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- serial tasking. When focusing in 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 brains will quite literally divide 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 what time, or chunk tasks into time slots with breaks in-between. Studies show that the time we think we save through multi-tasking is really lost again on the error, fatigue and confusion it produces.
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 identify 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? Determine your greatest obstacle below or through this short quiz.
The best defense against procrastination is, of course, its opposite- effective time management skills. Incorporating the following strategies into your everyday life can boost your energy, save you time and annihilate procrastination once and for all:
- Invest in a planner- it can work wonders!
- Take advantage of organizational tools such as Evernote and OneNote.
- Organize notes and study materials as you go
- Outline tasks to keep you working with a clear direction
Anticipate and plan
- Take action rather than overanalyze
- Identify points in the day where your energy level is highest, and accomplish 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
- Create a semester calendar with significant events and due dates; This allows you preview the weeks to come and begin making a game plan
- Identify available resources that can assist you with your goals (Ex. Tutoring Center, Career Services, Supplemental Instruction)
- Establish solid routines that will save you time later (Ex. Weekly review, re-reading your notes after class, assigning study days to subjects)
- Plan for any roadblocks you may encounter in your schedule
- 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
- Utilize time chunking
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’s also plenty of Apple and Android apps that will do the timing for you--try Pomodoro Timer for Apple or ClearFocus: Pomodoro Timer for Android. When the time is up, take a break and indulge in what would otherwise be a distraction. Check your phone, your email, who’s winning the game--whatever you want. Then repeat!
Why it works
- All of 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 put off distractions till your break
- The relatively short, timed period can motivate you through unenjoyable work- a glance at the clock lets you know there’s only x minutes till 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 how to say “no” and what can wait
- Turn off any self-imposed interruptions!
Build Your Own Database
Imagine, for a moment, that you have everything you need to study- in a single place. 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 save 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 should have everything you need in a relatively organized fashion. Printing a study plan in advance is also a great idea. 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 struggled in. Spend your additional time reviewing these areas.
Similarly, mind mapping allows you to break down a concept on paper and explore the association between its various parts. These can be made on traditional paper, as well as online 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 in such a way that you can better understand the central theme.
Top 5 Studying Takeaways
- Learn it the first time around- make memorization a last resort!
- An organized, current class folder can knock hours off your studying time
- Be connected to your study—comprehension and Netflix don’t belong in the same sentence
- Focus the majority of your time on your weaknesses rather than the content you’re comfortable with
- Regular review, long in advance of the test (or throughout the semester) is the biggest timesaver!
Learning to better manage your time can lead to improvement in all areas of your life. You’ll have more confidence as a student, improve your knowledge retention, and feel a lot less stressed when it comes to balancing your schedule. That means more time for the things you enjoy and less time feeling anxious and overwhelmed. It takes time to make time- so what are you waiting for? Go ahead and give a few of these techniques a go!