Good Study Habits
Follow the path to get the A.
Using every minute you have is great, but making the best of every minute is equally important. Being as efficient as you can with your study time will help you get more done with less stress. Here are a few good study habits that you should try to follow.
Sooner is better than later – one of the most important study habits
Get things done as far in advance as you can. Days, weeks, months. There is no limit.
Doing things early ensures that you will always have time ahead of you. Time ahead gives you the option of making your own choices.
Time ahead is the time for dealing with problems. There is nothing worse than waiting too long to work on something and running into problems you don’t have time to solve.
If you get stuck on something difficult, you’ll have time to figure
it out or talk to the professor. Better to have one difficult thing to clear up at 10:00 a.m. two days before class than five things to clear up at midnight the night before.
And here’s a hint: professors hate to get emails hours before an exam. First of all, they’re probably not going to write back. But even worse, you’re admitting that you procrastinated and waited until the last minute.
Time ahead lets you deal with the unexpected. Things are going to happen. The car problem, the doctor appointment, the errand you forgot to run. The list is endless.
Lastly, the more you get done now, the more time you have to prepare for exams later. Every day you start studying gives you a tremendous advantage.
Relentlessly keep getting ahead every chance you get. The more you get done now, the more fun you can have later.
Day is better than night
Doing things during the day is better than doing them
at night. Trust me when I tell you that reading at 10:00
a.m. is way easier than tackling the exact same assignment at 10:00 p.m. Even 7:00 p.m. can be much easier than 10:00 p.m.
You’re more tired at night. You got up early, you had practices, you just finished a big dinner. You just aren’t motivated to do hard things at night.
I’d even argue that every minute of the day is the equivalent of two at night. Two hours wasted during the day might mean four hours of work starting at 9:00 p.m.
And given the choice between being free at night or during the day, most student will pick the night.
Something’s always going on at night that will compete with your study time, constantly pulling you to take shortcuts. You’ll quit early and put yourself even further behind. Homework can’t compete with having fun with your friends—and it won’t.
Study as much as you can at night
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t say you should take every night off. Just the opposite. You should study at night. I just want you to be in control of what you do at night.
Don’t get stuck doing what you HAVE to do. Nights are for what you WANT to do. Use every minute you can during the day so you have flexibility at night. Clarify your notes. Figure out what you don’t understand. Catch up if you need to. Get an early jump on exams. Do papers or projects. Get ahead so you have even more time later.
The point is that you are in control of your workload. It isn’t in control of you. It’s way better to be in a position to make your own choices instead of letting circumstances make them for you.
If you use as much time during the day as possible, when the night comes, you really will be done. And there is nothing more liberating.
Go relax, go party, go to the game. There is literally no better feeling. You’re completely caught up, ahead of the game, you understand everything, and you’re ready for anything.
Hard first, easy last
As Clifford Cohen said, “Do first what you don’t want to do most.”
Everyone has that one brutal class every semester. Every assignment is dreadfully difficult and you put it off for as long as you can.
With the Shovel app, everything you have to do is in the Pile, organized by when it’s due. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything in order. Use your energy efficiently. If you have plenty of time, always tackle your hardest subjects as early as you can.
Early is when you are at your freshest and your brain is clear. You are more likely to underestimate your time with harder subjects. They’ll always take longer than you think. You’ll have more questions. You’ll need to visit the professor. Plan ahead, and you’ll have the time to do that. Most importantly, there is nothing that gives you a better sense of accomplishment and confidence than knocking off the hardest, most dreaded assignments. It will make the rest of the day a breeze by comparison.
The harder the work is, the earlier you want to do it—both on the calendar and on the clock. There is nothing worse than starting the assignment you hate the most at the time you least want to do it. Get it done. When all you have left are the easy things, you’ll never be stressed. Save the ‘easier’ stuff for your evening study sessions, and as always, use the evenings for getting even further ahead.
When reviewing your Pile, as long as you have plenty of time, do the hard stuff early.
Take small bites – a study habit that saves you time
When you have a big goal, the earlier you start the better. Pick the next thing on your list and just dive in. Taking small bites is the best cure for procrastination. Just get something done. Most students wait until right before the due date to start.
There is no need for you to find the time to do an entire task. Every chapter, every page, every paragraph can be a small bite. The smaller you make it, the easier it is to do.
Getting lots of things done gives you a continuous sense of progress and accomplishment.
When you take small bites early, you’ll reduce the number of confusing concepts that you have to deal with at any one time.
No bite is too small. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading even a single page if you only have five minutes. Keep nibbling away at whatever is next. Applying this habit to your routine will save you time for later.
Wrap things up completely
Whether it is a class lecture, a reading, a problem set or anything else you do, don’t leave any loose ends.
Wrapping things up means this:
You did it.
You understand it.
You’ve prepared it for review.
Ask yourself: “If I had to take a test on just this content, would I get an ‘A’? Make sure the answer is yes and then move on.
Focus on doing each small task completely and correctly and your grade will take care of itself.
Take periodic breaks
I am a big believer in taking frequent breaks during study sessions. For me, I got up and walked around. Today, break time might mean checking your texts.
One common system to force periodic breaks is called the Pomodoro Technique. Basically this breaks your tasks into 25 minute work sessions followed by 3-5 minute breaks with a longer break after a couple of hours.
