Every college student knows the marathon study day. It’s the day when you are going to have to crank out a lot of work. Maybe you’ve procrastinated, or maybe you’ve got 3 projects coming due all at once. Doesn’t matter why. What matters is, how to pull it off. Here are my tips for starting it, sticking with it, and getting it done.
- Set yourself up. This is especially important if you’re in a house with others. Warn them that tomorrow your studies will be priority #1. Put your books and laptop/iPad out ready to go. Create a concentration playlist, if listening to music works for you. Then visualize the tiny steps for getting started: making your cup of coffee, sitting down, waking up your computer, reading through the assignment description or what you’ve written so far. Focus on doing those small beginning steps rather than stressing about the enormity of the work ahead. Go to bed and get some sleep.
- Get started early. When you really must not sleep in or dither away the morning, pull out the big guns. Who’s that person who can push you? Your bossy friend? Your mom? Ask them to get you up, call you, pour water on your head, whatever works. Set multiple loud alarms. From the minute you arise, keep your attitude goal-oriented. Think how good it will feel to have that paper written or to be prepared for that test.
- Ride on the body-mind connection. Go for a short run or walk at least twice during your study day. Once before you start and once in the middle. Eat healthy and drink water. Can you nap? Maybe. It’s best if you can keep it short and it doesn’t make you fuzzy-brained the rest of the day. People react very individually to naps.
- Focus with a timer. Try the Pomodoro Technique: Set a timer for 25 minutes and really focus and work. When the timer goes, set it for 5 minutes and take a break. Then set it for another 25 minutes of focus. After four 25-minute work periods, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. Then go again. Interspersing your work with short breaks is crucial to keeping up the pace.
- Mix things up. If you have multiple assignments to work on, cycle between them. Try moving around as you study, doing one 25-minute period in your room, one in the kitchen, one outside (if you can do this without being distracted). Try doing reading standing at the kitchen counter. Avoid studying while slouching into the couch or laying on your bed – you know what will happen if you do that. Instead, go for a walk and summarize out loud to yourself what you were just reading.
- No multi-tasking. I mean it! Many studies have shown that we think we can multi-task, but all it really does is slow us down. You want to get this work done or not? Put your phone out of reach and on silent, and focus on just one screen or paper. If your house is too noisy, find a white noise app on your iPad or phone (My favorite is Rain Rain).
- Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t stress about how tough it is. So what if you have a friend who can study for 5 minutes and ace a test? Most people can’t do that. This is your college experience and you must do it your way. Maybe what works for you is to study for 15 minutes at a time and take 25 minute breaks. Maybe you have to sing everything out loud or fidget with a spinner or write it down over and over. Find what works for you. You say it’s tough? You can do tough. You laugh in the face of tough. Your 5-minute studying friend has no idea.
This post was inspired by a podcast called Hurdle with Emily Abbate. She’s a runner who talks about overcoming hurdles in life and running. There are lots of parallels between athletics and college study. In an episode called “5 Strategies to Make Your Next Long Run Easier”, Abbate said that runners embrace the pain of a long run – physical and mental – because the pain and difficulty are part of the point: “Even in the hurt it’s an opportunity to really understand that you have potential. You have potential to do things that you never thought you could do…Amazing things can happen when you believe you are worthy of your own investment.”
Action for Today: plan your next long study day
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