Another semester signals another set of classes, professors and new material that’s both compelling and challenging. Every conscientious student at some point has probably Googled ‘the best way to learn [subject],’ asked friends how they’re planning to study or tried to organize a study schedule. There are so many different ways that people learn best – some people are visual learners, others are auditory learners, and so on. Even if you’ve nailed down your preferred learning style, there are different methods that work best for different courses.
To complicate things, every stage of academia is different – high school is different from university, and grad school is different from undergrad programs. In every semester, there’s a certain level of chaos that needs to be accepted and managed. However, that level of chaos spikes when there are multiple competing priorities. The balance between work, school and your personal life is a hard one to manage. This difficult balancing act is a mixture of focus, time management, and organization.
Here is a list of the top three things that I have found to be effective for success in school. Remember to take care of yourself – stay healthy by eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough shut eye every night. Also, basic study tips are a given – take good notes in class, do as many readings before class as possible, form a study group, and always ask questions. Don’t try to do all of the following tips in one go – just take what you need, and go from there.
1. Limit Your Procrastination With the ‘Forest’ App
If you have a problem with staying focused or with procrastination, take advantage of productivity apps! Some favourites are ColdTurkey for PCs and Self Control for Macs. These apps allow you to make a blacklist of websites that you cannot access for a set amount of time. So if there are some websites that are a time drain and distracting while studying (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) then add them to the list and turn on the app.
However, if it’s your cellphone that’s distracting you, there’s a way to limit usage on that too. The most effective app for this that I’ve found is called Forest, which lets you ‘grow’ a tree in-app with the goal of having a forest over several productive periods. The catch? You can’t leave the app/tree-growing screen to text or scroll through your Instagram feed. Again, the trees can be grown for a set amount of time – 10-20 minutes is generally enough for a bush while 120 minutes can give you a three dimensional tree. If you do leave the app, the tree dies and remains a permanent stump in your forest. Weirdly enough, this is enough motivation to keep off your phone and stay focused on work.
2. Use Trello to Create a Study Schedule
If you have a problem with creating a specific study schedule, there’s a method called the Kanban Board, which can be created in app or using a hardcopy sheet of paper. Divide the page into three categories: To Do, Doing and Done. If you’re using a hardcopy version, I suggest using post-it notes so that the tasks can be transferred to the other categories as they’re completed. While doing a task, move the post-it into the Doing category, and when a task is completed, move it to the Done category. Some apps that use this method are Trello and KAM.
This process helps to de-clutter the mind and see where you are at any given point. It also helps to give a sense of accomplishment and productivity at seeing the Done board at the end of the day and looking at all the work that was completed.
3. Stay on Task With the Pomodoro Method
If you have a problem with sustaining attention or taking long breaks during studying, look no further than the Pomodoro method. This method requires a timer and a bit of self-discipline. Basically, the gist of is: Study for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break. Then, study for another 25 minutes, take another 5-minute break. Following your third 25-minute chunk of study time, take a half an hour break. Start the process all over again after the 30-minute break.
Taking tiny breaks helps refresh the mind and lets you keep going without dipping into mental fatigue territory. They also help divide studying up into chunks of time, which can help with specific tasks or topics that you’re studying. This method is also great for balancing extracurricular activities and other work commitments in addition to schoolwork. The best part about this method is that you can adjust according to your needs. For example, you can study for 35 minutes, take a 10-minute break, study for another 35 minutes, take a 10 minute break, study for the final 35 minutes, and take a 45 minute break. The key thing to succeed using this method is self control. It isn’t easy to limit the breaks to 5 minutes or even 30 minutes so self-discipline is crucial.
It’s important to reiterate the basic underlying principle to these methods: Remember to take care of yourself first. Chronic stress can lead to burnout – so do a mental check-in regularly. Remind yourself why you’re doing the class or program you’re in and what it means to you. Even in the middle of the craziest parts of the semester, grab coffee with a friend and pet a friendly cat or dog. The little things always help. Reach out for help if you need it. Nearly all high schools and university campuses have resources for students who are feeling overwhelmed and need someone to talk to. Now that you have the tools you need, go out there and succeed!
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Published in the Winter 2017 Issue. Read the rest of the issue for FREE here.