Many of us may consider ourselves to be ‘good multitaskers,’ professionals, even! What we are actually good at doing is shifting our attention from one thing to the next, or serial tasking. When focusing on a single task, both the left and right sides of your brain work together, giving it your full attention. When switching between two different tasks, however, your brain quite literally divides in half, with each lobe managing one of the two. Adding a third task has been shown to:
- Cause a potential 40% loss in productivity
- Slow you down
- Increase error
- Create "inattentional blindness"
- Reduce memory
- Dampen your creativity
- Increase stress level
It is best to focus your attention on a single task at a time, or chunk tasks into time slots with breaks in-between. Studies show the time that we supposedly save through multi-tasking ends up lost on error, fatigue and confusion. If you're pressed for time, try time chunking instead!
What is time chunking?
Time chunking is a popular method that can be applied to both your academic and professional career. The premise is simple--work consistently on a single task for 30-45 minutes. Setting a timer may help. There are also plenty of Apple and Android apps that will do the timing for you. When the time is up, take a 10-15 minute break
and indulge in what would otherwise be a distraction. Check your phone, your email, who’s winning the game- then repeat!
Why it works
- Your attention is devoted to a single task rather than everything you have to do
- Because you are working for only a short period of time, it is easier to keep distractions at bay
- The relatively short, timed period can motivate you through a heavy workload- a glance at the clock lets you know there’s 'only x minutes' until break
- The frequent breaks keep your energy level up
- Establish what your regular interruptions are
- Determine the best place for you to work
- Share your availability in advance
- Learn to say “no” and know what can wait
- Turn off any self-imposed interruptions! (i.e. phone, TV)
the art of putting things off. It can rob you of your sleep, eat away at your motivation, and turn even the best study plan into a last-minute, panicked blur. For some, the added pressure of working just before a deadline may be the extra kick they need. Ask yourself, is it working for you? If not, you must first pinpoint the source of your procrastination. Is starting a task the hardest part, or are you just bored with it altogether? Maybe your perfectionism is slowing you down? Identify your greatest obstacle below or through this short, interactive quiz.
Then use the corresponding questions to walk yourself through a task.
The best defense against procrastination is, of course, its opposite- effective time management. Incorporating the following strategies into your everyday life can save you time, boost your energy, focus your attention and annihilate procrastination once and for all:
- Invest in a planner- it can work wonders!
- Transfer your class syllabi to your planner; include exam dates, key deadlines, professor contact information and office hours
- Take advantage of organizational tools such as Evernote or OneNote
- Organize notes and study materials as you go
- Take ten minutes at the beginning of each week to review your planner and preview your schedule in advance
Anticipate and plan
- Take action rather than overanalyze
- Identify points in the day where your energy is highest, and tackle the most difficult tasks then
- Study more challenging subjects first, you’ll feel fresher
- Decide what order to complete tasks in based on both their urgency and importance, as shown to the right
Break it down
- With your syllabi transferred, identify your heaviest weeks and plan accordingly
- Establish solid routines that will save you time later (Ex. Weekly review, re-reading your notes after class, assigning study days to subjects)
- Utilize on-campus resources
- Begin by evaluating the task’s big picture
- Set short and long term goals for yourself in relation to the task
- Break the task into smaller pieces over a timeline
- Take breaks as needed
- Practice time chunking
Build Your Own Database
Imagine, for a moment, that you have everything you need to study- in one complete database. Convenient, right? Start with folders. Skip the two hour mid-semester printing session and begin storing class materials from the get-go in a class folder. Keep all homework, lecture notes and previous exams, as well as your syllabus in this folder. Be sure to bookmark any helpful online videos or learning tools, as well. Next, store all of your "lecture gems" on index cards. People, ideas and key terms should all go onto flashcards that can be easily referenced from your database later. Begin building on the first day of class so by the time midterms and finals roll around, you will have everything you need in an organized fashion. Use this study plan
in conjunction with your database for best results. The time you don’t have to spend PREPARING
to study can really add up!
Create a Notes Compression or Mind Map
Notes compression is, well, just how it sounds. Rather than reviewing every note you ever took from the semester, spend at least an hour condensing key concepts onto a 2-sided paper. This is your chance to double check yourself and fill in any conceptual holes in the material. As you make your notes compression, establish whether or not you truly know the material. A cursory review of your notes compression, followed by a practice exam, is a great safety net for any pitfalls you might have during the actual exam. Be sure to review your practice exam and make note of any sections you found challenging. Spend the remaining time reviewing these areas.
Similarly, mind mapping allows you to break down a concept on paper and explore the connections between its various parts. This can be done on traditional paper or through web applications such as examtime
. Start with a main idea in the center. You can then begin to branch out from this idea using single words and related principles. These ‘main branches’ will have sub-branches that further examine each aspect, as well as connect to other areas. You may even want to liven things up with a bit of color or a useful graphic. Think in terms of key words and symbols, rather than paragraphs. The goal is to visually organize both the content and your ideas to better understand the central theme.
Effective time management is a balance of your time, energy and attention. Ditch the multi-tasking and try time chunking instead. Identify the source of your procrastination, then combat it with the various skills provided. Begin building your own database at the start of each semester, and try creating a notes compression or mind map before test day. Finally, take advantage of this 5 day study plan.
Go ahead and give a few of these techniques a go!
- The First Year Advising Center (FYAC) Major exploration and career counseling is available exclusively for first-year students. Discuss your degree options and establish a four year plan with your academic advisor here.
- Kresge Library Computers, copiers, printers and other technology tools are available throughout the library. Access materials and online databases or reserve a cabana for group study. Visit the quiet study floor or schedule a research consultation with a librarian. The library is open 24/7 with a valid student ID.
- The Writing Center Meet with a consultant for support with any stage in the writing process. Located inside Kresge Library.
- The Tutoring Center Schedule free tutoring sessions for a variety of subjects. Appointments can be made in-person or online.