How do I stay focused/maintain momentum for long periods of time?

How do I stay focused/maintain momentum for long periods of time?

1. Start the day right

| Get Sleep. Work = Motivation + Energy. If you don’t get the sleep you need, you’ll be too tired to work for very long.


| Eat. Working on an empty stomach is super difficult. Avoid it.


| Go Straight to Work. Please! No lying in bed for 10 minutes, no using your phone, just get working. If you delay, you’ll never start.


| Start with the Fun Work. Not all work is fun. Start with what you enjoy (the most). That’ll get the ball rolling for the more difficult stuff you have to do later.


2. Stay organized

| Plan your work before you start (try to plan it out the day before). List out everything you need to get done ( is my favorite to-do list app). It may also help to decide what time you will work on each task.


If you’re switching back and forth between planning the work and actually doing the work, you’ll lose focus.


| Avoid Distractions. Try to stay away from your phone (social media is a black hole for your focus). For me, watching videos is even worse.


3. Take breaks

| Keep Them Short…mostly. Every 3ish hours, take a 30-minute break if you want. Besides that, take a short break every 20-50 minutes (I find it’s best to keep these to 5 minutes or less).


| Take Breaks That Give You Energy. If you want to work for long periods of time, you need to re-energize often.


Try some of these and find out what works for you: Stretching • Meditation • Exercise • Shower • Go for a walk • Get a snack/water


| Check Yourself Often. You may not realize it, but your momentum can fade after a couple of hours without a break. Catch this before it happens. Then change the subject you are working on or take a short break.


Images: Sky, Hammocks, Meditation

Why You Should Always Read Instructions

Back in high school, I had an eccentric teacher who taught me an important lesson that I have not yet learned.

She often ran a little experiment. She would insert into the middle of a massive paragraph of instructions for a complicated test question a short, inconspicuous sentence saying something like, “sketch a Punnett square above today’s date on the Scantron sheet,” or “draw a smiley face next to your name.”

These weren’t fools errands, they were a chance for extra credit. She’d give two additional points to students who performed the task. It was an incentive to read instructions and a lesson to not cut corners where diligence is necessary.

By the time I took the AP Language and Composition test in the spring of junior year, I’d had this teacher for three separate classes. So, you’d think I would have learned her lesson.

But I hadn’t.

On the third free-response essay question, I didn’t read the prompt close enough and ended up building my entire argument on a peripheral issue.

And recently, when I built the second of two IKEA shelves for my sister, I made the incorrect assumption that it would need the same number of wooden pegs per board as the shelf before it.

I know I should read instructions, but I often don’t. I’m working on it.

Image Credit: Map

Time management for students (three easy steps to find more free time)


That’s the bell. The school day is over. Now, all you want to do is forget everything you need to do…to just relax for awhile. And that’s okay!


The truth is, the second you leave school–a place that has brought structure and organization to your day–your productivity levels plummet through the floor.

Have you ever found yourself doing homework at midnight, without really knowing where all the time went? It’s not a good feeling, but it happens all the time if you do not schedule your time effectively.

So, how can you make sure you get everything done without spending too long doing it?

Schedule your free time as if you were at school.

Here are the three things you need to do in order to schedule your time effectively.


Step 1: Plan the night before

One of the reasons we have trouble getting things done is because, a lot of the time, we are unsure of exactly what to do.

You will eliminate this issue completely by having a specific plan for what you need to accomplish at every time of the day.

However, a “general idea” won’t work. Buy a planner (or use an online resource), and block out everything you need to do–use specific times, down to the minute.

Much like how we use school planners, noting tasks in advance will decrease the chance of forgetting one later on.

Here’s an example of how to schedule an afternoon.


So why do this the night before?

The simple answer is that there’s not enough time in the morning (or you’ll forget, or be too tired). Whatever the problem, the only safe way to make a plan is the night before.

You’ll be by far the most productive if you know what you are doing before you do it.

