Student Best Practices

Hey, we don’t know everything, but we do know a thing or two about what it takes to be successful in school.  And, what WE don’t know, YOU can teach us.

This page will always be a work-in-progress.  We’re putting some wisdom here that may be helpful to new students - or to old students who are coming back to college after a long absence.  If there’s something missing here that you think would be helpful, post it on our Facebook page or email it to cliff@perrla.com and it may be accepted and make its way to this web page in a future update.

Spoiler Alert: The skills and habits that make you a better student will make you better at whatever you choose to do for the rest of your life... unless you choose to be a professional slacker.  (Me? I dabble in it but I wouldn’t call myself a “professional”.)



Studying

  • What time of day is your brain alert and energetic?  That’s the optimum time to study.  You may not always have a choice but try not to study when you’re tired.
  • Where can you study?  You need a location that is quiet, if possible.  A library is a great place to get away from distractions.  If you can only study at home, is there a quiet part of the house?  Consider wearing earplugs to reduce the noise level around you.
  • You don’t want your brain to be constantly distracted and pulled off-task.  This may seem painful but eliminate distractions like TV, music, texting, chat software, facebook, cell phone, email, and even your pet iguana.  Relax,  you’re only going underground for a little while.  All of those things that make you feel connected to the world will be there waiting for you when you take a break later.
  • If you’re hungry, you’re mind will keep coming back to food.  Eat something before you study - but not while you’re studying.
  • Tell others not to disturb you.  Put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign if you need to.
  • Plan ahead and commit to a specific block of time for studying.
  • And, while you’re making commitments, fully commit to a no-distraction, no-escape study session.  With all your might, resist the temptation to surf the web, check your email, etc.  Stay in the present.
  • Set a goal for each study session.  You’re not “studying”, you’re “studying the first half of chapter 7.”  Break the task into smaller study topics.  After defining the pieces, you’ll better understand the task ahead - and it may not seem as overwhelming.
  • Study in “chunks” of time with short breaks in-between.  This helps you to be more disciplined.  For example, it’s easier to resist the temptation to check your email if you know you’ll be able to check it in only 12 more minutes.
  • Reward yourself for accomplishing your goal.  Hint: Not with ice cream or you’ll regret it.  (Don’t ask how we know.)
  • Consider studying the hardest topic first - while you’re mind is still fresh.
  • Study with a friend/classmate - especially to review for a test.  Goof off a little (this is your one-and-only Life, remember) but not too much because this is your one-and-only Life, remember?
  • Remember WHY you’re doing this - a.k.a. The Big Picture.  You’re doing this unpleasant chore now so that you can graduate and do something even more amazing with your Life.
  • Make anytime study time... even if you’ve only got 15 minutes.  What could you study in 15 minutes RIGHT NOW that would give you 15 minutes of freedom later?
  • Your mind WILL wander.  It gets bored and wants to go play.  When your mind wanders, come back to the task at hand and don’t get upset with yourself.  Your brain is pretty cool, but it needs you to show it who’s boss - with love and compassion.


Get Rid of Clutter

Do you hate seeing all the clutter on your desk or around the house?  It’s a drag.  It’s a visual reminder of things left undone, things hanging over your head, and your own failure to be organized and disciplined, right?  Well, here’s how to fix it RIGHT NOW...

  1. Get a basket, storage bin, or whatever it takes to hold the mess.
  2. Take all of the clutter and put it in the bin.  If you’re not going to be using that whatever-it-is in the next 24 hours, put it in the bin.
  3. Put the bin out of sight.  Your desk/work area/kitchen is now awesomely uncluttered!
  4. Schedule a time once a week - 30 minutes may be all it takes - to go through that pile of clutter in the bin and do the appropriate thing... file it, toss it, or whatever.
  5. DON’T keep buying new bins and filling them with junk or you may end up on the A&E network show “Hoarders”


Time Management

There’s never enough time.  Also, there’s never enough money - but that’s a different issue.  Let’s focus on the time problem for a minute...

Schedule your time and try to stick to your schedule.  Like creating a budget for spending money, creating a schedule for your time will help you spend your time wisely.  Don’t forget to schedule time for your loved ones and for yourself.  (Self:  You know... the person you’ve been neglecting the most.)

Designate one or two blocks of time each day when you don’t answer the phone, read texts or have your email client open.  Even if it’s just for 30 minutes each time.  If you have kids, make sure you are not home during these time slots (leave 45 minutes early or stay 45 minutes longer).  Use this time for the most important things you need to get done that day.

To make the most of your scheduled school time, maximize your concentration by using some of the tips shown in the “Studying” section, above.

Here’s a simple method for maximizing the effectiveness of your task time.  It’s called the “Pomodoro Technique” and you can read all about it here. 

Here are the basics:

  • Decide what you want to accomplish.
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  • Perform your task, avoiding distractions, knowing that you can check your mail, etc. when the 25 minute interval ends.
  • At the end of the 25 minute interval, take a short break (5 minutes or so).
  • After 4 intervals, take a longer break.

This really works!



Writing

Sometimes we get bogged down while writing, spinning our wheels editing when we should be writing.  Separate the tasks of writing and editing and you’ll spend far less time writing.  Whether it’s an email, memo or assignment, focus first on getting your ideas out and “on paper.”  Just blurt it out.  Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.  Don’t worry about anything other than getting things out of your brain and into your document.  THEN go back and edit.  You’ll find this frees your mind to say what you want to say.  You’ll say it better and faster.