There’s no hiding anymore: summer’s well and truly over, the weather’s getting colder and that stack of coursework on the desk is just getting bigger.
With school and uni getting underway, sometimes it feels like your brain just doesn’t want to switch back on after months without even picking up a pen.
Focusing is difficult at the best of times, and it’s not made any easier by the fact that the start of a new term usually means new friends, new social events and, basically, more reasons to stay away from your desk and the pile of work you’ve got to do.
Most of us, when we think of boosting our grades, turn to our favourite study playlists, best study spaces and much-needed caffeine boosts in the hopes of having a few super-focused, productive hours.
But is that really all there is to it? Is it really as simple as sitting down and getting it done?
Well, in short, no.
Improving grades is about far more than just focusing for a few hours: it’s about making those hours and that study time as productive as possible.
So how can you do that?
Jan Stanley, in a Tedx Talk about the power of routines says that the answer lies in habits, practices and rituals – that routines are a “bridge between strategy and action”.
Her passion for routine comes from her belief that routine can revolutionise the way we think about our days and lives. It’s one thing, Stanley says to come to the end of the day and realise you’ve forgotten to do a task – it’s another to come to the end of your life and realise that a whole life goal hasn’t been achieved.
That’s more likely to happen without routine, says Stanley. Even artists and creatives need routine, and it doesn’t have to be the monotonous, boring ordeal we’ve come to regard it as. A good routine can help us to get a lot more done than attempting to work without one.
This is because once we make a routine out of the things we’ve got to do daily, we know exactly how much time we have to relax around our routine. Plus, certain ‘rituals’, as Stanley calls them, can get us in the right mindset for the rest of our day.
That means if we start and end our days with certain ‘signals’, we’ll be better prepared to study – and find it easier to switch off at the end of the day, too.
So, if your morning routine consistently includes brushing your teeth, eating breakfast and having a cup of tea, you’ll be far better set to get going for the day than if you have no direction or routine.
Stanley says that our horror at finding we’ve arrived at work or school having forgotten to brush our teeth is because our morning routine has been interrupted. If we’re committed to our routines, we won’t start the day on a bad note.
How can we make sure that we stick to our routines, then?
Life is constantly going to throw us unavoidable obstacles that interrupt our routines and day-to-day lives; it’s just about finding ways to limit the number of obstacles in our way where we can.
For instance, Stanley’s example of forgetting to brush our teeth can have more of a serious effect than we might have thought at first glance. Tooth decay is the number one reason children take time off school, which indicates that this disruption to their daily school routine could be prevented with proper care for their teeth. The same goes for other daily hygiene routines that have become second nature: skipping them for one day could mean in the future, our routines are interrupted in a way that’s out of our control.
Some interruptions to our focusing, then, are actually completely avoidable: it’s just about setting up sustainable habits that make interruptions harder to occur.
So, counterintuitively, keeping focused and improving your studies is actually less about channelling all of your energy into one specific task you need to get done, and more about following routines and habits that shape your day and life. If your routine is sorted, your time becomes far more productive, and you can study without that nagging feeling that there’s something else you’ve got to get done.
Good luck – and don’t forget to brush your teeth!