If time management gurus were right about batching then cramming would be the most efficient way to study.
This is a response to an email I’ve received a couple of times but I’ve never taken the time to explain on the blog.
The fastest way to do something is by doing only that one thing in long sessions. There are two important aspects of that idea:
1. Don’t Multitask
Multitasking doesn’t work. Study after study has shown it. Even people that claim to be good at multitasking, suck at multitasking.
The human brain doesn’t process two things at once. It just flips your focus back and forth between them. With that strategy, you’re bound to miss something important.
2. Changing Tasks Takes Time
Changing tasks takes more time than you’d think.
People don’t just stand up and go to do the next thing on their to-do list.
They might get up. Then they might think, “I better check my email real quick.” Then they’ll need to look something up. Next, they notice something on their desk that needs to get put away. Then they think, “Man, I’m thirsty…” and suddenly changing tasks takes them 20 minutes.
With most things in life, the most efficient thing to do is change tasks as infrequently as possible.
Here is where is gets funny, though:
It is almost the exact opposite case with studying!
After 4 hours of studying and your third energy drink, how well do you think you’re learning?
Scientists are always producing new studies talking about how inefficient cramming is. It just doesn’t work (even when people think that it does.) Scoring high by studying 10 hours the night before the test is okay but not great. In less than half the time you could have done the same by spreading out your studying.
So… why is that the case?
What’s The Most Stressful Thing You Do?
Learn by force.
This is arguable but I’ll make my case. You can be the judge.
The human body is “engineered” to move around. It can run. It can walk. It can jump. The human brain is similar.
The human brain is “engineered to think.” Like the human body, most of its functions are base and animalistic. Breathing is a function that requires no effort. Your heartbeat is another. Most of your thinking fits in a similar category.
Your memory is natural and effortless in most situations. Your brain knows how to store memories. It doesn’t remember what you had for breakfast 6 years ago. It does remember where the fridge is. It doesn’t remember who was president 35 years ago. It does remember who is the president now. It has mechanisms to ensure pointless memories don’t drown out your useful ones.
Studying is taking a natural process of memory and trying to use it in an unnatural way.
When you tell your brain, “remember what the Amygdala is!”
It retorts (ever so rudely) “Why do I care?!?”
Your whole body might as well be screaming, “You’re doing it wrong!”
You can do it right, though. Those are most of the secrets I try to teach throughout this blog.
- 9 Reasons Your Memory Sucks
- Get Better Grades: 17 Scientific Strategies To Hack Studying
- How To Study A Textbook (Without Banging Your Head Against It)
- The Formula To Study Success
- Feel Good Studying Or Do Good
Why Does This Stress Level Matter?
Imagine you ran a marathon. Feel the soreness in your muscles but not the bad kind. Feel the kind of soreness that makes you think, “I did that!” Feel that pride of succeeding.
That’s the same kind of a feeling most students get cramming. It’s a little uncomfortable but it still feels euphoric.
As anyone that runs marathons knows: it is not good for your body. Sure… maybe your brain. It might toughen you up and make you feel amazing but you wear down your body every single time. It takes recovery afterwards.
Now imagine the marathon runner had to run another marathon only a week later?
This is how most students try to study.
Once every week they bang their heads against their textbooks trying to learn something. Okay… maybe once every two weeks. This is not productive. It just leaves them weaker than they started. It may feel good after but it’s not good for them.
Marathon running might be called batch exercise. It’s cramming an unnatural amount of stress into a short period of time. But… then again… that stress is completely natural. Humans often had to run for long periods of time in the past. It’s human.
Now think about trying to consciously pin together the synapses of your brain. You’re fighting off your natural urge to ignore pointless information. Instead, you’re trying to stick it in there.
THIS IS STRESS. This is unnatural. It’s difficult. As many students that use my strategies learn, a good study session should feel like a good workout. Afterwards, you’re exhausted. (And no, you don’t even spend long to get exhausted with it.)
The Two Kinds Of Thinking
For a full explanation, you might want to check out this excerpt from “A Mind For Numbers” by Barbara Oakley.
There are two main types of thinking.
This is what you use to answer a simple math problem that you already understand the process behind.
For example, if I asked you 225+714 you’d answer it using focused thinking.
It’s looking into the details of the problem and finding the solution.
This is what you use to answer questions that you don’t quite understand. It’s more of the feel of the problem. It’s the big picture.
It’s often used in tasks like drawing or other arts. It’s not thinking about the precise details.
One of the major differences between these two ways of thinking is the consciousness behind them. Diffuse thinking is a whole lot harder to force. It’s something that usually needs time.
Both aspects of thinking help in solving problems.
Most of your study session should be focused. You can control your focus. You can’t meditate the basic facts into your head. You need to focus to learn.
But when you stop studying something, you give your diffuse thinking a chance to try and solve the problems. You let that form of thinking introduce you to better ways of looking at it.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with the solution to a problem you were struggling with the day before? That’s your diffuse thinking kicking ass. (Maybe you had a shower epiphany? Those are common too.)
Focused thinking can get you far but it takes time and energy away from your diffuse thinking. It’s better to use it responsibly and let diffuse thinking play a big role.
In other words, it helps to stop trying to solve a problem for a while.
If studying in shorter sessions is:
- Less Stressful
- More Effective
Why don’t more students do it?
Well… that’s a good question! Why don’t you?
Is it a bad set of habits?
Is it a distaste for school?
Is it not being motivated?
Find your reason and change it!
Why don’t you do what you know you need to do in school? Are you a chronic procrastinator? Do you hate the process? Do you not care about what you’re learning? Share in the comments below!
Please share this post because it can help you and others get better grades. Those better grades can help you live better.
How would you feel if you could study in less than 15 minutes a night while still scoring A’s?
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