Planning to succeed – 5 steps to making and sticking with a study plan
In a previous article, we wrote about how to make each study session more effective (see: One simple trick that doubles the effectiveness of studying, using half the time)
This time, we’re talking about what comes before. The study plan. As the old saying goes, learn to plan, or plan to fail. So feel free to download the template below and work through with us.
So straight away, we’re going to talk about the most common way of study planning, and why it doesn’t often work. For the sake of the point, we’re going to exaggerate what usually.
Now putting aside the ridiculousness of what would be 51 hours of study based on the above study plan, this is clearly something no one could commit to for the long term.
Any good study plan (or weekly planner for that matter) should be something you could commit to consistently for the long term. If it doesn’t work now, you’re best off changing it before you give up altogether.
The first step to any good study plan: Defining your fixed commitments
The only saving grace of the previously shown study plan was the defined commitments of school. The idea is to work out exactly what times you can and can’t study.
To be clear this involves blocking out things that can’t be changed easily, rather than flexible commitments.
So, let’s look at what a common student’s planner might look like after defining fixed commitments
Now we have a few more fixed commitments, we have a better understanding of what we’re working with. Note as well that some commitments might make studying afterwards harder (Studying after school and training).
The second step of any good study plan: Defining why you want to make a change
A surprisingly overlooked step, considering it should be the whole reason you are putting together a plan in the first place. If you know why you want to change, then you can make goals to meet them; and by doing so, you can track your change.
I’ll write that again a bit larger for those in the back
IF YOU KNOW WHY YOU WANT TO CHANGE, THEN YOU CAN SET GOALS TO MEET THEM; AND BY DOING SO, YOU CAN TRACK YOUR CHANGE
As for advice on defining why you want to make change, I’d suggest not making a change for anyone else, but having a reason the relates to something you want from life.
So, let’s see how our study plan is now looking with our reason for change and goals to measure it.
The third step of any good study plan: Planning your procrastination
I know it sounds weird, but hear me out. When I write procrastination, I mean those times where you want to drift away from work or studying and check Facebook, watch YouTube and Netflix – the list goes on.
As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to treat your brain like an employee who works for you, not a slave who does whatever you say with no reward.
Any plan your brain is going to commit to, is one where it knows it is going to get the chance to relax or get a reward at some point.
The idea is to take better control of those times when you relax for two reasons:
- You no longer feel guilty afterwards for doing them
- You get better at stopping them
Like any parent knows, the minute you tell a kid they can’t have something – that’s when they want it most. By having it be part of the studying process, it becomes far less tempting and far more relaxing when you do indulge.
So let’s look at our new study plan, now with procrastination included.
What you might notice at this point is that, we have been able to list every hour of school, 2 days of sport training, a casual job shift and 21 hours of procrastination; and we still have plenty of time, with no activity going past 9pm.
Now that we have all of our limitations on our time on paper, we can add the study.
The fourth step to any good studying plan: Planning to study (finally)
As obvious as this step is, it is often rushed.
One of the most common flaws in people is our ability to judge our own ability. So the best bet is to start with something small, but definitely achievable.
For instance, in the example we have been following throughout this article, the goal was to study for 1 hour each weekday. Let’s see what that looks like.
What you might notice is that the study portion seems tiny in comparison to everything else. You’re right.
I can’t say this enough, if you want a study plan that will work for the long term, start with something you can handle and adjust as necessary. Someone who has never run before, doesn’t decide to try an ultra-marathon before running 1 km.
The brain, like anything else, has to get used to the new system before you can increase the amount you need – if you need it.
This brings us to the final point.
The fifth and continuous step for any good studying plan: Adjusting the plan
A study plan is just that, a plan. Maybe you overestimated how much time you had on some days, or maybe work increased the number of shifts. The point is, test it out and change it if necessary.
At the end of the day, it is up to the individual to decide whether the plan they have is able to get them what they want, and is that plan feasible to commit to for the long term.
So, which one looks like a student could actually use to study?