Pimp Your Study Habits

Pimp Your Study Habits

Placing gummy bears or chocolates at the end of every paragraph of your textbook doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to motivating yourself for a heavy study session. For one thing, it’s not sustainable, not to mention terribly unhealthy. Motivation needs to be strong enough to push you through when you feel like giving up.

I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve when it comes to this. Let’s start with the first one:

Shorten Your Study Periods.

Haaaaaaaaallelujah! By shortening your study periods and increasing the frequency, it’s much easier to keep yourself motivated and maximise your concentration while you’re at it. The Pomodoro technique is literally the best tool I’ve found so far, and has gone a long way in helping me stay focused and highly motivated to study (I go into detail about the technique in this post).

Create Achievable Milestones

Goals or milestones are extremely powerful motivational tools. However, they need to be specific and measurable in order for them to work.

  • Set macro and micro goals, and rewards to go along with them

Break up your study goals into smaller, achievable milestones. Start with macro goals. For example, “Within 4 weeks, I need to cover x amount of material.” Then switch over to your micro goals, which involves what you need to cover today or even in the next 2 hours. 

The big question here is, how do you keep yourself motivated to achieve these goals?

This is the fun part. Set up rewards! You’ll need to set up small and large-scale rewards for this to work (you can apply this to anything, not just studying):

  • Set up mini-rewards for everyday studying. In my case, I usually reward myself with 5 minutes of playing the guitar after a solid Pomodoro session, which lasts just 25 minutes. At the end of the day, perhaps you could reward yourself with a good movie, or hang out with friends.
  • Next, set up a large reward that you can work towards. For me, I had worked over the summer and saved up enough cash to travel to New Zealand, so I made this my reward for working consistently throughout the semester. This had a powerful motivating effect, because each time I felt like giving up, knowing that I had something amazing to look forward to kept me going.
  • Plan for your rewards, but hold yourself accountable. If you don’t hit your goal, don’t reward yourself.

Set up high stakes and leverage your fear of loss

Use the power of fear if rewards don’t work for you. People tend to work much harder in order to prevent losing something, compared to the amount of effort they would invest in order to gain something.

Tim Ferriss gives an example of this in one of his talks, but he used weight loss as an example. If you have trouble sticking to your goal of weight loss, take pictures of yourself in your underclothes and give them to someone you trust and tell them to post it on the internet if you don’t achieve your goal. This might sound extreme, but if you were in that position, you’d definitely find a way to lose that weight.

Of course, you don’t have to go to these lengths, but something similar could work. For example, if you can’t motivate yourself to study, you could give a sum of money to your parents and only ask for it to be returned if you achieve your goal, or else they could spend it on themselves.

TL;DR

  • To motivate yourself use these tricks:
    1. Shorten your study sessions and increase the frequency. The Pomodoro technique is perfect for this.
    2. Set up mini-rewards for everyday study sessions and one large-scale reward to work towards.
      • Mini rewards could include listening to music, an entertaining video, a healthy snack, etc. Larger rewards could be a road trip, a vacation, or something else that you really want. This is very important to keep you going.
    3. Use the power of fear. Setting up stakes can keep you motivated.
      1. If you make a bet, losing that bet could entail you having to do something embarrassing in public if you don’t achieve your goal for instance.
How to Study Less and Get Better Grades

How to Study Half as Much and Get Twice the Results

I have a very short attention span when it comes to studying. If it was anything else, like playing the guitar, learning a language, talking about interesting ideas etc., I could spend hours without getting bored. I sense you might agree here, so now that we’ve established that we all get bored with studying (and if you don’t, I’d like to do research on you, so leave me an email), this post details how I hacked my study sessions to ensure I study a lot less and at least achieve a distinction average.

Honestly, I could write a few posts on this because there are a number of tricks you can use to ensure that you study a lot less. However, much like the extremely powerful 80/20 principle I wrote about in this blog post “The 80/20 Rule: Meta-Learning and Productivity Life Hacks“, I am going to give you my best tip. This is the 20% of my tool kit which provide me with 80% of my results.

Space Out Your Study Sessions

Okay, let’s get to it.

The secret is to break up your study into 25 minute intervals, with 5 minute breaks in between. So in an hour, you’d have 50 minutes of study time, and 10 minutes of break. It’s far more effective than the 3-hour long sessions that many people attempt. You can adjust that of course, I find that 20 minutes works best for me and I sometimes require 10 minute breaks for particularly heavy tasks.

The reasoning behind this is twofold:

1. I’m easily distracted when I study.

First I’m hungry, then I have to check Facebook because someone sent me a message, and… well you get the picture. The thing is, it’s hard to shut out distractions. Instead, you can work around it by giving yourself 5 minutes to do anything you want after a 25 minute session.

25 minutes isn’t that bad at all! In fact, you’ll find you’re flying through it faster than you think. This makes your hyper-focused on the task at hand. Knowing that you have a 5-minute break coming up every so often allows you to maintain an incredibly high level of focus for that 25 minutes.

2. Average concentration tends to take a heavy dip as the duration of study increases.

With this technique, you get to break up your study session so that you have a higher average level of concentration (I’ll explain this below).

