It's time for another way to level up your learning game! You're obviously already well prepared for your next exam period because you've read my last post on The Three Principles of Effective Learning.
Amazing. It was on a pretty meta level though. So let's break things down further and take a look on how to craft your perfect study week.
Why? It's dead simple. Taking the time to structure your week in advance greatly simplifies your life.
Did you know, that Barack Obama never picked out an outfit in the morning? That's because Decision Fatigue is a real thing.
Every time you make a decision, you pay for it with mental energy. And the more we spend our energy on questions like: "what will I practice today?", the less we have to tackle our actual work.
Besides, it will make sure that you don't lose track of what's important when time get's tight.
Sure, on an abstract level it is easy to welcome effective study techniques. They got science behind them, they make intuitively sense and they promise you great results. What's not to love?
But when it's t-3 weeks before the exams and stuff keeps piling up, it is tempting to forget all good intentions and go back to mindlessly re-reading your notes, staying up late to finish one more page and to prioritize that one niche topic over practicing the actual exam work.
That's why we set up a system in advance.
Crafting your study week is like a puzzle. You got the puzzle pieces and you got a puzzle board. Putting them together once you understand both those things and the rules of the game is rather easy. The trick is to actually think it through once, instead of playing Jenga with all of it.
First, our pieces. That's the work you do in any given week. While everyone's pieces will look slightly different, we can distinguish between four types of pieces: the four key elements of learning:
Each one of these pieces deserves it's own dedicated blog post, so here, we can only scratch the surface. The most important aspects you need to keep in mind are:
A good puzzle, just as a good routine, lives from a sufficient balance between pieces. Sure, that all-black-puzzle looks like a fun challenge. But it's similarly hard to pass your exams if you just try to internalize things as it is to solve this crazy puzzle here.
So always remember (particularly in the beginning!): Never omit Understanding and Practicing for First Exposure and Internalizing. They all work hand in hand.
Take a piece of paper and do the following (10 min)
I'll take a detailed look at Knowledge Trees, Mindmapping, the Feynman Technique, The Revision Timetable, The Pomodoro Technique & Drills next time. Sign up to my newsletter to make sure you get it!
Once you figured out the pieces, you need to focus on the board: yourself. Your puzzle pieces can't be placed everywhere equally. This is a next-level puzzle, not your oldschool kindergarden stuff.
Do you actually know when you work best?
We all have phases of higher and lower mental energy throughout the day. And for the most part, it would be much more efficient to accommodate to this instead of fighting it with energy drinks and the like.
Take another piece of paper aaaaand...
If you have no idea how to fill this out, then keep an Energy Journal for one or two regular work days. Start with the same sketch of the day and fill in each part as you go through it.
Most important thing here is honesty. It's okay if your day can only start at 12 o'clock. Fill in how you feel, not how you think you should.
We got the pieces. We got the board. Time to play.
Ultimately, no one can tell you how your perfect week looks like. So instead of giving you a recipe that is to be followed to the point, I'll give you some general techniques to apply:
There are generally two ways to schedule your work. You either focus on input or on output.
Output focus is the way we typically approach things. Output is about setting goals and measuring how well you achieve them.For studying, that would mean to break down in advance what you want to achieve in a given day. You could simply add up all pages you need to read and divide them by the number of days. Or divide the question sets that need revision into daily chunks.
DOs and DON'Ts
Pro: easily track progress, reward yourself for efficient working,
Input focus on the other hand puts your time first. Instead of working toward a goal, you work for a specific time.You can set this up without much advance planning. How many hours a day are you able to work at least semi-productive? That's the time you have available to use as study time. Just block it in your calendar, and you're good to go.
DOs and DON'Ts
Pro: easy to set up, fixed schedule helps with creating habits, more flexible to adapt if the things you need to work on change suddenly
Which one to choose? I'll write in debt about them soon, but for now, this should be a good starting point for you to pick one:
When it comes to topics, there are again two main approaches: you can either work en block on a specific topic or interweave them. While the first aspect was more of a personal choice, we got some pretty good scientific pointers for this one. The answer? It depends:
This one is a no-brainer, but it's worth to quickly consider whether you act accordingly: are you doing the most intense work during times of high energy?
In my opinion, this is how the four key elements are structured in terms of required Energy Level (from high to low)
Understanding > First Exposure > Practice > Internalizing
That's not to say that you should try to internalize things while you are at your all-day energy low point - that's the time where you take a break. But maybe don't spend your most productive time going through flashcards, when you could finally figure out instead why you need to learn them in the first place.
There is one exception to this rule: the eat-the-frog-principle:
Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day - Mark Twain
If there is a thing on your to-do list that you either (a) really really don't want to do or (b) always forget, try doing it first.
Abort mission quickly, if that means you start your day four hours later than usual, because you really really really don't want to do it.
Time to reiterate my memento mori: you don't have unlimited energy.
If your work schedule is all work, then it won't work. It's that simple. So make sure to plan sufficient breaks inbetween sessions. Have a low point after lunch? Take a nap, go out for a walk, play some videogames (if you can stop after "some") or work out. Meditate. Read my blog. Really anything, but don't "power through". While you might be able to do that occasionally, it won't be a sustainable habit.
Your energy resembles resembles a bank account (s/o to Scott Young). You can only continue to withdraw if you fill it up from time to time.
Everyone is different, so there is no "fit-all" approach. Take five minutes and quickly brainstorm:
Here's some inspiration:
And with this, I leave you to it. Take that piece of paper and go through these steps to set yourself up for success.Next time, we'll take a look at individual study techniques. Sign up below to get notified and never miss out!
You want more resources on how to improve your learning, waste less time and get more out of your study sessions? Check out the Effective Learning Hub.