What really separates the highly productive from the rest? Learn the differences between Classical and Modern students’ time management philosophies, and how you may be doing the opposite of what you should.
Table Of Contents
- Results vs. Process | Instead of focusing on completion, ask yourself how the task can be best completed.
- Study Session Length | Break study sessions up into chunks to maintain a high level of intensity.
- Study Location | Break free from self-imposed study location restrictions.
- Study Times | Study when you have the highest energy levels and you’re least likely to be distracted.
- Memorization Schedule | Expose yourself to the material multiple times over time in shorter bursts.
- Information Prioritization | Learn to ignore material you’ve already learned.
- Multi-tasking | Don’t. Actively prevent micro-distractions such as replying to a Facebook messages.
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1. Results vs. Process
The fundamental difference between Classical and Modern Students is their focus on results vs. process. When Classical Students start studying, they set goals such as “I need to finish [task]” or “I need to memorize [thing]”, whereas Modern Students set goals such as “How do I maximize the next 15 minutes” or “What can I do to get the most done in the next 30 minutes.”
Here’s why this is important.
If a Classical Students take 1 hour to complete a task that realistically takes 15 minutes (because 45 minutes were spent watching cat videos), he would still regard the session as a success, because the task was ultimately completed. However, if a Modern Student takes 30 minutes to complete the same task, he would consider it a failure, because more than half of the time was wasted.
Furthermore, the Modern Student will be driven to identify what went wrong and apply the lesson to future sessions, resulting in a constant improvement in the process.
So, next time you start a study session, don’t list what you will do. Instead, ask yourself how much you can finish in that time, and how you will accomplish it.
2. Study Session Length
Modern Students often study in short bursts of intense focus, because they understand their ability to maintain focus deteriorates after ~30 minutes. By taking breaks between short and intense study sessions, they allow themselves to re-energize and process the information they learned subconsciously.
|Description||Studies in long sessions of one hour or more|
|Description||Studies in 20 to 30 minute bursts|
Both students spend 120 minutes total (including study + break time), but the Modern Student will have studied more intensively by breaking up his study sessions with short breaks.
Note: This doesn’t mean that Modern Students don’t do long sessions. In fact, they may do intense 4-hour long sessions without any breaks when they’re particularly engaged with their work. However, they’re much more sensitive to their ability to focus. Once they notice a decline in their focus, they won’t keep trying to study, because they know they’ll get more done by taking a break and coming back to it.
3. Study Location
Modern Students have a more open mind about when and where they can study. Classical Students only consider certain places appropriate for studying, restricting themselves from studying when the conditions are not met.
|Description||Studies exclusively in a few designated locations.|
|Description||Is comfortable studying in a wider range of locations and situations.|
By being more open to studying between activities in unusual places, Modern Students allow themselves to space out their studying, which is a proven method of storing information in long-term memory. This also reduces the barriers to studying, making it more difficult to find excuses to avoid studying.
If you don’t already use a cloud-based note or document application, start now! Microsoft One Note is my preferred note-taking application. Best of all, it’s free and can be synced between any laptop, cellphone and tablet. In this way, you don’t have to carry around your notebook and textbooks to study. You can do it anywhere and anytime you have your smartphone.
There are other many other ways to make your studying habits more portable.
- Listen to podcasts onto your iPod or smartphone
- Keep a cheat sheet of review notes in your wallet or pocket
- Carry a copy of the key pages of your textbook in your wallet
- Use the internet on your phone to do research on unanswered questions
4. Study Times
Highly productive people make sure to study and work during the most effective hours of the day. If you examine the work schedule of famous businessmen and academics, you’ll see a very high percentage wake up early in the morning and finish most of their work before lunch. This is because they realize that they can get more done in 1 hour in a high-energy state than 3 hours in a low-energy state. They also understand that certain periods of the day are high in stimulus and purposely avoid those times. For example, between 6 pm and 11 pm, your friends are more likely to be active on social media and may try to contact you and popular TV programs are likely to be showing.
|Description||Mostly studies in the evening.|
|Description||Often studies early in the morning, late at night and at odd times.|
This doesn’t mean that the best time to study for you is also early in the morning. It depends on your lifestyle, schedule and personality. Take a moment to think about when you have the most energy and you’re the least likely to get distracted. If you typically start studying after 6 hours of school, 2 hours of sports and 2 hours of video games, you are sabotaging your productivity.
Optimal Memorization Times
- Early Morning – It is much easier to memorize things early in the morning, because your mind has not yet been burdened with all the information and stress you accumulate throughout the day.
- Late at Night – Information obtained right before sleep is much more likely to be transferred into your long-term memory.
- Right After Class – Reviewing the material that was covered shortly before solidifies the concepts in your mind. It’s also the best time to review since you don’t have to deal with re-learning things you might have forgotten if you delay it until later.
5. Memorization Schedule
Modern Students intuitively understand the Spacing Effect. That is, the proven concept that humans learn things more easily by studying them repeatedly over a long span of time, rather than studying them intensively over a short span of time.
|Description||Studies the material deeply once, then reviews the material when required (for an exam).|
|Description||Previews the material shallowly, then reviews the material periodically.|
Both students will have spent 120 minutes studying over the course of 7 days, but the Modern Student will have a much better understanding of the material at the end of the 7 days.
6. Information Prioritization
Modern Students intuitively understand that it’s better to spend more time on difficult concepts instead of reviewing easy concepts. It may seem obvious, but actually ignoring information you don’t need to study is more difficult than it sounds.
|Description||Allocates time based on importance and efficacy|
Review for a Test
Lets say you want to review the course material for a test. A Classical Student will go through all their notes, from beginning to end. However, a Modern Student may skip half of the question, because they’re too easy to waste time on, then will spend the remaining focusing exclusively on the most difficult and important questions.
Modern Students are mono-taskers. That is, they don’t multi-task when they study, because they know it dramatically reduces productivity and memory retention. In fact, they actively prevent micro-distractions (e.g. a Facebook message) by taking measures as drastic as temporarily blocking distracting websites.
|Description||Switches between tasks frequently|
|Description||Only works on a single activity at a time, without the distraction of other things|
Here is a list of the main reasons why multi-tasking doesn’t work:
- Concentration – You may believe you can do two things simultaneously just as well, but this is a myth. Most people think they can text and drive safely, but statistically texting and driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving.
- Set-up cost – Every time you switch, you have to set yourself up again for that activity (e.g. find your place in the book and recall what you just learned)
- Momentum – By abruptly switching, you lose your train of thought and any momentum you may have built up
- Speed – Your ability to process important information is reduced by constant interruption
- Stress – Having multiple things on your mind at the same time leads to a sense of uneasiness
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