When To Study

Minutes Matter. Find and Manage All of Them.

31 min read

Finding Time

You know by now that lack of time is the biggest problem in college. Not having enough, not using what you have, and underestimating the amount you need.

Now it’s time to talk about choosing and using time.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to find and carefully review how much time you have and how much time you use. Every single day. Every hour. Every minute. Keep reviewing it as the days and weeks go by and you settle into your semester routine.

It may seem like I’m telling you to study every single minute you have—but that’s not the case. I’m asking you to consider every study opportunity in your day and make a good choice about how you use it. If you don’t wait until the last minute, you’ll have the luxury of choosing—what to work on, when to do it, and for how long.

Always have time ahead of you. I’m big on getting as much done as early and as often as I can. Minutes matter. Find and use every one you can as early as you can. Have the biggest cushion of extra time possible. That eliminates stress and gives you flexibility. You’ll have time to deal with unexpected problems, to prepare for exams, or just to go have fun when you want to.

Don’t let time control you. You should always control it.

Big Time Blocks

Once you set up your time in the Shovel app, some big blocks are going to stand out.

Weekday evenings. This is easy. The best way to avoid distractions is to study when everyone else is studying. This is your time. Get to the library immediately after dinner, and do it as early as possible—6:00 or 6:30 p.m.. Treat the big blocks just like class time. They are mandatory. Never, ever fail to use them. Using your big time blocks is a great way to really get things done and pile up your cushion time.

Find your spot of choice, send your last text, and shut everything off. This is your serious, dedicated time for getting things done. You need to have at least two and a half to three solid, focused hours of study.

The problem with evening Study Time is that most students push it way into the night, even beyond midnight. Don’t be one of them. Start as early as you can.

There is no reason that you can’t finish up by 8:30 p.m. Certainly no later than 9:30. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. You can wrap up your work quickly because you also use the smaller blocks of time. That’s where the stress-free A’s are made.

Small Time Blocks

While the big blocks of time are important, the small ones matter more. One of the biggest and worst habits that students have is wasting small blocks of time. They won’t start a task unless they think it can be completed entirely. You have to get out of that mindset.

Your success and your stress in college is determined by how efficiently you use small blocks of time during the day.

One of the most important reasons to do the Time Setup in the Shovel app is to help you identify every single small block of time you can.

Every. Single. One.

When you finish your time setup, take a look at all of the small blocks of time between everything that you have to do. Depending on the size of your minimum Study Time Block, these small blocks are your Extra Time. Most students will see a lot of them. Before class. Between classes. During lunch. Before dinner. Weekends. An hour here, twenty minutes there. Add them up and see what they are. It’s usually a surprising amount of time. Shovel app adds then up for you.

This is the time that students waste the most.

Sure, some small blocks might be too small. You can’t always study if you have to walk across campus, or if you only have a handful of minutes.

But look at each and every one and ask yourself if there is any way you can make it useful.

Remember that the Shovel app helps you find and use your small blocks of time in two ways. The first is the slider that lets you define usable blocks of study time. As you adjust the slider, the Shovel app will remove any blocks of time that aren’t long enough for you.

And you can also convert specific Extra Time into Study Time. The Shovel app makes it easy. Just click the Extra Time block and hit “Convert”

Far too many students think that small blocks of time aren’t useful, so they go hang out and do nothing. Every minute you can get something done during the day is a minute you don’t have to spend studying at night. And let’s be honest, unless there’s a big pool party during the day, fun in college happens at night.

Most students tend to focus on the big blocks of time in the evening and think they can finish everything then. Maybe you can, but why not leave your nights open for something more relaxing than cramming? You can get ahead on your work without that horrible pressure that you have to get it done, or you can just chill.

Whatever you choose, it’s always nice to have the option.

PLAN Your Small Blocks of Time

Don’t just wing it with your small blocks. Find them and plan how and where you’re going to use them—just like you do with your big blocks. Think about where you’ll go during that time and what work you’ll get done. “I’ll stay right there in class and start my next History reading,” or “I can knock out one problem in my weekly problem set in the half-hour before lunch.” Do it the same way every week.

Remember, all of those small blocks of time can add up to hours during your day. Just one hour is a huge amount of study time in college. It’s 20 pages read, it’s time to organize your notes, go see the professor, write test questions, start studying for your exam. All in one hour.

Imagine if you have three.

