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How to Decrease Time Spent Studying and Remember More

How to Decrease Time Spent Studying and Remember More

My resolutions this year included learning something new. So I decided to learn a new language (French, if you are wondering), and also how to code. I know, easier said than done. Sounds just like any one of those hundreds of New Year’s resolutions that are bound to fail, right? They’re the resolutions that you regret as soon as you wake up tired from the New Year’s party you attended.

I must admit, my last year’s resolutions met an abrupt end due to constraints forced on me by the realities of my life (excuses, right?). This year, however, I decided that I’m not taking any chances. I’m going to make it. (It’s July and I am making great progress on both). In the Japanese culture, there’s a concept called Hansei. It’s a process of self-reflection in which you acknowledge your own mistakes and pledge to improve. As they say, self-awareness is the first step to improvement.

Remembering my mistakes from years past, I knew that I needed to plan exactly how I’m going to achieve this year’s target, so I set down and conducted a thorough Hansei. What I found out was truly extraordinary. Not! I simply didn’t have enough time. I didn’t want to disrupt other habits in my life by introducing a new time consuming daily practice. It’s a common problem, right?

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I set out to look for ways to maximize the time that I was wasting. Here are some examples I’m sure we can all relate to. I listened to recorded lessons in my car, read simple texts while waiting in line and tried to optimize my time so that every minute of my day was accounted for. This was definitely a good start, but not the magic bullet I was seeking. I was looking for a way to learn new things as efficiently as possible.

I dove even deeper, I looked for method that will help me decrease the amount of time spent studying significantly and increase the amount of information I’m able to retain. To my surprise, I found two…

1. Spaced Repetition

The spaced repetition technique spreads information in specific time intervals and repeats that information in specific points in time so you’ll remember more indefinitely. How can that possibly work?

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When our brain is exposed to information over a long period of time, it tends to remember that information due to the Spacing Effect. It is a psychological phenomenon that ensures we remember information which is presented to us through repeated long termed spaced studying.

How the method works:

  • You memorize a piece of information (be it a word in a foreign language or code syntax) and then after a few minutes you repeat; exposing yourself again to the same information in increased intervals.
  • The intervals begin with few minutes, than increase to hours, days, weeks, and eventually months.
  • An example to such an interval can be seen in Pimsleur’s graduated-interval recall – 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, and 2 years.

Spaced repetition works so well because it uses your long-term memory instead of your short-term memory to process information.

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Tip – I use an app called Anki to help me with learning code and foreign grammar; it’s effective and fun using spaced repetition principals with flesh cards.

2. Mnemonic Techniques

The mnemonic technique translates information you’re trying to memorize into a pattern your brain remembers better than the original form. There are many types of mnemonic applications including remembering sets of numbers (numeric), remembering lists and I also found it’s extremely effective when trying to remember new words in a foreign language. An example of mnemonic application can be learning the names of the stars in our solar system:

  • My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos
  • Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune (source).

A foreign language mnemonic I use is associating words I find hard to remember to “link words” in my mother tongue, for instance:

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  • In Russian, the word cow (pronounced roughly “karova”) can be associated to “I ran my car over a cow.”

Linkwords work in the following way:

First, you create the linkword > then you associate it with a story> the story leads to the meaning and there you have it.

Linkword > Story > Meaning

After a while you’re able to remember the link word and meaning without the story, and eventually you remember the meaning, without the help of the link word or the story.

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Published on July 17, 2018

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

I’ve never believed people are born productive or organized. Being organized and productive is a choice.

You choose to keep your stuff organized or you don’t. You choose to get on with your work and ignore distractions or you don’t.

But one skill very productive people appear to have that is not a choice is the ability to compartmentalize. And that takes skill and practice.

What is compartmentalization

To compartmentalize means you have the ability to shut out all distractions and other work except for the work in front of you. Nothing gets past your barriers.

In psychology, compartmentalization is a defence mechanism our brains use to shut out traumatic events. We close down all thoughts about the traumatic event. This can lead to serious mental-health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if not dealt with properly.

