How Your Study Habits are Setting You up to Fail

The air will soon be filled with the pleasures of autumn: pumpkin spice lattes, wet multicolored leaves, apple pie, and the tears of 500 freshman in the library as they realize that reading five chapters the day before the exam will not garner them an A or B.  Luckily for you, there’s still enough time before the storm of midterms strikes for you to be able to put to rest your guilt of not reading anything for three of your classes yet.  It’s okay, we’ve all been there.  Here’s your guide to batten down the hatches before your Calc II professor sinks your grades.

It’s All About Scheduling

My biggest secret weapon is to schedule everything.  Some people claim that bullet journaling or an agenda is best, but I suggest using Google Calendar to put in all of your events.  Classes, meetings, work, appointments, travel, writing, study time and even relaxation: it all has a place.  Seeing everything laid out in front of me is extremely illuminating, because I know exactly what time I have—it makes me more productive.  I recommend this video for more on how to best utilize your calendar and your time.

Get Your Ass Out of Bed

Some people swear by staying up all night to finish readings because they don’t have class until 2 PM, but I promise you, this doesn’t work.  Bright light late at night can negatively impact your mood because it affects your circadian rhythms.  Sleeping late into the day and staying up late increases the risk of depression and irritability. Keeping the same sleep schedule is important, as well as having a set morning and nighttime routine.  Sticking to a calendar blocking technique (see the video linked above) can help to stabilize these routines.  Getting up early does purely—in the truest form of the word—suck at first, but I promise it’s worth it.

Location, Location, Location

I suggest studying during the day with lots of natural light.  This could be next to your window or in a library on campus with big windows.  If you decide to study at home, do not sit directly in front of your window, but rather facing a wall with a clear space.  This will limit distractions.  Also try to study in a room that is not your bedroom (and especially not on your bed), as this can confuse your body and your circadian rhythms.  Keep your desk space clear, as it is a reflection of your inner mind.  A cluttered desk increases anxiety and stress. On Pitt’s campus, I suggest the Frick Fine Arts Library.  It’s extremely quiet and almost never busy.  Another thing to look for in the pursuit of a study space is the level of noise.  Pick somewhere that won’t drive you bonkers.  For me, I prefer silent study rooms.  If you have to study in somewhere with chatter, try listening to study music: instrumentals with little or no lyrics.  I suggest this playlist.  Many people also enjoy soundtracks or nature sounds.  I also suggest listening to music that you do not know, as even listening to an instrumental version of your favorite song can be distracting.

The Importance of Balance

Don’t try to force yourself to sit down and study for four hours straight.  Nobody can do that, unless their plan is to drive themselves insane.  Just like meals, break your studying sessions into manageable time slots throughout your day.  Break them up between classes, going to the gym, working on a painting, and grabbing coffee with a friend.  Attention and retention of information is best in focused, 25-30 minute sessions. Use this app to help you stay focused and off your phone; it gives you rewards for the amount of time you stay focused that transfer into planting real trees. 

For a complete life overhaul that can also improve your focus and motivation, check out this article

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Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5