“Diffused light has very little power, but you can concentrate the energy of light by focusing it. When rays of light from the sun pass through a magnifying glass, the light is focused and now has the power to set fire to paper or grass. When light is focused further, such as in the beam of a light from a laser, it can cut through steel.”
– Jack D. Hodge from The Power of Habit
As we approach the end of the year and consequently, the end of the semester, most students have one thing weighing heavily on their minds – EXAMS.
Ever wondered how some students manage to score so well every time? Sometimes its the unfair advantage of ridiculous pure intellect. Most of the time, I believe the majority of average Joes who do well simply found a way to be more productive.
Here are my top strategies to maximize productivity and score:
1. Miracle Mornings
There is a book by Hal Elrod about creating your own miracle mornings but I’m not referring to that here.
For me, early mornings are when I become a productivity machine! Recently, I found that sleeping as early as 7/8pm and waking around 3am gave me at least 5 hours of solid work time before the day even begins. It is at these ungodly hours when everyone is asleep that peace, serenity and focus prevail. Our willpower and motivation is at its highest and as long as you keep distractions to a minimum (yes, airplane mode your phone and resist the urge to check social media), I guarantee you will be amazed at the stupendous amount of work you can accomplish during these miracle mornings.
It also helps to set an Intention for your morning. This can be as simple as writing down on a piece of paper what you want to accomplish within these few hours and sticking it on the wall in front of your study desk/area. This helps you commit 100% to achieving this goal and pay attention to the times when you get distracted which brings me to the next topic…
2. Mini Study-Breaks
This is a powerful strategy to give your overworked neurons a rest and re-energize your system but it can backfire in a million ways. We’ve all done this before:
“I’m just going to check Facebook for 10 minutes.”
Before you know it, 45 minutes have past.
“Let me just take a 20 minute power nap.”
“Oh crap! I slept for 2.5 hours?!!”
Yeap trust me, it happens to everyone. But how do we minimize such undesirable occurrences?
- Find your optimum work-rest ratio. According to this article by themuse, the most productive people work for 52 minutes and rest 17 minutes. Other variations include the Pomodoro technique of working 25 mins and resting 5 mins. Personally I used to follow a 30 minute work 5 minute rest ratio strictly but found that I could become so absorbed in what I was doing that 30 minutes was too short. So now I just continue working until I detect signs of fatigue or a slowing down in thought processes – all indicative of reduced productivity. This usually amounts to 45-60 minutes of work and around 10 minutes of rest.
- Avoid distracting breaks. Ah, the irony… But it goes without saying, avoid anything that will tempt you into procrastination or cause you to lengthen your breaks unnecessarily. I definitely do not recommend checking your messages or social media feed. Leave that for after your allocated study block during the rest of your day like when you are waiting for the bus to school. Instead, I engage in relaxing or meditating activities like meditation, self-myofascial massage (Foam rolling), yoga, , working on my handstands or simply taking a walk.
3. Stay active
This ties in with the part on moving about during your rest breaks. When you sit for extended periods of time, blood circulation is minimized and that affects our ability to stay focused. Consequently, we may feel tired or sleepy more often than we’d like.
Try this experiment:
- Measure your hear-rate at the start of your study session.
- Measure it again after 30 mins of sitting
- Try studying standing up for 5-10mins and take another measurement
I guarantee you your HR while standing will be higher than your sitting one.
Ever since I started standing while studying, I find that I don’t feel mentally fatigued as easily and I attribute this to better blood circulation. At the moment, I simply use a pile of thick books to raise the height of my laptop but am considering getting an adjustable desk-raiser like the varidesk and eventually, a treadmill desk whenever my finances allow.
CAUTION: If you do decide to start standing while studying, do it progressively. I started out with 5 mins of standing and 15 mins of sitting. Then gradually lengthened the amount of time spent standing while shortening my sitting time. These days I have built enough strength in my legs to stand for hours but I still give them a break during my study breaks. Always listen to your body and sit the moment your legs feel sore.
4. Healthy Habits
- Exercise: Try to get a daily exercise habit going. I exercise for a myriad of reasons. From de-stressing and distraction from your worries, to having some fitness goals to work towards. Over the years, I realize that exercise (or physical activity in general) is indispensable. When I feel physically fit and strong, it translates to other areas in my life like a more stable emotional state, better mood, quality of sleep, creativity, confidence and outlook in life. Starting and sticking to an exercise plan you enjoy is one of the most powerful self-improvement habit in my opinion.
- Nutrition: Even more than exercise, I feel that nutrition is the most important factor impacting our mental and physical performance. We get almost all the energy we need from our diet. Like the old adage goes, “You are what you eat.” If we eat 3 meals a day, that’s 21 meals a week, 84 meals a month, 1008 meals a year, 80,640 meals a lifetime (assuming one lives up 80 years of age). And that is not even counting how large our meal portions are or how often we snack. Thus doesn’t it make sense that if you were to stuff yourself with ‘junk’ food, you would feel ‘crappy’? And no, eating sweet deserts does not make you any sweeter…
In our modern world, we are surrounded with an abundance of highly palatable foods, not to mention the countless of diets available out there offering a quick-fix to your weight problems. How do you decide on what to eat to improve your productivity?
The best and simplest advice I can give in this short paragraph is to always choose whole foods over processed ones. The kind of stuff that grows on trees and roams free in the wild rather than the artificial ones made in labs that come packaged in boxes and taste too good to be true.
For a more in-depth discussion on nutrition, here’s a post I wrote recently when I decided to go on a quest to find out exactly what kind of diet we Homo Sapiens have naturally evolved over millions of years to eat.
- Sleep: In card terminology, if nutrition is King and exercise is Queen, sleep would be the Jack. Nothing is as rejuvenating as a solid 8 hours of sleep after a productive day. At the moment I haven’t written anything on biohacking sleep but here, here, here and here are some good resources, many of which I currently use to improve the quality of my sleep too.
5. Enjoying Evenings
After a hard day’s work, it doesn’t make sense to work even harder at night does it?
That’s why I reserve my evenings to just chilling out and engaging in activities I love like blogging, catching up on my favorite TV series or movies I’ve missed and spending time with family and friends. It helps to plan your day such that the important stuff is done by the afternoon so that the evening can be spent unwinding and relaxing. After all, life is about balance right?
Of course, there are many more study tips and tricks such as forming a study group, using study tools like making flashcards and utilizing memory techniques etc etc. However, the focus of this post is to help you optimize your productivity.
So in summary, wake up early, set an intention for your morning, avoid all distractions, take study breaks when necessary, stay active, develop healthy exercise, nutrition and sleeping habits and enjoy your evenings 😉