Even more importantly, planning a day in advance gives you a macroscopic view of what you want to accomplish: you can figure out how you want to feel at the end of the next day, and set steps to help you get there.


Step 2: Schedule breaks (and stick to them)

Easily the most common pitfall for students is to take a break from studying, and then never go back. It’s almost impossible to fight this urge.

However, the BEST thing you can do for yourself is to set aside specific times to relax. This way, you will not feel bad about taking a break (because you know it’s part of the plan). And it’s also far more likely that you will find the willpower to get back to work when the time comes.

I’m using this break system as I write this article.

Also, there is a right and wrong way to take breaks. Taking the incorrect path can lead to a lot of unnecessary frustration. Here is an article outlining exactly how (and when) to take breaks.


Step 3: Schedule more time than you need

Give yourself more time to complete a job than you think you’ll need.

It is unbelievably frustrating to get to the end of the day, evaluate what you’ve done, and realize that you just checked off two of the eight tasks you planned to do.

This happens because we naturally want to push ourselves to get the most out of our day. That’s a good thing. But it backfires when we over-idealize what we can do, and end up discouraged every night. This is a difficult mindset to overcome, but there is one way:

Schedule 50% more time to complete each task than you believe you need.

How long a task will actually take

It turns out that by doing this, you are actually giving yourself the correct amount of time to finish the task. We aren’t machines–we get distracted, and things take longer than they should. The important thing is to know this and plan for it.

All of a sudden, you get everything taken care of, and you’re stress-free.


Action for today

Sure, scheduling your free time sounds a little weird. So what? The fact of the matter is that it helps in more ways than one, and makes life more tranquil. Give it a try for one week and see what happens.

One thing to remember

Few things are more rewarding than finishing everything you need to do. It frees up time for fun, and it helps instill in yourself a sense of responsibility.

Last of all, what I said before stands: we are not machines.

It’s a bad idea to plan out all of your time–there has to be some flexibility and spontaneity.

But when you are overwhelmed, or when you feel less than productive, scheduling your time is the best possible thing you can do to get yourself back on track.

How to study by reading (what’s wrong with rereading and how to fix it)

What's wrong with rereading

I used to think that rereading notes was a good way to study.

Hunched over a desk for an hour or more, I read page after page of notes. It was hard to keep my eyes open.

And I’m not sure if it helped much either…

Maybe you’ve felt the same way.


Rereading isn’t all it’s cut out to be

Recently, one of my professors introduced me to this 2013 study by Dunlosky et al. (it combined the results of tons of individual experiments), which ranked rereading with low utility.

Dunlosky study categories of utility

And it makes sense: when you reread, you’re looking over stuff you already kind of know. You don’t really have to think or write. Since it’s not a big challenge, you don’t learn much.

In spite of all this, we still use rereading–it’s easy.

So we’re stuck: we don’t want to do more work, but the work we’re doing is dull and unhelpful.

You might try a new strategy, like practice testing. But, since that method takes much more effort, you may just burnout instead (and that’s the last thing you want).

You need a strategy to bridge the gap: don’t read your notes silently, read them out loud to yourself (like a teacher would lecture a class).


What’s so great about rereading out loud?

It’s interesting, maybe even fun.

Since you’re moving and talking (I’ll get to that in a minute), you’re more alert. And, unless you’re one of those people who sleeps standing, it’ll keep you from falling asleep too.

Besides that, rereading aloud allows you to think in a different way. Try to paraphrase and draw connections to your notes (instead of reading word for word).


My Experience

Last semester, I started reading my psychology notes like I was lecturing to a class (I know, I’m a dork). I wasn’t sure if it would work, but my lowest test score in the class was 96%.

Because rereading out loud wasn’t my only strategy, other things could have influenced my scores. But I think that my “lectures” had a big impact.

