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Time management

  1. Plans
  2. Productive study

Productive study

Sometimes it’s hard to focus on study. Your productivity and ability to concentrate will be improved if you get into good study habits.

Avoid procrastination

We often procrastinate because a task feels too overwhelming, boring or difficult.

The best way to stop procrastinating is to break down a big task into manageable chunks. Focus on one small task and take action.

For example, an essay requires you to do a series of steps:

  1. Understand the question.
  2. Brainstorm your ideas.
  3. Look for reference material in the library catalogue, journal databases and Google Scholar.
  4. Skim-read reference material (abstract, introduction, conclusion, headings).
  5. Make an essay plan.
  6. Read reference material in detail and take notes.
  7. Write a first draft.
  8. Write a second draft.
  9. Edit and proofread.
  10. Submit your essay.

If any of these steps feel too big, break them down further. For example, step 3 above involves these mini-steps:

  1. Find out if there are any required or recommended readings for the assignment (and check your unit of study readings for relevant material).
  2. Brainstorm key search terms to enter into a catalogue.
  3. Enter the key search terms into the catalogue.
  4. Write down call numbers of books to locate.
  5. Click on links to online journal articles.
  6. Borrow, photocopy, save or print relevant reference material.

Even if you naturally do these steps, it can help to write them down if you have a tendency to procrastinate. The small steps are less daunting than the larger tasks, and can help you to get started.

Also set yourself a time limit. Small mini-steps set to short timeframes work best. What can you achieve in the next 30 minutes? With practice, you’ll be good at setting realistic timeframes.

Be gentle on yourself and remember that doing something is better than nothing. Start with just one small step.

Read about the negative cycle of procrastination and how you can change your mindset (pdf, 86KB).

Get organised

  • Keep reading notes and lecture notes separately.
  • Use different folders for each unit of study.
  • Make sure you have all the study aids you need close by, such as a dictionary, textbooks and calculator.
  • Make summaries of your notes for quick revision.

Create a suitable study environment

  • Choose an environment that suits you. Most people prefer quiet study environments, either at home or in a library. Some people need background music, while others need background noise and work best at a cafe or in the busier areas of the library.
  • Make sure your chair is comfortable.
  • Start work with a clear desk. If needed, set a timer for five minutes and do a speed clean before you study.
  • Your study area should be well lit to avoid straining your eyes.
  • Check the temperature in your study environment – if it’s too warm, you may get sleepy. Fresh air will keep you alert.

Change your habits to help concentrate

  • While you study, turn off notifications on your phone and computer and stay off social media. Set your mobile to silent and move it away from your desk.
  • Tell friends and family you’re studying and can’t be disturbed for a while.
  • Establish a routine by studying at the same times every day.
  • Exercise before and between study sessions.
  • Study for 50 minutes and have a 10-minute break every hour.

When everything takes longer than it should

There are a number of reasons why things take longer than you think they should.

Too much researching

You may be doing too much reading because you don’t want to miss key ideas or you don’t feel ready to start writing.

If you’ve understood the question reasonably well, it’s very unlikely you’ll miss a key idea. Normally two or three relevant readings will be enough to become aware of the main issues. From there, you can supplement your main ideas with other readings. By skim reading a text first, you can gauge whether an article will be 'highly relevant', 'moderately relevant' or 'slightly relevant' to your purposes.

As you read, develop an outline of your answer to the question. This will provide a balanced overview of the issues you need to address, how much space you can devote to them given the word limit, and when you can stop researching.

Too much planning

There is often a temptation to create the perfect plan before you start writing. While it’s a good idea to know where you’re going before you start, it’s not necessary to include every detail in your plan. Flexibility is part of the writing process.

Too much rewriting

Excessive redrafting of your work can be unnecessarily time-consuming. It’s usually better to aim for a rough first draft to get the major issues and arguments down on paper, followed by a second (and possibly third) draft to re-shape your work. After that, you should only be doing minor editing and proofreading.

Too many distractions

External distractions can slow you down when you’re studying. Multitasking is also unhelpful; aim to do one thing at a time.

Too much studying

Things might be taking too long because you’re studying in an inefficient way. Rather than ‘chaining yourself’ to your desk and working continuously over long periods, break up your study into chunks and have frequent short breaks. Reward yourself when you achieve goals. Find out more about how to use your time efficiently.

Resources

This material was developed by the Learning Centre, who offer workshops, face-to-face consultations and resources to support your learning. Find out more about how we can help you develop your communication, research and study skills.

See our handouts on Managing your time (pdf, 229KB), Understanding yourself (pdf, 1.2MB) and Using planners and plans (pdf, 2.1MB).

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Last updated: 20 September 2019

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