It was just after 5 AM as I gathered my things to head to the gym. As I walked down the hall, I noticed the light on in my daughter Kinsey’s bedroom. She isn’t typically up that early, so I decided to peek inside to see what was going on.
As I opened the door, I saw her sitting in bed with her laptop open and a perplexed look on her face.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m doing some last-minute studying before I take my pharmacology exam.”
“Why are you doing it so early?” I questioned.
“I need to get it done before I go to work because I have a full day, and I won’t want to do it later.”
Kinsey is a great student, and she works full-time and goes to school, so I didn’t want to question her actions. Still, as she responded, it hit me. This was one way she kept her motivation to study when she was too busy with work.
I didn’t want to disturb her further, so I slowly closed the door and went on my way, pondering the question on my own, “how does one maintain their motivation to study when they are too busy with work?”
Motivation is an interesting topic that psychologists, sociologists, and scientists of all types have studied for decades. Countless books and articles have been written on the subject and continue to pop up each year. But what motivates us in certain situations? How can we stay motivated when we have so many other things on our minds like work?
To answer these questions, we first need to understand motivation itself. More specifically, the two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation is an incentive to engage in a specific activity that derives from pleasure in the activity itself rather than because of any external benefits that might be obtained. It sounds like, “I’m going to work hard to get that promotion so I can be more fulfilled at work.”
On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is an external incentive to engage in a specific activity, especially motivation arising from the expectation of punishment or reward. It sounds like, “I really want that promotion at work to make more money.”
How we are motivated really comes down to whether the motivation is coming from within us or outside us. We all tend to gravitate toward one more than the other, but this can depend on a specific situation.
Let’s look at the facts from the specific situation in my example and break them down to understand them further.
- Kinsey works and goes to school like a lot of college students.
- Kinsey was taking her exam very early in the morning before her usual wake-up time.
- She was doing the exam before going to work.
- She had a busy day of work ahead.
- She acknowledged that she would not want to do it later.
All of the facts above point to a motivated individual. What they don’t tell us specifically is, was she motivated intrinsically or extrinsically? I would lean towards intrinsic as there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reward.
This example provides some less apparent clues to ways that can help others like you. I’ve compiled the secrets inspired by these clues, along with some additional wisdom I’ve learned along the way to help you in maintaining your motivation to study.
Here are 11 tips on how to motivate yourself to study even when you’re too busy with work.
1. Have a Great mindset
It all starts here, and a positive mindset can go a long way. Believe that you will achieve your goals, and focus on the good things that you have already done. Studies show that being optimistic leads to getting more done and having better overall mental and physical well-being.
2. Visualize Success
Once your mindset is in order, then the next step is to visualize your success. Begin with a clear vision of what you want to achieve and then experience the feeling of having that success. For example, if you know you want to get an A on an exam, break down the steps to learning the material to ensure success.
3. Break Your Goals Into Small Attainable Tasks
Sometimes, a goal can feel too big, like graduating college with straight A’s. Think of the goals you have and break them down into simple, attainable steps instead.
For example, if you know you want to get an A on an exam, start with gathering the right resources to study, and then go further to identify what you need from each resource. Once you drill down far enough, everything becomes attainable.
4. Reward yourself
Rewards help keep you motivated as long as they are healthy. Once you’ve set a goal, establish a small reward for achieving it. Whether it’s an edible treat you love or something bigger like a massage, this type of external motivator can help maintain your motivation and push you closer to your bigger goals.
5. Pomodoro for the Win
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system that encourages you to work with the time you have, rather than against it. Break the time you have to study into 25-minute chunks separated by 5-minute breaks. Each interval or Pomodoro helps you resist interruptions and trains your brain to focus. You’ll find that the sense of urgency it creates is a fantastic motivator.
6. Measure Progress
Once you start to accomplish goals and have successful Pomodoro’s, you need to measure it all. If you do not measure and report your progress, then you’re probably not making much progress at all. According to Pearson’s Law, when performance is measured, it improves; when performance is measured and reported, it improves exponentially.
7. Make It a Competition
Healthy competition is advantageous to keep you moving, and it’s great for building your motivation to study. You can positively compete with others to push each other to succeed. If you don’t have anyone else, then set up a competition with yourself.
For example, see how many Pomodoro’s you can do without breaking focus and looking at your phone. Keep pushing the bar higher, and you will strive to reach it.
8. Find a Mentor
Another way for you to build and maintain your motivation to study is to find a mentor. Having a mentor is a great way to motivate and connect with someone you admire or someone in the field that you are studying. Having a mentor provides a double benefit in that they can provide both assistance and encouragement to you on your road to success.
9. Get an Accountability Buddy
While this is occasionally the role of a mentor, you can also find another person studying the same thing as you as your accountability buddy or partner. With both of you focused on the same outcome, you can share ideas that you may not have thought of and understand the point of view of your friend.
Studies show that publicly committing your goals to someone gives you at least a 65% chance of completing them. Having a specific accountability partner increases your chance of success to 95%.
10. Find “Your” Time
There’s a funny line from an old movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where a student is disrupting class, and the teacher tells him to stop interrupting the class and do what he’s doing on his own time. The student responds, “I’m here, you’re here, doesn’t that make it our time?”
Whether you are studying with a group or solo, you still need to find the time that works best for your needs and your brain. For some, this is first thing in the morning, but for others, it’s after work when they have decompressed. By measuring your success and the efficiency of your Pomodoro’s, you can identify the optimal time for you.
Taking the time to move is critical toward moving towards your goals. It doesn’t matter if you study at a desk, in bed, or on the floor, you still need to move. Take short five-minute breaks after each successful Pomodoro to stand up, stretch, and move your legs around. This increased blood flow will help keep you awake and get oxygen to your brain.
After you’ve completed four consecutive sessions, then it’s time for a more extended 15 to 20-minute break. This break is the optimal time to get some fresh air and brief exercise outside. This short amount of time will make a significant difference in your level of motivation.
Any of the above tips on their own can help with building and maintaining motivation when put into action. Find the ones that work for you and make them a habit. Once this is done, you won’t need the level of external motivation as you will be programmed internally for success.
I want to think that I’ve raised Kinsey with some good internal programming and her grades indicate that as well. When she got home from work around 7 PM, she came into my office and asked if she could use it for a while.
I said, “Sure, what do you need to do?”
“Take my pharmacology exam.”
“I thought you took it this morning.”
“I was going to, but the opening time was wrong on the exam, so it didn’t open until noon today instead of midnight.”
“Oh, I get it now. Sure, let me get out, so you have peace and quiet.”
I closed the door and left her in the serenity of my cave, knowing she would get a good grade on her exam. I ended up being right about the grade but not about the source of her motivation to study that morning.
When she emerged from the office about 30 minutes later, she quickly turned on the TV. It all came down to the fact that she didn’t want to miss the season finale of The Batchelor. I guess it was more extrinsic than I thought.
More Tips on Staying Motivated
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