Study Strategies

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Overcoming Procrastination

You have goals for your life, and you know you could achieve those goals if you didn’t procrastinate.  But all too often you spend your study time checking Facebook, watching TV, calling a friend.  You feel guilty and vow to do better next time.  But you worry that your will power isn’t up to the job.  The solution?  Don’t rely upon willpower alone; try some of the strategies below and see what works best for you.
A note about time management systems:  It can be tempting to use an elaborate system, but this can become yet another form of procrastination.  Keep it simple!  Spend your time studying rather than fiddling with a complicated time management system.   Read thehandout on time management.

Reduce Temptations:   Constantly trying to resist temptations will sap your energy and your focus.  Instead, create an environment where you have fewer choices and fewer temptations.

  1. Find a good place to study.  Don’t think about where you want to study (this is probably your room).  Instead, think about a place you can go where there’s nothing you can do but study:  a library, an empty classroom, a designated study area, a café or cafeteria.  If you live off campus, try staying on campus to study during the week; on weekends go to a library near your home to study.
  2. Use social pressure to your advantage.  It’s embarrassing to be caught checking Facebook in a location where everyone else is studying.
  3. Think of creative ways to limit temptations in your environment: Put your T.V. in a closet or only turn it on after your homework is finished for the day.  Turn off your telephone while you study or give it to a friend to keep while you study.  Check Facebook when you have no choice but to do it quickly and get off (before a class or appointment).
  4. Notify your friends that they should not call you about going out during the week.
  5. As you study, keep a pad of paper nearby where you can record reminders to yourself.  It’s distracting to be thinking about other things you have to do when you’re trying to study.
  6. On weekends, do not try to clear your slate of chores before you sit down to study.  If you do, you will never begin.

Increase Your Motivation:  The Carrot

  1. Reward yourself at the end of each task, day, and week. For example, take a 10-minute break after completing a study task.  When you finish your goals for the day, take the night off. After a successful week, go out with your friends.
  2. Form a study group to make some of your studying more active and interesting.   Decide beforehand what material the group will cover and tell everyone to come prepared.
  3. Post reminders or motivational messages on your wall, phone, and computer.
  4. Surround yourself with positive, successful friends and study partners.  
  5. Give yourself positive self-talks (I was the top chemistry student in high school, I studied five more hours this week than last week, etc).
  6. Build your interest in the subject.  Talk to your professor and ask why she loves her field.
  7. Visualize yourself in your future career.  You might even post pictures pertaining to that career, along with things you plan to buy with your future earnings.
  8. At the beginning of the semester, write a motivational note to yourself in week 6 or 7 of your planner (or whenever you think your motivation may drop).
  9. On weekends, begin your study day in a pleasant study location such as a café or bookstore.  (This is a way to trick yourself into getting out of the house.)  Later in the day you can always move on to a library or study room.

Increase Your Motivation:  The Stick

  1. Post your tuition bill over your desk.
  2. Call yourself a liar.  We all rationalize at times, but try to catch yourself when you do this.  If you’re telling yourself that just for today you will go home to study, ask yourself how often this worked for you in the past.  Ask the same question when you tell yourself that just this once you will check e-mail, watch a half hour of T.V., or take a short nap before studying.
  3. If a professor or another student has said something negative to you, use your anger as a motivator.  “I’ll show them” can be a powerful motivator.

Extend Your Willpower:  You can dramatically increase your control over procrastination by using what Joseph Heath and Joel Anderson call“the extended will.”  Relying upon your own will power alone will probably work only sporadically; you need something more reliable than that.  Extend your will by enlisting people and external tools that can help you accomplish your goals.

  1. Link your schedule to someone else’s.  For example, if you plan to study after class, arrange to meet a friend in the library or an empty classroom.  Offer to drive a younger sibling to school or a friend to UIC as a way to get yourself out of the house earlier in the morning.
  2. Create artificial deadlines.  Promise a friend that you will finish reading a chapter by 9:00 and then e-mail to confirm that you’ve done it.  Make an appointment with your professor or at the Writing Center to bring in the rough draft of your paper a week before it is actually due.
  3. Tell your friends your specific study goals for the week and ask them to check back with you at the end of the week.  (Use your hard-nosed friends for this, not the warm, forgiving ones.)  You might want to increase the incentive by offering to treat your friends to pizza on Friday night if you don’t achieve your goals.
  4. Make electronic time waster harder to access.  Leave your laptop at home sometimes, put your phone in a locker for an afternoon or give it to a friend, give a friend the remote control for your TV.
  5. Make Facebook and other sites impossible to access for part of the day by using computer programs that lock you out from the entire internet or from particular sites. Freedom and Leechblock are two of these programs.

Get Started! 

  1. The hardest part of studying is often just getting started.  Think about how to get around your endless delay tactics.  Sweeten the deal by beginning your study session in a pleasant location or with a sweet treat.
  2. Alternatively, you might try starting the day with your toughest or most dreaded homework (or at least a few minutes of it).  Tell yourself that once you have done that, you can look forward to working on your favorite classes.
  3. Write an academic to do list the night before and make sure each item is very specific (read pages 96-115, write review sheets for 2 psych lectures, etc).  The vaguer the goal, the less likely you are to start it.

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