For many students, Dead Day is the last opportunity to study before that Saturday morning final. Loaded up with piles of books and papers, students stake out their tables in the library, where they hunker down for a marathon study day. But is this really the best way to spend a day of studying?
Though admirable for its fortitude, this marathon approach inevitably leads to three pitfalls.
First, distractions become nearly irresistible and even seemingly justifiable. Once you’ve decided to commit yourself for the next eight hours, surfing Facebook for 20 minutes, sending a few emails and text messages, and watching those random YouTube videos all seem like a mere drop in the bucket.
Second, your efficiency plummets. If you think you have all day to work on something, you immediately slow down since there is no pressure, no immediate goal to meet. And so, what could have taken you a few hours ends up taking you the next eight.
Third, your mind goes numb. As hours of the same chair, the same table, the same room, the same subject roll by, your mind’s receptivity to more information or consideration nearly vanishes. That third or fourth hour of Aristotle is simply not as appealing or engaging as the first. Those discussions of “arête” and “kalon” that once excited and engaged you now generate little response in your numbed mind.
Luckily, there is a way to avoid these pitfalls: Add some modulation to this all-day effort by breaking up the day into intense, bite-size pieces with periods to relax in between.
Methods vary, but here’s one option: Divide the day into 50-minute slots with 5-10 minute breaks in between. Plan to study three out of every four slots, leaving the fourth for a longer break, such as a meal, coffee at the Cap Bar, or a trip to a friend’s room. Use the 5-10 minute breaks to get your social media or pop news fix. And in those 50-minute slots, study like a sprinter runs a race, focusing 100 percent of your mental abilities and attention on the specific task at hand.
50-minute slots are just one way to divide up the day. Your study habits and personal preferences may dictate an entirely different structure. But the underlying idea remains the same: bite-size pieces, not an amorphous mass; a series of sprints and rests, not a marathon.