Time Saving Study Rules
Principles To Practice:
Work expands to the time allotted for it.
This adage was first coined by economist Cyril Parkinson and is important for college students to fully understand. While at school, it may seem like you have an endless supply of free time to spend. If you don’t structure your time, menial tasks like doing laundry can turn into a weekend long Netflix binges.
Have you ever felt that when you’re playing a sport or working a part time job that you get your schoolwork completed more efficiently ? One caveat here is that some school activities are very time consuming and are hurtful to being more productive. If you’re overcommitted with a school club or job that sucks all your time up, there is really no way to get meaningful work done with too much time pressure. Otherwise, having an activity that provides added structure to your time causes it to become more scarce in your daily schedule, and thus forces you to be use your spend your time more wisely.
Endless free time over the summer results with pretty much nothing being accomplished. “I have sooo much time….I’ll just do that next week” is a prime example of a student’s summer mentality.
In order to implement Parkinson’s Law into your life as a student, you need to set timed deadlines to finish an activity. For example: “Today, from 3pm-5pm I will work on and FINISH my physics homework.”
Scheduling to finish an assignment or task in a time specific frame increases your focus and likelihood you’ll actually get it done. Be realistic with yourself though. Don’t say ” I’m going to start and finish my Computer Science project from 8pm-9pm,” when you know it will actually take five hours.
It’s often useful to be pessimistic with scheduling time. This may seem counter-intuitive, but college and school life is full of unpredictable events. Not to mention homework problems are often much more difficult and time consuming than expected. Building a slight time buffer for yourself will allow you to get work complete even if you run into issues. Thus, you put yourself under a reasonable amount of pressure to get something done, but if something unexpected comes up you have the time store to handle it.
We as humans are terrible at predicting how long given activities will take to complete. The only real way to hone this skill is to practice working in timed blocks, and observing the trends of how long different activities take to finish.
Perfectionism is your enemy here. You don’t want to be fussing over all the little details in an assignment, and spend way too much time working on it. Making a project perfect is very time consuming, and leaving it at a ‘good enough’ will still give you the grade you want, plus added free time to spend however you please.
In a multitude of environments, it’s generally observed that a disproportionate 80% of outputs are derived from a mere 20% of the inputs. This phenomenon was recognized by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.
A business application of this principle could be a software company earning 80% of their revenue from 20% of their customers.
On a final exam at school: 80% of the questions on the exam often stem from a slim 20% of the concepts learned in class. For a technical course like linear algebra, concepts like linear dependence can easily appear on 80% of the questions in the exam.
In terms of studying, if you can determine the 20% of the most important concepts or problems you have trouble with, you can study in a manner that will warrant you MUCH higher test scores per hour studying. If you target the right areas of material you need to know, and actively study them, you’ll not only save time but get better grades while doing so.
Cal Newport, in his book “How to Become A Straight – A Student” teaches a strategy of creating mega problem sets for studying for technical courses. He also teaches a process of attacking the problem sets by going through each problem and clearly identifying whether you understand the problem or not. After that process, only the difficult problems are worked on. This is to save time and maximize study benefit. I, like most students fall into the trap of studying by re-reading notes. This is highly ineffective since most of the time spent on reviewing is looking over the easy concepts you have a firm grasp over. In truth, if you understand a problem and the concepts behind it, why waste the time to do it again? You’ll remember it on the test. Focus specifically on what you don’t know, and the grade results will show.
An easy way to apply this principle is to look at your course rubric, and find the percentages associated with each section of the class. Here was the grading policy I had for a half semester physics class.
- Combined: 5%
- Tests: 85%
- Labs: 10%
I was a naive student and spent most of my time stressing about homework and worrying about labs. I put an unfortunate amount of time into these tasks, and didn’t allot the majority of my time to studying for exams. Thus I could have done tremendously better in the class if I had just concentrated my time and mental resources correctly.
Caveat: I’m not saying to forget about the unimportant assignments completely, because homework and lab understanding is usually crucial for test performance. But in the case where you are behind in a class or need a specific grade; the best approach to catch up quickly would be to “triage” your assignments with the Pareto Principle.
Having a grasp of the Pareto Principle, and applying it to your life as a student or worker will license insane results. You increase your per hour output and free up time for personal development and other activities.