Managing Your Schedule & Staying Productive with Academic Habits
At OES, we value flexibility. With our online courses, we empower our students to have more control over their schooling and make it easier for students to manage their schedules and stay productive because they can work at their own pace.
This flexibility is especially important for busy students who don’t have the luxury of treating school as a full-time job, but is only effective when paired with good academic habits.
It’s easier for students to manage their schedules and stay productive when they leverage good academic habits, but developing these habits can be difficult. And some academic habits are more productive than others.
The way we do schoolwork, like the way we eat, take care of our dental health, or use our mobile phones, can quickly become an ingrained habit that stays with us over time. Once an academic habit, like any other habit, is ingrained, it’s not easy to change.
Students who develop unproductive academic habits early on in their lives are more likely to rely on these habits once they reach the post-secondary institutions level than students who develop productive academic habits, like efficient time management skills, early on. So, the sooner students learn to work and study productively for courses and exams, the better.
At OES, we promote self-paced and flexible learning to give our students time to cultivate and practice productive academic habits to prepare them for online grade 12 courses without having to compromise or ignore their other obligations in and outside of school.
Productive Versus Unproductive Academic Habits
Productive academic habits make every minute count. Unproductive academic habits, by contrast, can be a relative waste of time. One common reason students don’t have productive academic habits is that they’ve never been taught what these good habits look like, let alone how to cultivate them.
The first step to learning productive academic habits is to differentiate them from their unproductive alternatives. Two common unproductive academic habits are:
1. Passive learning
Unproductive Academic Habit #1: Passive Learning
Passive learning refers to the practice of engaging with course material without much participation. A big danger with passive learning is that it gives the illusion of being more effective than it is.
When, for instance, a student reads over course material without taking notes or explaining aloud to a friend what the material means, the student may feel as though they are absorbing information and committing it to memory. Yet, when exam time comes, and they don’t have the course material at hand, they may realize that they are far less prepared than they originally believed.
Unproductive Academic Habit #2: Cramming
Just as there are plenty of reasons people do things last minute, there are plenty of reasons students cram for deadlines and exams. Generally speaking, however, there are two kinds of cramming:
1. Necessary cramming
2. Unnecessary cramming
Neither necessary nor unnecessary cramming methods are ideal academic habits, but necessary cramming is unavoidable, whereas unnecessary cramming is not.
Necessary cramming is circumstantial. It refers to when students have no choice but to cram. Unnecessary cramming, by contrast, is non-circumstantial. It refers to when students cram when they don’t have to—when they could write a paper or prepare for an exam well in advance of the deadline or date.
For some students, in some cases, cramming is the only option. When life is busy, you only have so much time to study. In other words, when you got to cram, you got to cram.
This is especially true for busy students, including mature students, who attend traditional brick-and-mortar high schools and struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance. OES, unlike these high schools that often adhere to a one-size-fits-all pedagogical ideology, helps students avoid necessary cramming by empowering them to control the pace of their own learning.
Unnecessary cramming is cramming that can be avoided. The best way to avoid unnecessary cramming is to avoid procrastinating.
Procrastinating is normal. Even if you tend not to be a crammer, you’ve probably, at least once in your life, bought someone a birthday gift the day of.
Some people spend their whole lives procrastinating, first at school, then in the workforce, and in their personal lives as well. Why students procrastinate is a complicated matter. It’s not exactly about willpower; willpower is an outdated concept. Students may procrastinate because, for instance:
- They’re overwhelmed by anxiety or self-doubt
- Procrastinating makes them feel good
Overwhelmed by Anxiety or Self-Doubt
Anxiety and self-doubt can be motivating. If you’re anxious about an upcoming driving lesson, you might spend more time working on your parallel-parking technique. If you’re doubtful of your ability to do well on the written driving test, you may study more than necessary.
But anxiety and self-about can become so intense you feel paralyzed, like a deer in the headlights, fully aware of the incoming car yet unable to move. And that’s when anxiety becomes a problem.
It makes sense that a student who’s paralyzed by anxiety would procrastinate to cope with the problem. Procrastinating is a way to ignore, for a few moments, the car that’s speeding toward you, the danger coming your way.
Procrastinating to Feel Good
Procrastination can feel good when you’re avoiding an important task but procrastinating to feel good can lead to a destructive cycle. When you crash from your good mood, you may feel guilty about procrastinating. This may in turn lead you to procrastinate more, because doing so feels so much better than guilt. And so on.
Pulling an all-nighter when you could’ve studied earlier in the week is the most extreme and unproductive form of unnecessary cramming and one of the worst academic habits anyone can fall into.