I love the concept, but I’m not a big fan of set time periods. From a practical standpoint, you just aren’t going to stop right in the middle of whatever you’re doing. There is nothing more annoying than a timer going off when you’re deep in thought on a key task.
I still like the concept of using a time goal, though, since it helps keep you focused. But a task goal is even better. Take a break at the end of a chapter or after reading fifteen pages. That kind of goal is a reward for getting your work done—and you won’t be tempted to goof off until a timer goes off.
The length and time of breaks will depend on the type of work and how you feel. Sometimes you’ll be in a groove and you’ll want to keep rolling. Other times you may need more frequent breaks.
Try setting small task goals and rewarding yourself with breaks. You’ll work more efficiently, and you’ll be more focused, as you check off your tasks.
Have a sense of urgency
Urgency is usually associated with stress, but I prefer to think of it as something that can help keep you calm. Urgency for students should be a feeling of awareness of what you have to do, what’s coming up, how much time you have, and how much time you need to get it done.
It’s that little voice in your head that tells you to keep moving forward. It actually removes stress because it ensures that you always stay ahead. Never let your sense of urgency rest.
Here’s an example: I’m an instrument rated pilot. When you’re flying in the clouds, bad things can happen quickly. If there’s ever a place to stay ahead of your work, it’s up there. When I was learning to fly, my instructor taught me to always repeat these three words:
“The Next Two Things”
This is my personal favorite study habit.
“What are the next two things that you need to do to stay ahead of the airplane?” As a pilot, I say that to myself dozens of times even on a short trip. As soon as I check-off those things, my brain fires again: “Next two things.” Got those done—next two things… This forces me to continually look at what I need to do next and keeps me ahead of the airplane and away from the danger curve.
It’s also useful for students.
Try it yourself. When class is coming to a close, when you’re walking across campus, when you’re finishing lunch, say it yourself, “Next two things.” What are the next two things I can do to stay ahead of my workload?
“I’m going to clean up these notes and then read 10 pages after the next class.” Next two things.
“I’ll write up these test questions right after breakfast, then start reviewing my test questions for the exam next week.”
There are always two more things to do. Just get into a mindset of always deciding what those are and keep getting them done.
So right now—what should you or could you be doing? If you don’t know, then you need to start asking “Next two things.” Look in The Pile. Get things done.
Not Enough Time?
The typical college student should have enough time to get all of their assignments done before they’re due. Confession time: I was lucky. I was able to read every word that was assigned to me in college and law school. My time wasn’t taken up by a lot of other things—I didn’t have to work a job or juggle college sports. Other students may not have that luxury.
Student athletes are a good example. The amount
of time they’re expected to commit to practices, workouts, team meetings, and games can be overwhelming. The same can be true of students who work time consuming jobs. They literally don’t have enough time to finish everything.
Many busy students are forced to use weekends and other times when their friends are out having fun just to catch up. At some point, something has to give, and it’s usually the quality of their studies.
It’s even more important for busy students to know their time at the beginning of each semester.
So what should you do if you literally don’t have enough time?
First, you have to know your time—knowledge is power. If you know when you’ll be busy, planning out your schedule in advance will give you time to rearrange your study times.
Second, maximize the time you do have by using Shovel and following the five steps.
Third, use your resources. College gives you a number of resources that very few students use.
Talk to the Professor
Be honest and tell them you’re going to be in a time jam and you need to be as efficient as you can. What do they suggest? They’ll appreciate that you care and that you’re thinking it through. Many professors are happy to give you tips on the best way to do things or how to prepare for exams. Just ask.
Use Campus Resources
Every college has some kind of an academic help center. See what resources are available at your school, and be prepared to use them if you have to. If you don’t have time to figure everything out yourself, getting help is often the best way to speed up your learning curve.
You can also use on demand video resources like Khan Academy, YouTube, and others. Know in advance what those are and be ready to use them if needed.
Team Up With Others
If you have a time problem, your teammates, coworkers, and friends probably do, too. Find others in your class who are also busy. Everyone is looking for a solution, and you can work together to get through it.
Students often have a mountain of stuff to read. Split up your readings or other assignments and have everyone do one of them and write up summaries. Obviously you have to make sure you aren’t violating any class or school rules, but work together when you can.
Study for exams together. Highlight the readings, summarize important points, write possible test questions. Make sure everyone is doing things the same way. Standardize an outline. Find people who are on your level.
Be ruthless. Dump people who don’t pull their weight.
Set a time to come together in a study group. Go over assignments. Teaching others is often the best way to learn something yourself. If each person is responsible for a specific reading and has to explain it to others, they’ll do a better job of making sure they know it.
Self test. Ask each other possible test questions and make sure everyone can give the answers verbally.
Just don’t let it become a social session. Know what you’re going to get done before you walk into the room. Take charge, keep it on track. A good study group can be very focused and intense. It can get you to really drill down to the most important material. And it can actually eliminate distractions and help you get more done.
Use the Shovel study planner
Trying to manage your time and workload is impossible to do in your head. Shovel app lets you manage your daily schedule—and it manages your study time and workload as well.
Live on the Shovel app and you’ll always be in control of everything you need to do.
And now it’s time to talk about where to study—because that can make or break your efficiency.
Since you've read this far, it's obvious that doing well in school is important to you. We created an app specifically for high-achieving students and we know that you'll love it! Shovel makes managing your time and workload way easier than ever before. You will always know how long something's gonna take, how much time you have available to get it done, and if you have enough time to get it done. All in real-time! And it's free!