Study skills 5 # Effective study time
Let’s assume that you’ve mastered time-management and overcome your procrastination. You’re sitting behind your desk, determined to start. Now you’re facing another challenge—how to use your time effectively and finish that task as soon as possible while still delivering excellent results?
Forget about multi-tasking
Multi-tasking is a mythical ability to deal with more tasks at the same time. Some employers value multi-tasking as a very precious skill but it has been proven that it’s not as great as it sounds. Sure, humans are able to drive and talk at the same time or eat and watch TV but don’t kid yourself—you won’t give these things 100%. Just recall how many times you ate your dinner when watching Netflix and not remembering how the food tasted. So forget about multi-tasking. It just doesn’t work.
One-pointed focus is the key
This actually comes from Buddhism meditations that teach you to be fully present, here and now. It can be applied to anything really. Especially work and study. If you truly focus on your task, eliminating all distractions, you’ll not only finish much more quickly but you’ll also feel better about yourself. When you’re working on your essay, work 100% on your essay. Don’t call your Mom or scroll through the social media. If you’re working while being constantly distracted, the task will take you twice as long.
Pseudo work versus deep work
Cal Newport in his book How to Become a Straight-A Student claims that the key isn’t how many hours you devote to studying. The key is how that time is actually spent. He summarises his findings into a simple formula: work done = time spent x intensity of focus.
Shallow work takes many hours but the intensity of focus is very low. Yep, that’s when you’re writing an essay while doing million other things. But ten hours of distracted work can be easily accomplished by two hours in full focus. We recommend reading Cal Newport’s other book called Deep Work.
Your ability to focus is shorter than you probably think it is
Our ability to really focus on tasks is diminishing by each passing minute. And then it’s gone for good but that’s totally normal—that’s how our brain naturally works. We’re sure you’ve all experienced it. You come all pumped up for a lecture with your favourite professor but after half an hour, you’re inevitably starting to lose your focus. In case of lectures, you can maybe focus for an hour and half because it’s rather passive but forget about actively studying for that long.
In reality, our ability to truly focus is even shorter than a lesson at secondar school. The exact number is individual because you can train it to a certain extent but usually we can be effective only for 20-25 minutes. After that it goes down dramatically. Sorry, but that’s the truth. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t use it to your advantage.
When we start studying, we’re really concentrated for the first 10 minutes. We perceive everything and are able to ask peculiar questions. After that, it starts to diminish so it’s just unrealistic to study for two hours straight and think it’s a good method. In those two hours, we start focusing properly again only when we’re ending because we become excited that the hourglass is at its end. How long did we study effectively in those 120 minutes? That’s right, only 20 minutes.
The pomodoro technique
Studying only for 20 minutes sounds amazing but you’ll probably oppose that you can’t possibly finish cramming everything in such a short period of time. And you’re right. It’s not about studying only for 20 minutes and then doing nothing for the rest of the day. It’s about taking regular disciplined breaks. Here’s how the technique works:
- Set the timer for 20-25 minutes and during that time focus only on the task. Deep work!
- When the time’s up, take a break for 5-10 minutes. Stand up, go to the bathroom, drink a glass of water, play with your pet… whatever relaxes you. Don’t do activities you know would take longer than 10 minutes or you’ll end up doing something entirely else instead. If you were working on your computer, it’s better not to spend your break browsing the internet because your brain won’t relax.
- Set the timer for another 20-25 slot and continue with your task. If your break was indeed only 5-10 minutes, you won’t lose track of your progress but it still gives your brain that much needed relief.
- Repeat as many times as needed. If the task is too big, you can have several pomodoro sessions in the morning and several in the afternoon with a long lunch break. Experiment with what suits you.
- Don’t forget to reward yourself when you’re done for the day! Now you can play that videogame without regrets or meet your friends.
The pomodoro technique is a powerful tool how to prevent loss of concentration. If you take 4 pomodoro sessions, at the end you’ve still studied for two hours—the same as your classmate who didn’t take any breaks. However, the quality of your work will be much higher than theirs and you’ll feel much less fatigued.
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