This following post is a presentation I gave not so long ago to Year 11s and 12s at the school I graduated from. I thought I’d share the transcript with you. I’ve changed it up a bit so it’s more blog-friendly. Enjoy!
Synopsis: A blueprint on being the ultimate effective student. A culminated manifesto cultivated from books, personal experiments and 5 months of my own experience. You know that triangle which consists of good grades, social life and sleep? They say you can only have two, well, I say you can have all three. Like a Bawss.
Note: I followed this plan until about the end of first semester of my tertiary studies. I then decided to go all out and maximize my GPA, which meant going beyond this plan. This blueprint works for those who’ve already settled into a degree they’ve decided to make a career out of. I do not condone laziness.
The Effective Student.
Being the effective student: how you can maximize output and results with minimal time and effort.
What I believe makes an effective student are three things: Mindset, Management and Energy.
You need to first re-think your thinking, correct your attitude. Define what you want. What kind of degree do you want? What profession do you want to have? What kind of career are you interested in. Find out what it is that drives you and stirs passion. Have laser focus on what you want. Vividly imagine yourself being what you aspire to be.
Once you know what you want, get down to the technical side of it. What ATAR do I need? Then you break it down further, what results do I need to get that ATAR?
Once you do this, I believe you’re half way there to being an effective student and achieving your goals.
So, before I get into the second part, I want to clear some misconceptions about studying:
- Time not spent studying is NOT time wasted. Get that out of you head. Doing less is NOT laziness.
- Consistent mental peak performance is IMPOSSIBLE. Don’t expect yourself to be always studying, focusing in class, getting stuff done. Energy and productivity are cyclical. You need to alternate periods of rest and productivity. We’ll talk more about this in the third section.
- Getting an 80+ ATAR is DEAD EASY. I know your teachers may scare you about that, but honestly, it’s really easy.
- Free time is AS important as study. You need rest and recover to study better.
Once you have your mindset, your thinking sorted, it’s time to design an infrastructure. A management plan that you will follow. That becomes your blueprint. A plan that brings you step by step closer to your goals.
The epitome of management is being effective. Being effective as opposed to being efficient.
Effectiveness is doing the right things which get you closer to your goals, that grade that you want for your next exam, or assignment. Efficiency is performing a task – even if it’s the most pointless task, in the most economical way possible. What you do, not how you do it that is often the determining factor. This is the difference between being effective – doing the right things, and being efficient – doing things well, whether or not they’re important.
Here’s one example. Doing all the questions in one chapter of your math textbook in one period is very efficient. But it’s not effective. Being effective is doing 5 questions in 10 minutes, then moving on the next chapter and repeating the process. (Notice how outcome is the objective here and not output. Outcome is scoring a high mark in that test. Output is getting through as much questions as possible, regardless of its contribution towards scoring high mark for that test).
Before I get into how you can be effective I want to share two points you should absolutley engrave into your mind:
- Doing something unimportant well does not make it important
- Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important
How can we be effective? There are 5 techniques:
- 80/20 Rule
- Parkinson’s Law
What is the 80/20 rule? The concept is simple: 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes. 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. 80% output comes from 20% input. What happens to the other 20% of results? They require the other 80% of your effort.
Identify what the critical few tasks are and disregard the rest. When you’re studying for an exam, you find out what books are most resourceful and most effective. Find out what topics come up most often in the exam. What type of questions are weighted highest. Focus on those and learn them well so that you absolutely KNOW for sure you will ace those parts.
[Here’s an old post where I explored the 80/20 Rule in more detail > https://ideasfortheyoungmuslim.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/how-i-learnt-effectiveness-from-juicing-lemons/%5D
Parkinson’s Law is this: the perceived complexity of a task will expand to fill the time allotted to it. What does that mean? Work expands to fill time. If I gave you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure will force you to focus on the essentials and forget the details. You’ll do the bare essentials, since you have no time for the details. If I gave you a week, it becomes harder and bigger in your mind to complete. The end product of the shorter deadline is almost always of equal or higher quality due to greater focus. Time is inversely proportional to focus. The more time you have, the less your focus is. The less time you have, the more focused you’ll become.
Use time to your advantage. Use Parkinson’s Law every time you study or do an assignment. The best way to use Parkinson’s Law is alongside the 80/20 Rule together:
- Limit what you do to the most essential and important, forget the rest (80/20 Rule)
- Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law)
If you use these 2 strategies together alone, the time you spend studying will actually drop by about 50% while your effective output and results will increase.
Identify the few critical tasks that contribute most to output and schedule them with very short and clear deadlines.
