Although we might still have the archetypal view of college life involving keg parties, frat houses and last-minute panics when a paper’s due, many of us integrate our studying into the rest of our lives. Whether you’re taking a PhD over many years or simply learning a foreign language before your trip this summer, your studying is going to take up time – and it needs to fit into your life.
If you’re struggling to find space for studying along with everything else, here’s how to make sure you have the time to study and to live:
Step 1: Look at the Big Picture
How much have you got going on in your life right now? What might you need to give up in order to have time to study?
We often end up too busy, trying to “have it all” or trying to life-hack our lives so that we keep stacking up achievements. Often, though, just cutting back on our commitments a little can make life a lot more relaxed and straightforward.
Do you need to put some of your goals or activities aside, for a time? What can wait for a few months or years?
Step 2: Look at Your Weekly Schedule
Once you’ve taken a long-range view of your life, narrow in on your weekly schedule. What regular commitments do you have? (Perhaps you work 8-4 each day, you take your kids out every Saturday afternoon, and you’re in church each Sunday morning.)
What gaps of time do you have free for studying? If you can, find times when you’re easily able to concentrate: if you’re a “morning person” then use that! You may be able to adjust your schedule slightly to suit your best studying hours – for instance, if you normally do chores on Saturday mornings but you also study best between 8am and 11am, then can you switch to doing chores during your “slump” time in the afternoon?
(If you’re not sure what times of day are your best hours for working, try the Productivity Heatmap from Productive Flourishing)
It’s particularly crucial to identify regular times for studying if you don’t have any regular deadlines – perhaps if you’re learning purely for your own interest, or if you’re working on a very long term goal like a PhD. Building studying into your schedule will help ensure that you don’t let it slide week after week.
Step 3: Have a Good Space for Studying
No-one can study effectively with the television on, clutter everywhere and no space to spread out books and papers. Having a good space for your studying means making sure that you’re somewhere which gives you the physical conditions that help you to concentrate.
That might mean:
- Using a particular room in your house to study (and closing the door while you’re hitting the books)
- Going to your local library, or if you’re enrolled at a college or other academic institution, using facilities there
- Asking a friend to let you use a room in his/her house at the weekend, if you find it hard to work undisturbed in your own home
- Heading out to a coffee shop with your books – or even sitting in your car to study!
Step 4: Learn Good Study Habits
If you’re going to study and live a full life, you’ll want to use your studying time as effectively as possible. That means developing good habits: not just to help you concentrate and avoid distractions, but also to make sure you’re not spending hours and hours doing something in an ineffective way.
There are lots of books aimed at students who want to improve their studying: your college or local library should be able to point you towards useful resources (e.g. on essay writing or exam technique).
The University Blog has great advice about all aspects of the student experience, but focuses particularly on studying well.
Step 5: Figure Out How You Learn Best
Some of us are kinetic learners – we like to do things, and we’re more likely to remember something if we’ve learnt it in an active way. Others are auditory learners – we have great recall for things we’ve heard. And others are visual learners – taking extensive written notes and using diagrams to understand a new concept.
In fact, most of us will find that we can learn in all those ways, but we’ll have a marked preference for one or another. I know that I personally much prefer to read a book than listen to it – but I know several people who find audio books a far better match for their way of learning.
Don’t struggle along with a technique that isn’t right for you, just because it’s how your friend, partner or colleague learns best. If you know what style suits you, then try to focus your studying on that; if you’re not sure, try out different techniques.
If you’re fitting studying of some description into your life, how are you doing it? What structures or habits are helping you?