Evaluating Productivity & Making for Meaningful Study

I’ve never been one to exercise the most consistent study habits. I don’t create calendars reminding me to keep to a particular schedule. I don’t have any “tried and true” methods, and I don’t always follow the same set of “rules” every time I sit down to engage in productive study. My plan of action varies by my course load, schedule and more often than not, my level of motivation.

With that in mind, this week I sat down to evaluate my own study methods and productivity. I wanted to assess whether my present habits have truly been serving me well: whether what I’ve been doing has been genuinely meaningful, intentional and deliberate. 

I started by combing the internet for suggestions, methods of study and anything supported by solid research. Then throughout the week, I gave them a trial run and an evaluation.

Leitner System

The Leitner System is a way of using flashcards to their most effective benefit. While going through your stack, those terms you correctly remembered get pushed to the backburner, and the ones you’re presently struggling with stay at the forefront of all those cards. That way, you can focus on your “backburner” terms maybe once a week or every other day, while your “struggle” terms stay in your daily rotation.

I tried this method with a set of cards I’ve currently been running through for memory on Quizlet. I broke my set of cards into “daily” and “every other day” sets. I found that spending less time on what I already knew made for so much less of a “mind jumble” when flipping through my cards. It makes sense: If you’re already entirely comfortable with a few terms, why needlessly confuse yourself by throwing them in the mix with the ones that stump you extensively?

Fenymen Notebook Method

The Fenymen notebook method is characterized by deliberately writing down concepts and ideas you may be confused by, and then thoughtfully writing down ways that these concepts can be explained to someone younger or who knows less about it. 

I applied this to my current math homework. As I worked through problems online, I wrote down key concepts, terms and ideas that simply weren’t clicking for me. While I was carefully considering my approach for gathering solutions, I wrote down my steps and spoke them aloud. Being able to make that thoughtful connection between reciting and handwriting my thought-process not only simplified my understanding, but it also made me feel more motivated to continue working through other areas of struggle.

In the realm of productivity, I followed a few suggestions to help amplify my success. 

Cut Down on Multitasking

I am a sucker for notifications. I can be typing a research paper, reading a book or passage, or watching a video for a course. Whatever it may be, as soon as a message from the group chat lights up my screen, I’m immediately sidetracked. Telling myself it’ll be just a quick check turns into aimless scrolling through all of socials, and somehow I end up watching cat TikToks until I’ve completely neglected the task at hand. 

This week, I spent a few of my study sessions with my phone flipped upside down, completely blocking out any cell phone distractions. I found that I was much more productive and got more accomplished in a faster period of time, giving me more time later to be able to reply to the group chat at my heart’s content (or watch the same cat TikTok five times in a row to laugh all over again).

Music Types

I also changed up the type of music I listen to while working. I cannot work without music for the life of me; it’s a necessity. Studies have shown that “busy” and loud music can detract from the task at hand and emphasize the music as opposed to the task. I limited my listening to only soft, instrumental music and found that it acted as more of a pleasant background as opposed to my main focus.

This week, I was able to learn more about my own productivity (or lack thereof) and found a few tricks to help make my study sessions more tolerable and motivating. Give some of these a try and evolve your own understanding of studying and productivity.

A Lesson In Accidental Minimalism

If there is one thing my first semester of college has taught me, it’s the valuable lesson of “less is more.” 

I first came to campus bright-eyed and seemingly unprepared, and I noticed it right away. From having hardly enough clothes hangers to finding myself frustrated by the presence of things I didn’t see myself needing, I knew from very early on that I would have to evaluate what was worth having in my tiny slice of northeast Ohio campus life and what wasn’t. 

The first item of business I set about accomplishing was a complete dorm overhaul. I cleaned and carefully placed every little possession and by the time I was finished, I was exhausted by the amount of time I had put into my organization and purging of items only for it to feel so fruitless just a few days of college mess later. That’s what drove me to the “less is more” mentality. Because even after all my efforts, I still found myself holding onto less of what I needed and more of what I wanted, rather than finding a healthy balance between both.

In about a week’s time, I got an aloe plant. I paid essentially a penny to print photos of my dearest friends to string up. And I filled a box full of extra supplies, clothes and room items that didn’t feel necessary anymore. It took me almost the entire semester to really process my understanding of minimalism; when I began with my overhaul and reorganization steps, I didn’t view what I was doing as “minimalism” in the slightest. The difference between the individual I was at the start of the semester versus at the close was made obvious by my change in mentality and outlook.

When I have read about “minimalism,” it is described as being intentional, deliberate and done out of passion and on purpose. Quite oppositely, I’d say coming to college made me an accidental minimalist. 

When people picture the textbook definition and the foundations of minimalism, I’d assume they envision stark white walls and barely anything at all. For me, that understanding has changed, as I have come to find that minimalism is the personal satisfaction in knowing that while I may not have a dorm stocked with millions of pillows, decor, an overflowing wardrobe and items intended for single use, what I do have is exactly what I need. Nothing more, nothing less.

I found comfort through the ups and downs of my first semester of college in the people who helped me understand that material items don’t carry nearly as much weight or sentimental value as do your choices, your deliberateness and your feelings during times of togetherness or solitude.

“Fewer” really can mean more: fewer belongings, fewer worries and a closer circle made up of the people and ideas that hold the greatest amount of weight in your heart.

Follow Emma on her minimalist journey here.

Illustration courtesy of The Burr’s illustration team.