We waste time on things we don’t need to do. Bullcrap stuff to eat up time. To make us feel busy and efficient. Busyness. Shuffle some papers, organize your bag.
[I remember in school, people use to say ‘Oh man last night I studied 5 hours straight’. No you didn’t. Watching YouTube, checking Facebook, shuffling papers around and making sandwiches while throwing in a few 15-minute ‘study’ bursts here and there until you go to sleep doesn’t count as ‘5 hours straight’ of study. Claims like these are almost always exaggerated by at least 85%]
So what you do is you make a not-to-list. When you get home, write down a list of things you won’t do in the time that you study. For example you say in this 3 hour period: do not check facebook, do not leave room, do not internet surf. You can even use 80/20 rule here again by asking yourself what 20% of my activities is wasting 80% of my time. Once you eliminate the timewasters and distractions, it becomes very clear what you have to do.
With batching, you allow things to accumulate and you catch up rather than staying up-to-date. To get the big important things done, you postpone the little time wasters and distractions. For example, instead of checking Facebook every time you get a notification, you let them accumulate.
Once you batch things like email and Facebook, you’ll want to space them out even further. Maybe once a day, or once a week.
What batching does it’ll concentrate your tasks and group them, so that you have longer segments or blocks of time in which you carry out 1 thing. You’ll stay longer in the zone so you have greater focus to get study done in a shorter period of time.
There’s 2 things you’ll realise from batching:
- Most things you think are urgent and important aren’t urgent and important
- You’ll have peace of mind so you can get the important things done.
Those were the 4 time management techniques.
I feel that physical energy is closely linked to motivation, mental stamina and endurance. If you’re feeling tired all the time, sluggish, groggy, you feel hungry, that’s going to cut down on your motivation. If you have good physical energy levels, having the mental perseverance to study and to stay motivated becomes very easy.
What you need are 4 things:
- Rest Day
Sleep is by far the greatest energy source for your day. If you don’t have enough sleep, all your senses are maimed. You can’t think straight, you can’t focus, you don’t have the energy to move as much. So you pay less attention in class and when you get home you feel groggy and tired and you don’t study.
How can you maximize energy with sleep? Two things:
- Sleep exactly 8 hours per day, not more, not less.
- The Sweet spot: Go to sleep 10.00 pm, and wake up around 6 am. Pray Fajr and don’t go to sleep after that. [Fajr is at around 5.30 am now]
If you study effectively, you shouldn’t be staying up later than 10.30 pm max. If you’re studying 1 am at night, it shows you don’t have proper management.
Next is BREAKFAST.
You’ve probably heard this a lot… because it’s true. From personal experience when I’ve skipped breakfast, I’ve had headaches in the afternoon. Breakfast is more important than lunch or dinner. Food = energy. No food = no energy. It’s simple. No energy means you can’t focus in the morning and so your attention span drops.
Third is EXERCISE.
If you want to become smarter, literally, the secret is to exercise. What can exercise can do:
- Improves brain function, makes you smarter, faster, sharper
- Relieves stress and releases endorphins, making you happy
- Gives you more energy, eliminates lethargy
With exercise I mean a structured plan that you follow weekly.
The easiest and best exercise I’ve found is running. Just do a 10 minute run around the block. Do this 4-5 times a week and you’ll notice a euphoria feeling straight after. It clears your thoughts and puts things in perspective.
The Last technique is REST DAY.
Consistent mental peak performance is impossible. Energy and productivity are cyclical. They go up and down.
Take one day off where you completely forget that you’re a student. Don’t do any school related things. Do anything other than study. Play some games, help around the house. Hang with you friends. This gives your mind a break so that when you get down to work the next day, you feel rejuvenated. If you think one day is too long, do half a day.
For example, take the whole Saturday off. Or take Friday after school off. But make sure that it’s a planned ahead. Tell your family and yourself that you are taking a day off, so you don’t feel guilty if you don’t study. Tell yourself: I’m not doing anything today.
What rest day does is 2 things:
- Helps you rest and recover
- Gives you something to look forward to during the week
However there’s one condition. Rest day only works if you work your butt off during the week. Focus hard during the week, be switched on. Then completely switch off during this day.
[This is what happened when I tried to go all out for 1 week: https://ideasfortheyoungmuslim.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/rise-week-the-1-week-mental-peak-performance-challenge/%5D
If you do these things consistently, you’ll be consistently performing. And you hopefully won’t crash and burn.
Those were my tips, I hope you learnt something and good luck with the rest of your studies.
Phew! That was a long read. If you’ve made it this far, I thank you.