Breakdown of time spent studying

How to study by reading out loud

  1. Keep your notes in hand. If you didn’t take notes (now’s as good a time as any to start), you can use slides from class, a study guide, or just your textbook (focus on headers, bold words, main ideas).
  2. Say what comes to mind. Check if it’s right. Use your notes as an outline, rather than reading them word for word. The less you look at them the more effective this strategy will be.
  3. Walk around. Keep your blood flowing. You won’t get tired as easily so you’ll be able to study longer.


More Tips

  • Make connections. If you think of something related to your notes, say it out loud.
  • Use a flashcard. Cover sections of your notes and try to explain them without looking.
  • Take breaks. Once your legs start to get tired (every 30 minutes maybe), sit down and relax for a couple minutes.
  • Use spaced repetition. Study more often, in shorter time blocks.


Action for today

Just take 5 minutes to try rereading out loud. Use your most recent notes, and get as far as you can.

That’s it. It’s so easy you’ve got to try it.

One thing to remember

As you progress towards more difficult study methods (but way more efficient ones), rereading out loud is a great stepping off point.

It’s way more engaging than normal rereading, and I think you’ll welcome the change.

How to Beat Procrastination: 12 Easy Tips

How to stop procrastination and start studying

Procrastination is inevitable.


Everyone procrastinates to some degree. And while reading inspirational quotes or watching Alec Baldwin scream in your face can motivate you in the short term, the only long-term solution to procrastination is to build better habits.


In this article, I’m going to explain twelve easy ways to stop procrastination and start studying. Figure out which methods work for you and then use them in your daily life.



1. Use a planner

Motivate yourself by adopting an effective planner system. I used a planner throughout high school, and it always kept me on track. Why? I always felt I had to complete my work right then; I couldn’t just put it off until the next day because I still had that lingering, unchecked box in my planner. This article explains in more detail how to effectively use a planner.


2. Set a regular study time

Your schedule is complicated. I get it. But still, you should at least try to create the habit of doing your work at a specific time each day/week. Figure out what times work well for you, and try to get your work done before you get sidetracked with other distractions.


This method has many benefits: you get your work done, you are more likely to notice yourself slipping into bad habits, and if you miss your allotted time you’ll feel more pressed to catch up.


3. Control social media/video streaming usage

You know how much time you spend on social media, video streaming, or really any other time-consuming technology-based activity. It’s probably more than you’re willing to admit. The effects of technology on students is over-discussed, so I’ll keep my advice brief: make sure you can control your use of this technology. If you notice you cannot, delete the app. Avoid it for a week.


Here’s an article that outlines an effective way to defeat bad habits.


4. Set goals

Set goals and hold yourself accountable to them. Short-term goals are best since you’re more likely to deliver. An example of a short-term goal would be to get 8 hours of sleep every night for a week. A long-term goal would be to get an A in World History this semester. An effective way to keep yourself accountable is to tell someone about your goal; you’ll feel an extra pressure to follow up on your task.


When you’re creating your goals, remember the acronym SMART. Your goal should be

  • Specific: Clearly state the goal.
  • Measurable: Make the goal is quantifiable.
  • Attainable: Make sure you can actually achieve the goal.
  • Realistic: Know your limits.
  • Time-bound: Create an end-date, don’t procrastinate your goals.


Example: For the next six weeks, I want to exercise for 30 minutes four times per week. I know I can exercise that frequently, so, with some effort, this goal is entirely attainable.


5. Procrastinate early

Yes, it’s an oxymoron, but it actually makes sense. By adjusting the perceived due date for an assignment, you can fool yourself into getting work done. This article explains procrastinating early in more detail.


6. Create checkpoints for larger projects

When you’re assigned a big project, split it up into multiple parts and assign each part its own due date. This will help you stay on track. Deliver on each individual due date as if it was the due date for the final project.


You can also apply this method to certain smaller projects; e.g. rewarding yourself for each completed Iliad chapter with 3 gummy bears.


