Illustration by Jam Moreno.

Constructing the Perfect Study Schedule: Productivity Culture and The Value of Experimentation

University work can feel overwhelming without thorough scheduling and planning. But there is value in taking a step back and thinking about the approaches that are most beneficial to you and your mental health.

Oct 31, 2021

As university students, it can be difficult for us to get things done and stay on top of assignments without building a working schedule. Research has shown there are various benefits to having a daily or weekly routine, which include lower stress levels and better sleep.
However, it is difficult for us to stick to just one routine, especially in the context of academics. Everyone has a different schedule structure that works for them. Some people are so-called early birds who prefer to wake up and be productive in the morning. For others, it is rarely possible to roll out of bed before 11 a.m.
Unfortunately, productivity culture can often make it seem like the train to success involves being at your desk from 7 a.m. to midnight. However, I believe that there is no correct study routine because sleep schedules and peak productivity times vary from person to person. Rather, the correct approach is to experiment with a myriad of options and choose the one that works best for you.
This guide was designed with different kinds of college students in mind and it takes into account people’s study time preferences in the morning, afternoon or night. My aim is to provide a list of options for planning, scheduling and organizing study sessions that fit the broadest group of students. Each of these routines factor in 8 hours of sleep, even if that may be laughable for some of us. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 should sleep around 7-9 hours per night.
For the Early Birds
If, like me, you prefer to get up early and go to sleep before midnight, this section is for you: Get at least one task done before classes begin. Start with the most challenging task on your to-do list (or the one you dread the most), since everything will comparatively feel easier after that.
If you have a difficult time getting out of bed in a dark room, keep the curtains open overnight to let the natural light in in the morning. Getting up early is also much easier (and more sustainable) if you also go to sleep early the night before.
If you plan to get started with work first thing in the morning, write down the most important tasks you plan to get done the night before, so you immediately know where to begin when you get up. Having this small but effective plan can kick-start your day and make your early morning work session worthwhile.
Afternoon Focus
If you like studying between or directly after classes before it gets dark outside, you may want to consider these tips: Make use of the natural light present in the middle of the day to help you stay on-task and awake. This can prevent you from falling into a mid-afternoon slump.
When you are working, try to mentally cut yourself off from thoughts about the class you just attended or that meeting in one hour. While this may feel difficult if you study in-between classes, disconnecting from the rush of everyday life can be an effective way to focus on studying and completing assignments.
Try to find a quiet place on campus without large groups of people to avoid being distracted by your surroundings. This is particularly helpful in the middle of the day when you will likely see people walking around campus.
Burning the Midnight Oil
Night-time can be calm and relaxing and thereby facilitate a good study atmosphere:
Find a study setting that will not overwhelm you, but also will not put you to sleep. In the evening and the early morning, try not to study in bed or on a comfortable couch, as it would be very easy to doze off instead of working.
Try to create a routine which won’t force you to go to bed too late, leaving you unable to function properly the next day. This is something that I personally struggle with when it comes to doing work after dinner — if I am in the zone, I can easily lose track of time and suddenly become aware of my surroundings again at 1 a.m.
Finally, after completing your evening work or study session, take a moment to reflect on your achievements that day, academic or otherwise, no matter how big or small.
The above guides only scratch the surface of what methods and rules one can implement in building their individual, perfect study routine. On busier days, it makes sense to combine different study times for the most productive effect. That being said, I believe that the most effective study method is an approach that focuses on acknowledging achievement and also considers being kind to oneself in the process. No one method or time will work for everyone all the time. We are all different in our approaches to studying and productivity and not every day can be as successful as we would like it to be. What we all deserve, however, is to get the most out of our potential and effort
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