I’m not saying to study every minute of your life. In fact, I’m saying just the opposite. The point is that the more you get done early, the more time you have to take off later or get even farther ahead.

The goal is to go have fun without wondering if you have time to get the next thing done, because it’s already done.

Take Small Bites Often

I realize that many assignments are big and they can take hours to finish. However, there is nothing that says you have to do everything in one sitting. Take small bites whenever and wherever you can. You’ll be less overwhelmed and it will feel easier to get done. If you only have 45 minutes, you can still get something done. Read 10 pages. Yes, you can start and stop in the middle of a chapter, a page, a paragraph, or even a sentence. Just do something.

Anything you get done now saves you time later.

It’s All About Fun on The Weekends

There’s a point to getting your studying done during the week: stress free fun over the weekend. I never did a thing on Friday after my last class. I was done. And making sure you never have to study on Saturdays is a big reason to get ahead during the week. For me, Saturdays were almost always Me Time. Same thing Sunday mornings.

If you get your work done during the week, you can take the weekend off without stress or guilt.

But you can also see Saturday and Sunday as bonus time—it has a HUGE potential for getting things done. Even if you only spend an hour or two each day studying—which leaves a lot of time for fun—you can start your next week ahead.

Consider tackling your easier work on the weekend. Finish a reading assignment that you know will be easy, or spend an hour planning the paper due next Thursday. Start self-testing for your exams. If you cross off low stress tasks on the weekend, you can get a lot done and barely interfere with your day at all.

Remember, just a little bit every day will pay a big dividend down the road. It amazes me how much weekend time is wasted just sitting around. You can do a night’s worth of studying on Saturday and not have to worry about it later. Make it a part of your routine.

And Sundays are great for planning your upcoming week. Check the Shovel app to see what’s coming up. Adjust your schedule if there’s an event you want to attend, or delete some Me Time if you’re in a tight spot. Planning ahead saves time—and stress.

The same principle applies for holidays. If you plan ahead and get ahead, you won’t have to study during Thanksgiving break or Spring Break. Help carve the turkey or go to Cabo.

Fundamental Principles Of Time

So enough about finding study time, let’s talk about some general principles to get more out of the time you have.

Get Your ‘A’ in “NO” time

Some hours are more valuable than others. So how do you prioritize studying? The first step is committing to your study time. The next step is breaking the procrastination cycle so that you’re in charge of your time.

Friends will try to pull you out of your routine. Everyone has different schedules, and they will try to make their schedule yours. Don’t go there. Stick to your plan.

When you set your study times, commit. If anyone tries to divert you to something else, just say ‘NO!’

Know your NO time and make no exceptions.

Sooner Is Better Than Later

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. Most students don’t have that luxury.

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.

You Control The Night

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t say you should take every night off. Just the opposite. You should study at night. That’s where you big study time blocks are. My point is that you want 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. Instead of starting with whatever is due first, strategize and 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

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. Readings can be many pages long and have a lot of difficult concepts. A five-page paper written the night before it’s due will show—and so will your grade.

Breaking it into small bites is easier.

In the Shovel app we focus on breaking out each and every thing you have to do for the entire semester and getting it ready to do on day one.

Every reading.

Every class lecture.

Every paper or project.

Every test.

You can break things down even further. Every chapter, every page, every paragraph. Each one is just a small bite. The smaller you make it, the easier it is to do it and do it right. Just get them done one step at a time. When you do that, the big picture takes care of itself.

This is where your small time blocks come in handy. Getting lots of things done gives you a continuous sense of progress and accomplishment.

More importantly, it helps ensure that you have time to understand new and difficult content. 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. It adds up quickly and saves time later when you need it for other things.

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, and there is nothing more annoying than a timer going off when you’re deep in thought.

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:

“Next Two Things”

What are the next two things that you need to do to stay ahead of the airplane? I say it dozens of times in my head on even 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, but I realize that isn’t always true. As for me, 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. Others 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 Tutoring 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 App

Trying to manage your time and workload is impossible to do in your head. You have to use a better tool to manage everything.

That tool is the Shovel app.

Students typically try to manage their time and workload on a piece of notebook paper. Others use an online calendar or some kind of day planner.

The problem is that just seeing a deadline doesn’t help you finish the work.

The Shovel app lets you manage your daily schedule—and it manages your study time and workload as well. You’ll always know what’s coming up, when you have time to do it, and how long it will take. You’ll never get caught wondering what to do and when to get started.

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.

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