7. Avoid “multitasking”

No matter how well you think you can do two tasks at once, multitasking just isn’t as effective as focusing intently a single task. I wish that multitasking would work, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t.


Also, using technology as a break from doing homework can be counterproductive. Here’s an article describing how to take effective study breaks.


8. Create the right studying atmosphere

Find your favorite place to work. Library, coffee shop, grassy knoll? Wherever you feel most driven to do work and are least likely to be distracted, take advantage of it.


9. Just do it

No hesitation. No delay. If you have work to do, just do it.


10. Race the clock

Set a timer while you work. Challenge yourself to see how much you can get done in 30 minutes or even just ten minutes. By giving yourself some fictional pressure, you’ll help motivate your actions.  


Another way to use a timer to help motivate you is the Pomodoro Method.


11. Use “No Turning Back” deadlines

Promise yourself you won’t do something until after you’ve completed a certain amount of work.


Try this: leave your phone in one room, go to another room, and promise you won’t leave that room until after you’ve finished all of your chemistry problem sets. Or go to a coffee shop with the determined goal to finish your essay. Don’t come home until after the paper is done. When there’s no room for procrastination, you’ll find it easier to be productive.


12. Don’t get too stressed out

As Jeremy puts it in his motivation article, “Motivation is a tricky thing. When it’s not there, it’s easy to fall behind, and when you’re behind on work, it’s even harder to motivate yourself.” But just by being aware of this vicious cycle, you’ll be more prepared to avoid it.


No single night of homework is worth a week of burnout, so know your limits.



To overcome procrastination, you’ll have to be very aware of yourself and your subconscious tendencies. You’ll also have to be honest with yourself.


Try out these methods and assess which ones work for you. If one stops working, switch it out for a new one. Only you will be able to defeat your procrastination. Good luck.


Did I miss any anti-procrastination tips? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.


Image credit: Mountains


The Best Way to Study for Math

How to study for math


You leaf through your notebook. It’s filled with page after page of formulas,

proofs, methods and equations. The test date is coming up soon, and you begin to ask yourself…


Where do I even begin?


Math tests can be some of the hardest tests to prepare for. Unlike other

subjects, you don’t have a set number of things to learn and remember. There

is no limit to the number of different questions you might be asked.


But you can still walk into the classroom ready to ace that test. Here’s how.


Step 1: Write down all equations and rules

Go through your notes, or the class power point, and copy down every formula

you will be tested on. Try to put all of the testable information as succinctly as



Even if you’re not allowed an equation sheet for the test, make one anyway. It’s

a great way to study, and it will also serve as a collection of all the information

you need to memorize.


Step 2: Practice problems

You might have been assigned extra practice problems by your teacher. But

even if you weren’t, you can still do practice problems.


If you were assigned even numbered problems for homework, go back and do

the odd ones. You can also go through your textbook or look online for similar

problems to the ones you were assigned.


Doing practice problems is the biggest key to doing well. The first step was to

make sure you know the formulas. By practicing, you will know how to use

them. Aim for at least 2 practice problems on each concept, and spend more

time on the ideas you don’t get right away.


Step 3: Make predictions

Based on all of the work your teacher assigned, you can usually predict what

kind of material you will see on a test.


Go through your homework, your in-class work, everything you were assigned.

Then try writing a couple of mock test questions, ones like you think you might

find on the test. Now you’re thinking like a teacher, and you’re a step ahead of

everyone else.


Step 4: Mindset

Math is more about mindset than other subjects, because it involves more high

energy mental work.


In a history test, your attitude won’t make you suddenly know what year the

Barbary Wars started. But in math, many questions require creative thinking

and persistence. The right mindset could help you make a breakthrough on

that tough word problem.


Do whatever you need to do to walk into the room with confidence. For


  • Calm yourself down and breathe normally. You don’t want to study in a panicked state of mind
  • End your review sessions with something you know you can do well
  • Go over test taking strategies
  • If you get stuck on a question and stressed out, move on and come back to it later
  • Put on some pump up music


Step 5: Sleep

Seriously. Sleep.

