How to study successfully: five steps to create and maintain good habits
By Kat Knights writer, tutor and mentor at Professional Academy
If studying or achieving anything significant in life was easy – we’d all be doing it. Signing up to a qualification or any form of extended learning is one thing, but actually ‘getting the work done’ is quite another. The truth is getting down to some hard work won’t just ‘happen’. You need to create good habits to make sure you ‘show up’ more often and stay on your path to study success.
Why you should focus on habits rather than goals
Goals are like destinations on a road map. They are a place where you want to be. Habits are the consistent actions you take to help you reach your destination. Whether you’re studying, playing sport or trying to achieve any other significant endeavour it is the habits you follow that are critical to success.
The following five steps will help you, not only create, but also maintain good study habits. Making the journey to study success inevitable.
Step 1. Schedule your habit
Decide which days of the week you will carry out your habit and the best time of day too. Be honest with the time you have available and the time of day you prefer to work. If you’ve never studied in the evening, why will you do so now? These hard truths will mean you avoid getting to the end of your week feeling like you have failed yourself.
Add your habit to your calendar, colour-coding them so that they leap out at you when you look at your diary. This will send a clear signal to you of your commitment and give you a rhythm to your week.
Step 2. Have a study plan
Plot the duration of your qualification and insert key milestones you need to achieve along the way. Every fortnight plan in detail what you want to achieve – see the next step.
Step 3. Get specific
This is where you need to spend quality time on your plan and it’s where most people come unstuck. Investing at this stage will make things much easier when you need to execute your plan. In fact, it should make the execution inevitable.
Be as specific as possible. For example, rather than writing ‘read for 20 minutes’, instead write ‘read chapter one of book X for 20 minutes’. The smaller and more precise you can be the better.
I also suggest starting each study session with a warm-up task. This should be something easy and enjoyable. Warm up tasks will lead you into the specific task you have set yourself to complete. For example, you might start each session by writing down what you achieved last time. The less friction there is at the very start of your habit the more likely you will be to complete it.
Step 4. Get rid of the clutter
Homes and workplaces can be very distracting places.
Look at your physical and digital environment right now. Is it helping you or hurting you?
A clear workspace sends a message to you that you are ready for work and stops you being distracted.
Spend some time before you begin to study to tidy up your clutter. Remove anything that is a distraction. If your desk is untidy and full of paperwork – tidy it up. If your phone keeps pinging – turn it off or move it to another room. If the room you are in is a distraction – move to another one. Whatever it is that you need to do, change your environment so that action is inevitable.
Step 5. Create some external accountability
Identify a person who can support you and act as mentor or coach. Share with them what you want to achieve and check in regularly with them to discuss progress, scheduling these meet ups into your study plan.
You’ll find that telling someone what you plan to do creates a level of commitment that means you will follow through on your actions. This is why people often find it more successful if they exercise with a friend.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
James Dyson didn’t invent the Dyson bagless vacuum cleaner overnight, he did it after a lot of experimentation and failure. The same goes for you. If you try out a new habit and it doesn’t work for you after a few days then go back to the drawing board and try to uncover what is the underlying cause of the problem. Then brainstorm ways of trying to solve it and have a go at implementing another solution.
Believe in yourself and remember that even a small amount of progress is still progress.