Study Strategies

Effective study strategies will help you to get the most out of this course. Here are some you can use this semester and beyond.

Time Blocking
On your calendar, schedule substantial periods of time that will allow you to focus intensely on your coursework. Don’t just scribble “homework” into the squares of a wall calendar; instead, be specific and to use Cal Newport’s words, decide where, when and for how long. Then honor these scheduling commitments by treating them as non-negotiable (unless a true emergency comes up, of course), and plan to be unavailable to others during these blocks of time. Just a word of caution: as Cal Newport points out, if you’re not used to working at a level of intense concentration, it may be difficult to do that for an extended period of time; it may be helpful to start by calendaring short stretches of time and progressively making them longer as you get accustomed to focusing with dedication on your coursework.

Manage Your Energy
Have you noticed that you’re more energetic during certain times of the day? it pays to know your chronotype and work accordingly. Our alertness also varies through the day depending on the situations we’re in, so take a moment to ask yourself, “What activities deplete you? What activities recharge you?” To the degree you can, arrange your schedule so you can work on your assignments when your mind is likely to be fresh and energized.

Mise En Place
Getting into and maintaining the level of concentration necessary for effective studying means avoiding distractions, so it’s a good practice to have everything in place at the ready. Imagine you’re ready to dive into the two hours you’ve set aside today for homework, except you’re not really ready: the desk is cluttered and you need to find your class notes and there are several playlists of get-into-the-zone music to pick from and earphones to find and untangle. The minutes here and there that each of these will take not only add up but also take a toll on your motivation and focus. Every distraction is not only an impediment to deep work but is also a momentum killer. You desk doesn’t have to look like a studyblr poster child, but tuning your environment for serious work goes a long way. Make your workspace a great haven for unbroken concentration!

Automate With Routines
Making even small decisions takes time and energy. In addition to getting your workspace ready for action, try streamlining your workflow with routines and habits to limit the number of decisions you’ll be faced with as you tackle assignments.

Read Linearly
This might seem obvious, but smartphones and social media have changed our reading habits. It might take some time to settle back into reading words and sentences in sequential order (and if so be patient with yourself!), but doing so will be well worth it. In the long run, you’ll spend less time reading than if you’re skimming and jumping around and more likely to retain the information you read.

Take Handwritten Notes
Along with diligent reading, taking notes also aids information retention, and it seems to be most beneficial when done by hand.

Experiment With Visual Notetaking (aka Sketchnoting)
While we encourage you to read linearly, your notes might benefit from being nonlinear. Writing notes that take advantage of mind mapping, diagrams and pictures can make note taking and later note reading more engaging and effective. I really like The Sketchnote Handbook, but there are now an abundance of useful resources on this topic.

Challenge Yourself To Try Different Ways Of Learning 
Skeptical about sketchnoting or other suggestions here? Though you may have figured out the ways in which you learn best, push yourself to branch out into new ways of making sense of information. Try writing concise summaries of what you’ve read (challenge yourself to sum up the key points of chapter in a few sentences) or even using a spreadsheet to keep track new concepts you’re learning. The more ways of digesting information you have, the more versatile you’ll be in college and beyond.

Talk, Write or Sketch Out Your Thoughts
Talking to yourself has a number of benefits and can help develop your understanding. Explaining concepts and posing questions to yourself or to others requires you to more fully articulate your thoughts, which offer insight on where you’re struggling or getting stuck. If you’re not in a place where you can comfortably speak aloud, try putting your thoughts into words or pictures on a memo pad or whiteboard. If getting started with this strategy feels awkward, the Harvard Business Review article “Talking to Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn” has guidance that’s easy to put into action. Or start simple by first reaping the benefits of reading aloud

Maintain Momentum With The Zeigarnik Effect
Todd Henry, host of The Accidental Creative podcast, advises that we always determine a next action at the end of every work session; this way, you always know what you have to do next, preventing uncertainty from stalling out your progress when you try to get started again. For some assignments, your professors may give you instructions with clear steps to follow, but you can gain additional momentum by sketching out an idea of how you will work your way through these steps. In addition to providing clear direction, this advice taps into the power of the The Zeigarnik Effect, which Adam Grant describes in his TED Talk. Here’s the tl;dw: the mind keeps thinking about unfinished business. Todd Henry’s recommendation of lining up a thought-out next action can keep your mind considering how you’ll move forward in your coursework.

Track Your Efforts With a Work Progress Journal
Author and computer scientist Cal Newport suggests keeping a work progress journal to stay productive. It’s very easy and well worth the time. In a notebook, write down the tasks you plan to complete today, then at the end of the day,

  1. next to the completed tasks write done along with anything you want to make note of, and
  2. next to incomplete tasks write an explanation of why you didn’t complete them.

By making you more aware of your progress, this tool can help you celebrate your accomplishments and stay motivated; to paraphrase Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, nothing motivates like progress. It can also allow you diagnose a lack of progress; because you’re recording the reasons why you didn’t get accomplish certain tasks, the work progress journal gives you data to diagnosis what isn’t working.

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