The Art of Study-Breaks for Extreme Full Time Students

You’ve got many classes on the go and limited time.  You’re stuck on a math problem.  In fact, you’ve been stuck on it for the past hour.  What do you do?  Have a break, naturally.

But what if your break time eats into valuable study time that could be used for nailing another A?  Or what if too many breaks prevent you from taking another class per semester (one more class a semester could put you ahead by a year in your graduation date).  What do you do then?

There are many views on study breaks, but I’ve got a different one.

I was the Queen of Breaks in my undergrad.  I timed myself all throughout the day for thirty-minute study stints followed by fifteen-minute breaks.  As soon as the timer rang, I switched gears.

During my breaks I’d phone someone or get a cup of coffee.  I can’t recall what else I did, but it certainly wasn’t spent on productivity.

I also began my studies sometime between 12 noon and 3 pm each day, but studied with my break system straight through until midnight.  So, I studied nine to twelve hours a day, with lots of breaks.

I took only eight classes a year, three fall, three winter, one spring, one summer.  I ended up with a 3.92 out of 4.0 GPA.  And then I went into grad school.

But I thought, “There must be something better.” If I made better use of my time, I could have added an extra three to six hours a day to studies.  That would amount to at least one more, maybe two more, courses a semester, assuming three hours of study a day is required for one course.  I could’ve completed 14 courses a year, instead of 8.  In other words, I could’ve graduated in three years.

But what does it take to achieve that?

Well, I’ve since formulated a system.  It’s based on my time working like a marathon runner at my career.  Basically, it’s to pretend you’re at an 8 am to 9 pm job, with 1 hour for lunch and 1 hour for dinner.  But the breaks, too, need to be work oriented.  After all, a body in motion stays in motion.  In other words, if you work or study all day, it gets easier to do more of the same.

So, here’s my system.  Wake up at 8 a.m.  and study straight through until 9 pm, with one hour for lunch and one hour for dinner.  During this time, you can take “breaks” by switching to another study subject.  But be sure to clock everything you study in a timer app.  I use my work Timesheets to track everything I do in increments.  I’d recommend QuickBooks Timesheets.  It’s meant for the office, but it allows me to record everything I do.

At 9 pm, it’s quitting time.  You have free time to clean or relax.  You’ve earned it.  I like to clean and then learn job-related skills from 9 pm until 11 pm, when I go to sleep.  But sometimes I squeeze in extra work for, say, an hour.

Keep a journal in the form of a Word document that you update with every task you’ve done and every task that comes to mind that you need to do.  Highlight or bold the tasks that you need to do.  Pretend you need to report to a boss on what you’ve studied at the end of each week.

When you are stuck, wondering what to do next, look at your journal for your highlighted or bold to-do tasks.  Clock in the task on Timesheets and document in both Timesheets and your journal what you are about to do.  Keep your most recent journal entries at the top of your Word document.

Make it a race between you and the timer, where the goal is to be hyper focused, like running both a sprint and a marathon in one race.  But stay relaxed.

And buy a desk cycle to get exercise while studying.  I find a desk cycle helps me focus while I’m doing more mundane tasks.  Keep a bottle of water nearby at all times and snack on fruits, veggies, or nuts and seeds.

If I ever do it all over again, this is the system I’d use.  After all, a body in motion stays in motion.  And a body in motion experiences fewer jumpstarts (translation: less stress).  And remember, the quicker you get to your studies, the faster most any problem is solved.  And the sooner you graduate.

(If you have a hyper-focused system for studies, kindly consider commenting below on what strategies you use to perform at peak level.)

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