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A 4 Step Guide to Curating an Effective Study Routine

To stay on top of class readings, homework, assignment deadlines and exams, studying regularly is essential. Study routines are key to building consistent study habits that help us to progress in our studies. In this article, we’ll share a few simple steps for curating an effective study routine, taking into account long and short term academic goals, the changing nature of study sessions, and the importance of refining study routines over time.

A study routine provides a framework for maintaining consistent study habits throughout your academic life. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, highlights the importance of our daily habits for transforming our lives. Just like any other habit, making studying a regular part of your day or week can help you to improve overtime, as a student and learner in general. Throughout your studies, you will have various study routines, as each term will differ in terms of classes and commitments. Likewise, the exam eason might require a more intensive study routine. Despite the changing nature of study routines throughout the academic year, the process of planning and implementing a good study routine remains the same, and the more you engage with this process, the easier it will become. 

Study routines are ideal for ensuring studying is a habit that relies less on motivation and more on discipline. This is particularly useful for overcoming procrastination, which tends to occur when we feel overwhelmed, and unsure where to start. A study routine will reduce the number of decisions you need to make. Instead of wondering when to study, what to study and relying on how motivated you feel, you can exercise your discipline by sticking to your pre-defined study routine. It’s easier to follow through if you know what you’re working on, why you’re working on it and how it ties into your long term goals. Over time, this can reduce your levels of stress and improve your work life balance. You can make the time and mental space for activities that are not study related, like hanging out with friends, and spending some time on a favourite hobby.  

The Long Term Goals

First, to build an effective study routine, you need to assess your long term study goals. These goals will be informed by your course assessments. The end goal of each term would be to complete examinations and assignments, while achieving the grades that you’re happy with. Depending on the structure of your course, decide whether it’s best to plan per term, or for the academic year. Whether you plan by month, term or year, you can follow a few simple steps. First, break down the chosen time frame into classes or modules. From here, list out the core dates and deadlines for each. For example, you can note down how many classes you have for each module, how often they are, the expected preparatory work and core assessment deadlines. This will help to build an overview that will later inform your short term goals. Using these key dates and deadlines, you can begin to work backwards, and break these requirements down into weekly tasks. 

The Short Term Goals

Based on your overview of the academic term or year, it’s time to form your short term goals using a detailed to-do list. You can build an ideal weekly to-do list that makes note of your classes, preparation, homework, assignments or revision that needs completing. This weekly list can then inform your daily to-do lists and tasks can be scheduled. However, before this, it’s important to consider how long each task will take. Studytuber Jade Bowler discusses the idea of the ‘mandatory minimum’ which is the minimum amount of time you need to complete or progress on a task. By identifying the mandatory minimum, you can ensure you have enough time to complete the essential study tasks that enable you to stay on track. For example, readings for one class might be more dense and take upto 2 hours but for another, readings might only take an hour. These estimates can provide a timeframe to carve out each week. This might take some trial and error but that’s normal. You can improve these time estimates by tracking how long tasks take using the Pomodoro technique or time tracking tools like Toggl Track. Now that you have your tasks and their mandatory minimum, you have an idea of what needs doing and how long it might take. From here, you can begin to assign time blocks to these tasks around your fixed schedule of commitments. For some to-dos, this will be easy to decide, for example, preparation for a Tuesday class would take place sometime on a Monday. However, be as realistic as possible when assigning these time blocks. Tailor your study sessions to your needs and working habits. What time works best for you? When do you feel the most focused? Likewise, consider how you want to structure your week. You might prefer to work on more intensive tasks one day, and less intensive preparatory tasks another day. Again, this might take some trial and error but these experiences will enable you to improve your study routine. 

The Study Sessions

For each study session in your study routine, it’s important to practise good habits that encourage deep work and focus. Study routines are often made up of various tasks, such as reading, writing, problem solving and more, and this is across a variety of subjects. This means each study session will differ slightly and makes the ability to focus even more important. If you can consistently show up undistracted, it’ll be easier to get started on your work, no matter the task. You can do this by maintaining a distraction free workspace. This might be multiple spaces from your desk, to a cafe or the library. Whether it’s one space or multiple, it can work as long as you maintain the rule of no distractions. Each space will be associated with getting into a focused headspace. This makes it easier to get started when you enter that space. If you struggle to focus, another way to prime yourself to focus could be taking a distraction free five minute walk, or meditation to clear your mind for the upcoming task. During your study sessions, be sure to take regular breaks when you find yourself losing focus. 

Reflect and Refine

For your study routine to remain effective and realistic, it’s important to reflect on your progress. This could be daily or weekly, as long as you check in. Did you achieve what you intended? If not, what obstacles did you encounter? If you did achieve things as you intended, how did you feel throughout the week? It might be that despite getting things done, the timings of your study sessions are causing you distress. It’s key to check in on your mental wellbeing, not just the results. By doing so, you can avoid burnout and find better ways to work that align with your natural routines. The goal of a study routine is to make studying a habit but also to relieve you of stress, make studying a more enjoyable experience and make time for things outside of your studies. This is why it’s necessary for you to reflect on your progress, and how you feel, and continue to refine the routine. 

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