During the test, you need to be able to think quickly. That means you need

your mind functioning at 100%. Always get at least 8 hours of sleep the night

before a test.


If this seems unrealistic to you, don’t worry. Fixing bad sleep habits is easier

than you think, and will dramatically improve your alertness and memory.


Math tests can be intimidating to prepare for. But just like any other test,

studying hard and studying smart can pay big dividends. By following these

five steps, you can put yourself in the right position to succeed. Now it’s time

to get to it, and do what it takes to ace that test.


If you have any more questions about how to study for a math test, feel free to ask in the comments below.

Memorization Techniques for Students

memorize everything


What makes the best test-takers so brilliant?

The strongest speakers? The fastest learners?


(Hint: They’re not necessarily smarter.)


They just remember everything!


In any subject, the common thread among the students who excel is the ability to memorize material quickly and accurately. They can answer questions faster. They don’t have to derive equations to figure out every basic idea on a test. Their ability to recall exactly what they planned to say makes them more confident speakers.


However, the good news is that memorization is not a talent – it’s a skill. And anybody can do it.


Here’s how:


Throw out the computer

I wouldn’t recommend tossing your laptop out the window.  


It is true, however, that the worst thing you can do when trying to memorize something is to read it over and over on a computer screen. As Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist and at Tufts University, puts it, “There is physicality in reading.”²  


When you stare at a screen–where words float around and constantly change place on the page–there is nothing for your brain to hold onto other than the meaning of the words themselves.  When you read off of paper, you subconsciously take into account where on the page you made a certain connection, which helps to recall that information later.


In addition, reading off a screen makes it harder to stay focused. According to a 2011 study, “when study time was self-regulated…worse performance was observed on screen than on paper.”¹


The fact is, while technology can be useful, it can never match the visual and tactile stimulation of real paper.


Instead of using the computer:

  • Take lecture notes by hand
  • Use colors to mark what you read
  • If you are memorizing a speech, ALWAYS read it off of real paper


Start memorization techniques early

Memorization is NOT like other homework.


If you can write a paper the night before it’s due, fine. If you can do four hours of math at a time, you’re lucky. But when it comes to memorizing something, it is scientifically impossible to get the same benefits from one long session as from many short ones.²


Your brain effectively develops muscle memory, just like your fingers when you play the piano.  Ever tried learning a piano piece in one night?


It isn’t going to happen.


In fact, this should be a big relief!  If you do a little bit of memorization studying every night, you will not have to spend an overwhelming amount of time all at once.  Things become easier to remember, and less of a hassle to learn.


Use the best resources

These are the best ways to memorize anything:

  • Quizlet: An online flashcard resource/app (this is an okay way to use the computer).


  • Post-its: Not actually for memorizing, but keep a list of random thoughts you have while studying, and go back to them later.  This will allow you to stay focused on memorizing now.


  • Parents, Friends, and Teachers: Have others quiz you on vocab, dates, speech lines, etc.  It takes very little time, and they will be more than happy to help you study.


  • Re-write: This is very quick! Just copy notes onto another sheet of paper.   Physically writing the words again will help you to remember them.


  • Flashcards: Old-fashioned, but tried and true. Again, it takes ten minutes to make a stack of notecards that can be used for weeks. It’s worth it.


  • Your Voice: Last but not least, saying things out loud has the same effect as writing them down. It helps create muscle memory.



If you have any more questions about how to improve your memorization skills, feel free to ask in the comments below.



Works Cited

  1. Ackerman, R., and M. Goldsmith. “Metacognitive Regulation of Text Learning: On Screen Versus On Paper.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2011. Web. 02 Nov. 2016.
  2. Jabr, Ferris. “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens.” Scientific American. 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
  3. Zane. “The Science of Faster Memorization with Spaced Repetition.” Skill Cookbook. 18 Apr. 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.


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