A Guide to Studying Efficiently and Living A More Productive Life

Photo from Unsplash/Isaac Smith

The power of creating habits.

If there is one thing you want to remember from this guide, it should be this. Start creating good habits. Whether you want to start studying more, learn to play the piano, or go for morning runs, you have to start by making these tasks as routine as brushing your teeth. The first weeks, it will not be a simple task to open up your math book and solve equations at five in the morning. But if you persevere, it will eventually become second nature. Make sure to pick a specific timeslot for your objective and to find something that motivates you.

I was struggling with financial accounting when I started my undergraduate studies. My biggest motivation was the fear of having to repeat the year and, consequently, pay the tuition fees again. I decided to write my fears down on a piece of paper which I hung above my bed. Every morning when the alarm clock would ring, I would see that paper hanging on the wall and get out of bed.
Whatever motivates you, make sure to harness that energy.

In addition, you should identify and break bad habits. Many unproductive activities are not done out of sheer pleasure, but out of habit. Like many other students, I used to spend a large chunk of my evening watching Netflix. After I started diverting my time to more productive activities, I realized that I had only been watching Breaking Bad every evening because I had gotten so used to doing it! Try writing down how you spend your time for the next week. You might be surprised how much time you waste.

Find out what works for you.

Every person is more receptive to a certain type of learning. Some people, like myself, learn best by paraphrasing and writing down important information. Others are more likely to remember the material through audio or visual cues. While writing some key words down is a good start, recording yourself or making flashcards can also be very helpful.

One of my friends is a top student at his university. He studies by explaining the material to himself while recording what he is saying. Later, when doing chores or working out, he will listen to his own explanations again to make sure the information sticks. If you don’t know which type of learning works for you yet, don’t be afraid to try out new things. Be creative!

Use your study time strategically.

We have all been stuck on a certain task or problem set. And, more often than not, the solution still eludes us after multiple hours worth of attempts. While it is important to not give up at the first hindrance you encounter, it is also vital to pick your battles. Many of us have other responsibilities next to studying and don’t have the luxury to cram on one specific problem. Skip it for now, move on to your other tasks and return with a fresh mind later.

Another crucial point is that you learn the distinction between key information and supporting information. If you decide to make notes at home or in the lectures, don’t simply copy the slides or the book. Make sure you understand the essence of the lesson first. After that, you could proceed to write down the most important information only. I see many high school students (but even graduate and undergraduate students) wasting precious hours in an attempt to transfer all the information from the textbook to their notebooks. Don’t be that person.

Write down what you achieved or want to achieve.

This really helped me to stay motivated. Buy a nice-looking notebook at your local stationery store (or wherever people buy notebooks). You should write down two types of goals. Short-term and long-term goals. The former can be about cooking at least five healthy meals this week, sticking to your workout schedule, or visiting your grandma in the weekends. As for the latter, don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Do you want to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Write it down. Just make sure to take one step at a time. A goal this big should be divided into several other short-and-long-term objectives. Doing this will help you keep your eyes on the prize in times of weakness.

In addition, be proud of what you achieved. If you finally aced the GRE after multiple attempts, take your notebook and add it to your list of achievements. As the list becomes longer, your self-confidence and ambition will both start to grow.

Live a healthy life.

I have known several students who did all of the above and still failed to graduate in the end. These were all people who started to neglect the needs of their bodies and minds. You can’t expect to effectively retain information if you have only slept three hours. And no, caffeine does not substitute for a good night’s rest. Be sure to sleep enough, eat healthy meals and work out regularly.

Note how I mentioned body and mind. Maintaining good spiritual health is equally important to eating vegetables and practicing sports. This entails more than just avoiding things like depression. Make sure to meditate, go out with friends, and take some time for yourself every once in a while. Overloaded minds cannot absorb any more information and will eventually crash.

Get up very early.

During the second year of my undergraduate studies, I found myself in a very busy period, juggling multiple jobs and responsibilities next to my studies. When I found myself struggling to complete all my tasks and still have some time for myself, I started waking up at 4:30 AM. After a workout and some breakfast, I would start studying and prepare the classes I had to teach. When it was finally time for lunch, I had finished the largest chunk of my work while my peers were just starting to wake up! A, truly, incredible sensation.

Of course, not everyone has to opportunity to wake up so early. Regardless of the time you pick, be consistent (as mentioned before, build good habits). You will notice it gives your day more structure while also providing you with a sense of accomplishment.

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Adam Rybko

Adam Rybko

MSc Development Economics @ LSE. I’m a high-achieving graduate student who writes about productivity, university admissions, and financially smart collecting.