However, compartmentalization can be used in positive ways to help us become more productive and allow us to focus on the things that are important to us.

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Robin Sharma, the renowned leadership coach, calls it his Tight Bubble of Total Focus Strategy. This is where he shuts out all distractions, turns off his phone and goes to a quiet place where no one will disturb him and does the work he wants to focus on. He allows nothing to come between himself and the work he is working on and prides himself on being almost uncontactable.

Others call it deep work. When I want to focus on a specific piece of work, I turn everything off, turn on my favourite music podcast The Anjunadeep Edition (soft, eclectic electronic music) and focus on the content I intend to work on. It works, and it allows me to get massive amounts of content produced every week.

The main point about compartmentalization is that no matter what else is going on in your life — you could be going through a difficult time in your relationships, your business could be sinking into bankruptcy or you just had a fight with your colleague; you can shut those things out of your mind and focus totally on the work that needs doing.

Your mind sees things as separate rooms with closable doors, so you can enter a mental room, close the door and have complete focus on whatever it is you want to focus on. Your mind does not wander.

Being able to achieve this state can seriously boost your productivity. You get a lot more quality work done and you find you have a lot more time to do the things you want to do. It is a skill worth mastering for the benefits it will bring you.

How to develop the skill of compartmentalization

The simplest way to develop this skill is to use your calendar.

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Your calendar is the most powerful tool you have in your productivity toolbox. It allows you to block time out, and it can focus you on the work that needs doing.

My calendar allows me to block time out so I can remove everything else out of my mind to focus on one thing. When I have scheduled time for writing, I know what I want to write about and I sit down and my mind completely focuses on the writing.

Nothing comes between me, my thoughts and the keyboard. I am in my writing compartment and that is where I want to be. Anything going on around me, such as a problem with a student, a difficulty with an area of my business or an argument with my wife is blocked out.

Understand that sometimes there’s nothing you can do about an issue

One of the ways to do this is to understand there are times when there is nothing you can do about an issue or an area of your life. For example, if I have a student with a problem, unless I am able to communicate with that student at that specific time, there is nothing I can do about it.

If I can help the student, I would schedule a meeting with the student to help them. But between now and the scheduled meeting there is nothing I can do. So, I block it out.

The meeting is scheduled on my calendar and I will be there. Until then, there is nothing I can do about it.

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Ask yourself the question “Is there anything I can do about it right now?”

This is a very powerful way to help you compartmentalize these issues.

If there is, focus all your attention on it to the exclusion of everything else until you have a workable solution. If not, then block it out, schedule time when you can do something about it and move on to the next piece of work you need to work on.

Being able to compartmentalize helps with productivity in another way. It reduces the amount of time you spend worrying.

Worrying about something is a huge waste of energy that never solves anything. Being able to block out issues you cannot deal with stops you from worrying about things and allows you to focus on the things you can do something about.

Reframe the problem as a question

Reframing the problem as a question such as “what do I have to do to solve this problem?” takes your mind away from a worried state into a solution state, where you begin searching for solutions.

One of the reasons David Allen’s Getting Things Done book has endured is because it focuses on contexts. This is a form of compartmentalization where you only do work you can work on.

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For instance, if a piece of work needs a computer, you would only look at the work when you were in front of a computer. If you were driving, you cannot do that work, so you would not be looking at it.

Choose one thing to focus on

To get better at compartmentalizing, look around your environment and seek out places where you can do specific types of work.

Taking your dog for a walk could be the time you focus solely on solving project problems, commuting to and from work could be the time you spend reading and developing your skills and the time between 10 am and 12 pm could be the time you spend on the phone sorting out client issues.

Once you make the decision about when and where you will do the different types of work, make it stick. Schedule it. Once it becomes a habit, you are well on your way to using the power of compartmentalization to become more productive.

Comparmentalization saves you stress

Compartmentalization is a skill that gives you time to deal with issues and work to the exclusion of all other distractions.

This means you get more work done in less time and this allows you to spend more time with the people you want to spend more time with, doing the things you want to spend more time doing.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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