. How do you keep stress low?
| Remember you’re not alone. Everyone and their mother gets stressed out at the end of the school year. But stress isn’t permanent.
| Talk about it. Reach out to anyone you trust and have a discussion.Your school counselor is a great place to start.
2. How much should you consider cost?
| Cost is very important. Put a lot of thought into college cost. Can you afford your “dream school”? What would it be like to graduate with 40K in loans…140K?
| Debt. It’s hard to avoid. You can work summers to offset some loans (it’s what we’re doing!).
3. How do you re-visit?
| Free travel. Some schools might fly you out for free if you ask nicely.
| Talk to more people. Ask new questions and meet with a professor. What is the school really like?
| What’s changed? Are you idealizing this place? Since you applied, have your tastes changed?
| Can’t visit? Set up a telephone call. Look through the school’s website. Take a virtual tour and engage in online forums where other people are going through the exact same thing.
4. Where will you be happy?
| Stuff to do. You can’t study 24/7 (and you won’t want to). Are there clubs/teams that you could be a part of?
| Don’t expect perfection. I don’t think dream schools exist. There will always be something that you don’t like, and that’s fine!
5. How do you compare schools?
| Pros and cons list? Anyone…? It’s nerdy, it works.
| Head to head. Pit two schools against each other. The one that wins gets pitted against another school. Keep doing this until you have a winner.
6. Can things still change?
| Life’s not set in stone. You might change majors, you might break up with your girlfriend, you might transfer schools. Who knows?
7. What does your gut say?
| Trust yourself. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my pros and cons lists that I forget about the feeling that I get from a school. Don’t be like me, consider both.
8. What mistakes do people make?
| They try to go it alone. Always ask for help when you need it. Remember, everyone goes through stressful periods. You’ll get through it.
| They forget about cost. Then four years later…wham! I don’t want to stress you out about money, I just want you to plan things out.
| They pick prestige over fit. The right school for you is the one you will thrive at, not the one with the world-renowned brand.
9. Are there any other things to consider?
| Academics. What programs are you interested in? How much time are you willing to study?
| Location. How will you get to school and back? Will you need to leave campus during school?
| Weather. Will you be able to handle the heat/cold?
| “Random”. Is the food good? What is the school’s religious affiliation? Can you study abroad?
The Key: Motivation
You burn out when you hate what you’re doing, and you hate what you’re doing when you’re not motivated to do it. The tips below will help you maintain motivation and stop burnout.
1. Don’t Start Too Fast
Drastic shifts in work time cause burnout. Start by studying 10 minutes more/day for a week, then 20, then 30. It’s a slow process, but you’ll burnout if you don’t do it.
2. Know Your Limits
Are you tired all the time? Are you unhappy? Do you hate working? Then work less, sleep more, and search for purpose in the work you do.
You have your whole life to get where you’re going.
3. Stop Motivation Killing Behaviors
In my experience, as soon as you start watching TV, 90% of your motivation leaves. And it’s hard to get that motivation back.
If you start your day by watching YouTube, you might not get working for hours.
4. Get into a routine
Get yourself to work at the same time every day. Once it becomes a habit, you don’t have to motivate yourself to start. All you have to do is work.
How to form the habit: Set a trigger (event on your calendar, alarm…) to get you started. Then, give yourself a reward once you finish (food, watch TV…)
5. Take Breaks Often
Burnout happens because we don’t take breaks. I’ve found that a five-minute break for every 30 minutes that I work resets my motivation. Every few hours, I take a 30-minute break.
Know what kills your motivation, and avoid it at all costs.
6. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is a source of motivation and energy…you need it. If you get enough sleep, you’ll do the same amount of work in way less time.
How much sleep? Enough that you’re not tired the next day. (Read: How to beat bad sleep habits)
7. Change Where You Work
A new environment is interesting, so studying is too. I try to spend 80% of my study time working in my favorite spot (my room), and 20% somewhere else (library, coffee shop, random bench, etc.).