The human brain has an attention span of roughly 20 minutes for most things, after which it sort of goes into a gentle slumber (flashback of history lessons in high school anyone?).

What do you remember the most of a study session? The beginning, the middle, or the end?

For most people, they remember the beginning, and the last thing they studied. The middle becomes a sort of fuzzy, mushy stew of information which is frustratingly hard to remember.

This is what happens when you study for long periods of time without regular breaks. You tend to remember the beginning and the end but not much of the middle. Concentration always takes a dip in the middle.

If you take a look at the graphs below (please excuse the poor illustrations, Microsoft Paint was all I had available), you’ll see what I mean. The first graph shows you how the average study session goes, with concentration taking a nose-dive soon after the first few minutes, usually ending up in pleasant daydreams and Facebook messages.

attention-curveCompare the graph above with the one below. You get a much higher level of average attention, because you have more frequent breaks, you’re have more beginnings and ends (thus you have improved recall) and you get to allow yourself some distraction every 25 minutes!average-attention

This is essentially the biggest secret that I have to improving your study sessions. You actually end up having to study a lot less because you understand things and remember them a lot better because each time you have a break, you come back refreshed and ready to tackle all that annoying material.

The Pomodoro Recipe

Here’s a quick outline of how you can structure your study session:

  • Start with the toughest material first, as you will get more tired with each session.
  • 4 sets of 25-minute sessions with 5-minute breaks, and then you get to have a 15-minute break before starting the next set of 4.
  • I sometimes do quick workouts during the breaks to get the blood flowing. This increases your energy levels as long as you don’t exert yourself too much.
  • I also break up study sessions into morning and evening sessions, at the times when I’m most alert. This way, it feels like I’ve had a massive break in between to recharge, but this depends on your preference.

Of course, the exact amount of time for the study period and break is up to you. I sometimes take 10 minute breaks if I’m working on something particularly tiring. However, sticking to the 25 and 5 rule is what I’ve found to be the most effective.

The Pomodoro timer

There are a few ways you can do this. You could just use a clock, but I prefer using a free app called Productivity Challenge Timer . You can of course use any Pomodoro app which are freely available, but I find this one highly engaging because of it’s funny descriptions and motivational goals that you have to unlock.

As usual, don’t take my word for any of this. Test it out yourself and let me know how it works for you! Better yet, if you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear about it! Like I said, if there’s a way to do something quicker with less work, I’m in!

TL;DR

  • The Pomodoro technique is where you study in short bursts of 25 minutes and rest for 5 minutes.
  • This improves recall and increases the number of beginnings and ends in a study session, which is when people tend to remember the most things.
  • It makes it a lot easier to focus because you allow yourself 5 minutes to distract yourself and knowing that you have a break coming up every so often is very motivating.
  • Download a Pomodoro app and try it out for yourself! The Productivity Challenge Timer  is my personal favourite.
  • If you have any other suggestions or tools to improve your study sessions, let me know!
Improve Concentration

Make Dark Chocolate Taste Sweeter

I stumbled upon something quite interesting by accident today. I had just had eaten and had fallen into my usual afternoon lull, and I decided to have my usual post-lunch square of dark chocolate. I made myself a cup of green tea and sat down to enjoy the dark chocolate while watching one of my favourite tv shows.

As you would expect, the dark chocolate (70% in this case) was quite bitter, but I was already used to the taste so I had no complaints. However, I took a sip of green tea and went back to the chocolate and suddenly realised that the chocolate had become so much sweeter and tasted so much better. Two things were happening here:

  • The bitterness of the tea had made my mouth immune to the bitterness of the chocolate, so I could only taste the sweetness, which seemed to have magnified significantly.
  • The heat from the tea that had transferred into my mouth was melting the chocolate and a much higher rate and thus the flavour was much stronger.

I immediately googled this combination and it turns out the the Telegraph (I’ll link it below) actually made a post about this in 2015 about a study which had been done on the combination of green tea and dark chocolate! The findings indicated that dark chocolate and green tea significantly improve concentration in the afternoon, which is a problem that I struggle with all the time!

I avoid drinking coffee (unless it’s for exams), so this was fascinating to me. At the moment, I am definitely feeling a lot more alert so there might just be something to it. I’m aware that this could be a placebo effect, but I’ll keep doing this for a few days and see if it continues to work.

(Update: I felt that the effects were not quite as apparent as I continued doing this, but I would be curious to see what others think)

To take a look at the article yourself, check this out: Dark chocolate and green tea is the perfect concentration combination

Womenshealthandfitness.com.au has a post in which they actually recommend dipping the chocolate into the tea to make it taste better as the melted chocolate will cover more surface area, thereby enhancing its flavour (so I guess my discovery might actually be true!). Check out the article: Chocoholic anonymous – Smart ways to eat chocolate.

It is important to note however, that the study I mentioned above was conducted at Northern Arizona University, but was sponsored by Hershey Company.

Possible biases aside, I think it actually worked for me so there could be something to it. Try it yourself and let me know if it works for you. Share this blog post and get your friends to try it as well!