Become A Study Machine

17 min read

You’ve made it this far, so you’re already way ahead of the majority of the students around you. Most of them are terrible at managing their time. They have no idea how much time they have or how much they need to get things done. They’re winging it.

The good news is that most students actually have plenty of time to get things done. But that can lull you into a false sense of security. Students don’t expect the unexpected. Things will take longer than planned. Difficulties, distractions, and surprises will pop up daily and throw you off schedule.

Efficiency is about making the most of every minute you have. It is what helps you stay focused and stay ahead so you can deal with the unexpected.

So what do I mean by efficiency? Here are a few definitions:

  • Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.
  • Working in a well-organized and competent way.
  • Preventing the wasteful use of a particular resource.

Efficiency for students is really about maximizing the quantity and quality of time.

Quantity is about when you study. It’s finding as much usable Study Time as you can and not wasting a minute of it. It’s about the self discipline of sticking to your study schedule. It’s commitment. Making hard choices about what, when, and where you’re going to do things each minute of every day and saying NO to anything and anyone.

Quality is about where you study. It’s about removing distractions and staying completely focused on getting the most done with every minute that you have. It’s about having a sense of urgency to relentlessly keep getting things done with the minutes you have.

Flip The Switch

When it comes to making choices about when to study in college, you have to be either on or off. You must have the discipline to shift yourself into study mode and stay there in spite of the endless distractions around you.

Work. Fun. One or the other.

Know when you work and when you have fun—and don’t let anything pull you out of your planned work time. Don’t let anything pull you out of your fun time, either.

The problem with too many students is that they are always in a zone of uncertainty. They allow distractions to delay them or pull them away from their studies.

When they’re out having fun, they’re in a constant state of uncertainty about having enough time for the things they have coming up. They think they can get everything done, but they don’t really know for sure.

Knowing your time and workload is a start but sticking to your plan is what makes it happen. When it’s time to study, study. When it’s time to have fun, slam the books shut and go have fun knowing that you’re completely in control of your time and you workload.

With the Shovel app you can flip the switch with confidence.

Have A Consistent Routine

The best way to flip the switch is to establish a consistent daily routine.

College gives you a lot of freedom that you didn’t have when you were in high school. That often causes students to change their normal routine—or not have one at all. That’s the problem.

Now it’s time to establish a routine—and make studying a part of your routine.

For far too many students, studying is what they do after everything else. It’s important that you treat study time the same as any other obligation you have at school or in life.

You might have a class at 8:30 a.m. on two days and other days you don’t start until 11:00. Doesn’t matter. Get up and open for business—same time EVERY DAY.

The typical college kid says “great, no class until 11:00. I’ll stay up late tonight and sleep in tomorrow.” When you stay up late, you can bet you aren’t studying. When you sleep in, I guarantee you aren’t studying.

Getting started at different times each day makes it harder to stick with your plans.

First of all, it’s very hard to have widely varying sleep patterns. Most people just can’t do that. It often makes it hard to get to sleep at night, and it’s way too tempting to sleep in. Varying your sleep times creates a roller coaster of sleep deprivation and poor time management. Plus, a 2007 study at St. Lawrence University found that students who pulled all-nighters had lower GPAs on average.

Secondly, it’s too easy to fall off of your routine. You’ll find yourself sleeping in on days you should be getting up.

Just get up at the same time, every weekday, no matter when you have your first class. I don’t care if you have class at 8:00 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. Try to get up.

I know I’m probably not going to win this one, but try it sometime.

Go to bed and get up at the exact same time every weekday no matter what time class starts. You’ll feel better and you’ll get more done.

Obviously all bets are off on Friday and Saturday nights—go have as much fun as you possibly can. Reward yourself after a hard week of work and stay up till sunrise for all I care. Blowing off some steam is important too—mostly in college where you make friends for life.

And remember, a routine can be flexible. You might decide you’d prefer your workout after your study block instead of before. That’s fine. You can always make a new routine. But stick to it unless you find a compelling reason to change.

You Can Plan Your Time In College

One of the most common things I hear from students is that it’s impossible to plan their time in college. College is so spontaneous that you just can’t schedule things so tightly.

My reply is always the same—of course you can. You already do.

If class is at 10:00 a.m., do you plan to be there? When the coach says practice starts at 3:30 p.m., do you plan accordingly or would you prefer to sit on the bench next game? When the boss says work starts at 8:00 a.m., are you there, or do you prefer to get fired?

You already do show up on time. In fact, you might even arrive early.

Students somehow manage to get all kinds of other things done on time. You can and should set your Study Time every bit as precisely as anything else you do. Treat study time blocks just like any other firm commitment you have.

Don’t be late. Ever.

If your evening library time starts at 6:30 p.m., that means in your seat, book open, pen in hand, ready to go. Or even better, be there at 6:15 to get things set up.

Treat every single Study Time block the same, no matter how big or how small it is. Show up on time and work the time you set. It’s just that simple.

I understand that things can and do change. No problem. Continually review your study times as you figure out your class workload. If the times aren’t realistic, then revisit your setup and just change to a new schedule. Just be honest with yourself. If you just keep ignoring the Study Time blocks you set, it screws up your whole schedule. That’s what causes you to fall behind and stress out. Be honest with yourself and adjust as you go.

Time Does Not Have Equal Value

In college you are constantly being pulled between competing interests. Studying, hanging out with friends, or going to the big game. The options are endless and it’s easy to put off something now and worry about it later. I see students all the time just sitting around, literally doing nothing.

When it comes to studying, you need to start thinking about the value of doing it now or doing it later. Sitting around with your friends now may mean missing something you wanted to do later. Which has more value?

The problem is that students rarely think about these kinds of tradeoffs. They only think of the here and now. They piddle around campus all day long. They hang out and delay doing homework until later. They’re putting time behind them.

Chances are, the piddling you’re doing now doesn’t remotely have the same value as what you really want to do later. But once the time is wasted, you can’t get it back. You just made a tradeoff.

Get it in your mind that time spent studying now is always worth more than doing it later. Keep getting things done now so you have choices later. When those spontaneous things come up that you really want to do, you can go do them.

Now let’s talk about when to study and where to study.

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