Getting at least a few hours of sleep—ideally 7 or 8—preps your brain to perform. All-nighters are stressful, and the stress can lead to adrenal fatigue. Also, lack of sleep, even one night of it, can lead to:
- Trouble concentrating and thinking clearly
- A higher risk of accidents
- Muscle tension
- Impaired judgment
- Mood changes
- Increased blood sugar levels
- Difficulty remembering
- Reduced coordination
- Psychosis (paranoia and hallucinations)
Yes, even psychosis. It’s rare, but it happens. All-nighters are seriously risky.
Now you might think that pulling an all-nighter isn’t that serious. After all, it’s only one night. But consider the numbers: if you wake up on Tuesday at 8 am, stay awake all night, hand in your research paper a minute before the 11 am deadline, and don’t fall asleep until 10 pm, you’ve been awake for 38 hours.
When you consider that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should stay awake for
Deferring Deadlines to Avoid Cramming
Some educational institutions are more lenient about deadlines than others. Students that take courses at OES have more control over the pace of their studies, including their deadlines, than students who take courses at traditional brick-and-mortar schools at any level (secondary, post-secondary, etc.).
At these traditional schools, instructors tend not to be sympathetic to students who ask to defer deadlines. Others may be sympathetic, but there’s nothing they can do. This can be especially detrimental to students with obligations outside of school, like part or full-time jobs. It can also be detrimental for students who habitually procrastinate, which is common among people with ADHD.
So, the short answer to the question, “Can you defer an exam to avoid pulling an all-nighter?” is, at OES, often yes, while at traditional high schools, it depends.
Productive Academic Habits
If you have perfected your academic habits so that you manage your schedule, stay productive in all areas of your life, and maintain work-life balance, congratulations. Your habits will serve you well all throughout your life.
However, if like most people, your academic habits could improve, there are fortunately clear ways to level up. Replacing unproductive academic habits with productive academic habits will go a long way.
But that may be easier said than done. Cultivating new habits, like cultivating any kind of habit, is not something you can do overnight. How many people start going to the gym three times a week after resolving to do so in the new year? How many people wake up one day, decide they’ll stop eating processed sugar, and immediately eliminate it from their diet?
There’s a common misconception that cultivating good habits is a matter of willpower when it’s more about being realistic about your goals and working toward achieving them step-by-step, small alteration by small alteration. If you want to eliminate processed sugar from your diet, start by reducing your intake by a third. If you want to start going to the gym three times a week, start by going once and build from there.
When it comes to habit formation, slow and steady wins the race. This applies to academic habits. Cultivating them is a gradual process.
5 Tips for Forming Productive Academic Habits
There are at least five kinds of productive academic habits:
1. Using the spacing effect
2. Create a productive learning space at home
3. Take notes by hand
4. Make time for work-life balance by planning
5. Understand your learning type
#1 Using the Spacing Effect
Studying in increments over time is more effective than cramming. This is due to the spacing effect (also known as spaced repetition and spaced presentation), a term coined by the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850 – 1909). It means, in short, that studying in increments over time helps you digest and remember information better than you would otherwise.
Studying for an hour each day for five days is more productive than studying ten hours in one day. Working on a paper an hour each day for five days is more productive than writing it in one sitting.
#2 Creating a Productive Learning Space at Home
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us how essential it is to create a productive workspace at home. It can make your job a whole lot easier. The same is true for students. Those who create a productive learning space at home tend to perform better at school.
#3 Taking Notes by Hand
It may sound simple, but note taking for online students is essential. Students are better prepared for exams when they take notes during class and while doing their readings, especially by hand, as manual note taking is proven to be more effective than digital note taking.
#4 Making Time for Work-Life Balance by Planning
It isn’t easy for anyone to manage their schedule and stay productive while maintaining a work-life balance. Planning out your days is an excellent way to do so. You can do so by creating to-do lists, schedules, calendars, and even spreadsheets. Whatever works for you.
#5 Understand Your Learning Type
A key step toward cultivating productive academic habits is determining which study method(s) work best for you depending on what kind of learner you are—visual, auditory, reading and writing, or kinesthetic.
For reading and writing learners, for instance, taking notes by hand is a productive way to study. For visual learners, drawing diagrams can work very well. Look here to learn more about learner types.
The Bottom Line
Having productive academic habits enables you to better manage your schedule and stay productive in all areas of your life, not just school. OES helps our students cultivate and leverage productive habits by providing resources like tutors and promoting flexible self-paced learning.
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