School is a very demanding thing to commit to. Throw a job and an attempt at a social life into the mix and you may begin to wonder how you manage to find time to eat and sleep! However, throughout all the madness, I’ve found three helpful tips that help with time management and productivity. This is key to making the school-work-life balancing act run a little more smoothly.
1. Take study breaks!
It may be tempting to work continuously for long periods of time in an effort to maximize production. However this strategy proves to be ineffective. According to an article by Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, you get the best output-time ratio by taking breaks approximately every hour. He explains that “…the most productive employees don’t necessarily work the longest hours. Instead, they take the smartest approach to managing their energy to solve tasks in efficient and creative ways”.
In economics there is the concept of the Law of Diminishing Returns. The law states that when increasing an input, after a certain time, the marginal output will decrease. The incremental addition in output actually lessens as you continue to utilize more units of input, everything else being held constant.
Let’s identify time as our input, divided into 10 minute intervals, with knowledge retention being our output. 20 minutes of (continuous) study may result in five percent knowledge retention. 30 minutes may lead to ten percent – a marginal increase of five percentage points. 40 minutes of studying causes you to retain 20 percent of the information – a ten point increase. However, after we peak at 50 minutes where we retain 35 percent of what we’re studying, our marginal productivity begins to fall. At 60 minutes of continuous study we only gain five percentage points. At 70 minutes we gain zero. And finally at 80 minutes we might hit the negative mark and we may retain less than we did at the 70 minute mark due to burn-out!
The take away from this is that you should not feel guilty about stepping back, closing the books and cleansing your mental palette. Breaks are not to be neglected, but encouraged and properly scheduled into your study sessions. It not only preserves your sanity, but it maximizes productivity. The more productive our study sessions are, the more time we have to do other things like spend time with friends and family or relax after a long day at work
2. Fight the “instant-gratification monkey”
Procrastination is what I like to call ‘the silent killer of time’ because we usually don’t know it’s happening until the hours have passed away – pun very much intended. But despite how universal the problem of procrastination seems to be, advice centering on how to fight procrastination is typically inadequate. The advice is often some variant of “Just do it”. This approach is similar to telling an alcoholic, who is seeking advice on how to be freed from his addiction, to simply stop drinking alcohol. It’s not very helpful.
This article, however, does an excellent job explaining the cause of procrastination. The author uses characters such as the instant-gratification monkey to represent our desire to indulge in the now and forget about the future. He describes procrastination as playing in the dark playground – undeserved guilty leisure. He writes about entering the dark woods (the act of starting whatever it is that you’re avoiding) as the path to the happy playground – earned fulfilling leisure. Alternatively, the dark woods may lead to flow where one finds themselves so blissfully involved with the work they are doing that their work essentially becomes a happy playground equivalent.
If you ever find yourself avoiding what you know you should be doing, give this article a read. Being aware of the reasons why we procrastinate can be a very useful tool in combating it.
3. Keep track of how you are spending your days.
Another thing I’ve found particularly helpful is the act of tracking your activities. You may be surprised to see how your time is actually being divided – I know I was. I now keep monthly posters on my wall documenting how much time I’m dedicating to my classes and desired skills. The first couple months’ results were abysmal. I spent a very small percentage of my free time on these activities, but thanks to my record-keeping I can see the problem and fix it. I wouldn’t have been able to improve on it otherwise. To the student who wants to manage their time better and find balance, time logging is a must.
I hope you find these tips useful. A conscious effort needs to be made towards getting the most out of our education while still tending to our other commitments. It may be difficult but it’s certainly possible. I wish you all the best of luck. And until next time, happy studying!
Celine is studying for the BSc Economics in Chicago.