A Productive Tool for Busy Students

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A dean at a highly competitive Houston high school once told me, “students should expect three to four hours per night, including studying for tests and quizzes.” My students often disagree with this estimate, claiming that the average study time ebbs and flows throughout the school year. The average student studies for thirty minutes one day and three hours the next, but that is more a matter of system than workload.

Students who want to get ahead and stay ahead should avoid allocating study week by week based on the workload. Instead, they should plan study blocks to keep control over their workload. Rather than living at the mercy of the school portal, students can make consistent progress each day, maintaining momentum and banishing procrastination.

For a real-world example, let’s examine the famous race to the south pole by explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen. In 1911, these two men raced to reach one of the most remote spots on the planet, battling sub-zero conditions and powerful arctic storms. Although both men were celebrated explorers, they took very different approaches in the arctic. Robert Falcon Scott’s strategy was to examine the weather each morning and decide how far his team would trek toward the south pole. If the conditions were good, they would conquer ten to fifteen miles each day. But if the weather was harsh and the temperature dropped, they stayed in their tents to wait it out. Roald Amundsen, conversely,  set a unique expectation for his team from the beginning: five miles every day. No matter the weather, they met this goal each day, no more and no less. Amundsen knew that slow and steady would win the race, choosing his own destiny instead of taking orders from the erratic arctic weather patterns.

In the end, Amundsen arrived at the south pole a full thirty-three days before Scott, winning glory for himself and his homeland. He received personal telegrams from U.S President Theodore Roosevelt and King George V of England and is lauded as one of the greatest explorers of the 20th century. Scott tragically died on his journey back from the south pole after he and his team ran out of supplies but received post-humous honors from the King of England.

We recommend Amundsen’s approach for both studying and exploration. Slow and steady wins the race because consistent progress is better than sporadic productivity. Enter time blocking.

Time blocking is an often overlooked time management tactic for busy students. In addition to tracking assignments in planners, time blocking allows students to block off chunks of time in their calendars to actually get the work done. In other words, planners tell you what to do, and calendars help you find time to do it. However, students must apply the Amundsen strategy to maximize this skill by setting a specific study goal every day to ensure consistent progress.

For example, if a busy student sets aside two hours to study each day, he or she is more likely to weather the storms of the school year. The Amundsen approach ensures that students get ahead and stay ahead because it ignores the ebbs and flows of assignments. Instead, students work ahead on lighter days, so two hours is always sufficient to keep them on track. Combining time blocking with other study techniques like the Pomodoro technique or active textbook reading can yield incredible results in a stress-free way.

This tactic is especially potent for student-athletes and other busy teens. Typically, busy students attempt to fit studying into their plans rather than plan around their studying. Unfortunately, this leads to hectic nights because it can be challenging to estimate how long a task will actually take. By installing a non-negotiable study block in the calendar a la Roald Amundsen, students can take control of their workload rather than adjust as they go.

For more ideas on time management and other dimensions of executive functioning skills, please see our other blogs. If your student can benefit from one-on-one academic coaching and tutoring, please reach out today.

Evan Weinberger

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Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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