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Study Rails: A Web App To Study

Study Rails: A Web App To Study

Study Rails

    In high school, I had a great routine. About five minutes before I had to leave to get to school on time, I would be hitting print on the paper, project or homework assignment due that day. If I truly had timed things perfectly, I might be printing out anything due in the afternoon in the school library during my lunch period.

    To put it mildly, I was a great procrastinator. College put a little bit of a kink in that approach, though. Professors think nothing of setting due dates all on the same day, forcing me to actually plan ahead. I struggled a little with that sort of planning, to be honest. I had never really needed to plan my time out for studying: I could make a project take as much time as I thought I had before it was due, and prioritizing wasn’t exactly my strong point.

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    Looking at my list of must-haves for a good study planner, I noticed that Study Rails (in open beta) seemed to have most of them. I’m taking one class this summer. I figured that maybe Study Rails might be able to help me out.

    Study Rails Set Up

    Setting up a Study Rails account is pretty easy — although only a 14 day trial is free. After that, there’s a subscription fee of $10 per month. Once you’ve confirmed that you really do want to register, the site asks you some basic questions. You will need to put in your class schedule, so I’d recommend have that handy. You’ll also need your cell phone, for Study Rails’ text message capabilities. There is one optional piece of software that the website asks you to download.

    The Benefits of Study Rails

    At first glance, Study Rails seems like little more than a calendar application with a few study skills bells and whistles. You input your class schedule, along with any other appointments that block off your time. You list out your upcoming assignments and estimate the number of hours you’ll need to complete it. Nothing fancy, right?

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    When you start marking off hours for your study time, you start to see a difference. Study Rails automatically prioritizes what assignments you’ll work on during a given hour. The program doesn’t automatically assign you to work straight through on a project, either. It breaks up your study session so that you do a little work on all your assignments and projects.

    Study Rails also tells you when it’s time to hit the books. During the setup process, the site asks for your cell phone number. That’s so it can send you a text message 10 minutes before you’re supposed to start studying. It also text messages you when you need to switch over to a different project or assignment.

    As far as calendar applications go, Study Rails is a pretty aggressive taskmaster. But for many of us not used to planning study sessions on our own, a stern calendar may be necessary. I wouldn’t recommend it for a student who has a good planning system, and it may be a bit overkill for part-time students. It is worth $10 a month to students who need a little help, though.

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    Study Rails, the Software

    As you provide the site with your class schedule and cell phone number, Study Rails offers something in return: a software download. This download is available in both Mac and Windows flavors — although Linux users are out of luck. When installed, this program, known as Study Rails Blocking, will prevent you from accessing any applications and websites you chose. You can prevent yourself from opening up a chat client while you’re supposed to be practicing your Latin vocab or browsing YouTube when you’re supposed to be doing math.

    I’ve seen plenty of plugins and websites that limit your web surfing but most of the methods I’ve seen for blocking AIM and other distracting applications have required a bit more complicated setup than Study Rails Blocking. Interestingly, settings for the blocking software are handled through the web application’s dashboard. Furthermore, you can’t change blocking settings (eliminating sites, etc.) while the calendar says that you’re supposed to be studying.

    I can think of a number of problems that sort of limitation could create — what if you had to IM a classmate to get the question numbers for your math homework? Overall, though, I think it’s a good idea for some people. I know I struggle with checking my email and other distractions when I’m supposed to be working on a specific project. It isn’t the most elegant execution, but it is a decent implementation.

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    Who Should Use Study Rails?

    Study Rails isn’t the perfect web application for every student. Its niche is students who have difficulty managing their studies on their own. For most other students, I can’t recommend spending $10 every month for a calendar — even if it is a great calendar. I think, however, this application is perfect for parents working with their kids to better manage study time. It would be great if Study Rails added some functionality to allow parents to check up on their kids’ schedules down the road, but as is, Study Rails works well as training wheels for study skills.

    I can’t imagine anyone sticking with Study Rails forever. Even for perpetual students, it isn’t a lifelong system. But I could easily see a student using it for the full four years of his high school or college career.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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