At this point, you should have all the basics down pat. You have a regular rhythm of studying that you are following and a regular monthly check to make sure you are staying focused on the goal. You have probably changed or tweaked at least a few things about this plan so far. Or at least I hope you have.
This month we are going to delve a little deeper into time management, so that you can make the most out of what limited time you might have during the day. Good time management can save you a lot of time and make things more efficient for you. The more efficient you are the quicker you will see results. And the quicker you see results the more motivated you’ll be.
If you think about, it is really unnatural to think about time. I mean, the animals of the Earth don’t where watches do they? It is one of those necessary evils that came about from modernization. And in a perfect world, nobody would care about time. Even celebrities have to show up at specific time though, so you need to learn some basic steps of how to take control of that time so it doesn’t go running off into the bushes never to be found again.
And actually time can be your friend if you put it to work for you. So how can you do that? Well, there are some common tools that you need to be aware of it.
Time boxing is a handy little technique where you ‘box in’ certain amounts of time to focus on something. For example, if you need to practice some vocabulary, grammar, and some reading, but only have about 30 minutes to do it. You can divide up the task into 3 – ten minute blocks of time. At the beginning of each block you set a timer for 10 minutes, study the heck out of vocabulary (or grammar or reading) for those ten minutes and then stop and switch to something else.
As you can imagine, this can keep you pretty focused because you have told your mind that you are only going to do this for 10 minutes, which seems a lot more doable then say an hour or some indefinite period of time. It is very easy to tell your mind to focus on the task at hand. It is very similar to the 21 day rule that I like to tout. It is easy to stick to a habit if you tell your mind that you only have to keep it up for 21 days.
Time boxing also helps with procrastination for the very same reason it helps you focus. If you are having trouble sitting down and getting some studying done. Tell yourself that you only need to study for 10 minutes. Set the timer and power through a block of studying, then reward yourself. Keep building up your focus more and more until you are able to focus and study for a longer period of time, which will come in handy during test time.
Time boxing keeps your studying fairly balanced as well. Often times I find myself going off on a whim studying a particular passage for awhile trying to puzzle out what it all means. Or I’ll be trying to power through what in the world a particular grammar point or phrases means, how to use it, or what the difference between it and another similar phrase is. These can be major time sucks, and they don’t have to be.
First of all, this is where a tutor comes in handy who can answer any annoying questions you might have. But, also just taking some time off from it and going and working on something else will allow your brain to process what is going on so that you can better understand the grammar point or passage. Time boxing gives you that space so that your brain can unlock a little and look at things from a slightly different angle.
Time boxing can also speed up your reading. If you give yourself only a certain amount of time to read a passage and answer questions about it, you will try your best to get through it without all the dilly dallying you might have done otherwise. Forcing yourself to finish the task in a small amount of time will keep you from looking up words and instead using your noggin to puzzle out a new vocabulary word.
Easy to start
You really don’t have any excuses to not at least try time boxing out because it doesn’t cost you anything and it isn’t going to take up anymore of your time than your studying is already taking you. So, give it a try the next time you sit down to do some studying. Try to play games with it and see how many words or questions you can answer in a given amount of time.
As with anything new, don’t overdue it at first. Take it easy and add in a few time boxed sessions here and there in your studies. You will probably want to tweak how much time you spend in each session. For me, I’ve found that longer sessions of about 22 minutes each seem to do the trick. Afterwards, I usually get up and do a little stretch before starting on something else.
You can use this technique to practice several different skills in one block of time as well. I find that if you spend an inordinate amount of time just focused on one particular thing like vocabulary drilling your mind can switch off pretty fast. But, if you split it up into smaller blocks of different skills you can stay energized and ready to keep studying.
Okay so you have probably heard a hundred times by now that all-nighters, where you stay up all night to finish an exam, are bad for you. The lack of sleep causes you to lose focus which has a huge effect on your ability process the information you are trying to study. In addition to that, staying up all night disrupts your sleeping schedule so that your focus and attention is a mess for a few days or a week until you can get back on a proper sleeping schedule.
So, it is best to scrap the idea of an all-nighter. But what about an all-dayer? That is studying all day long. Okay so maybe it sounds a little nuts, but if you have the free time on a Sunday (and you weren’t drinking heavily the night before), it is an option to consider. After all, it’s better to invest a few days now so that you can pass the test, as to not studying enough, failing this round, and then having to pay and take the test next time. You almost might find yourself ‘in the zone’ and be able to just go with the energy that you have to put a lot of studying in at once so that you can enjoy your week more.
An all-dayer is also an excellent way to build up language endurance. Language endurance is your ability to focus on a foreign language for long periods of time. This is one of those things that gets overlooked if you live or work in an environment with a lot of English (or your native language) use and not completely immersed in Japanese. For the N2 and N1, you have to sit through almost two hours of testing for the grammar and reading sections of the test. If you are not used to that it can be a considerable hurdle.
How to study all day
If you do decide to study all day, make sure to lay out a set schedule of what you want to do, dividing the day into key blocks of time for the different skills or activities you want to work on. Deciding ahead of schedule will eliminate procrastination due to decision paralysis. You have a set schedule so no more decisions to be made. On that schedule, be sure to put your newly learned time-boxing skills to work by boxing out sections of the day to work on things.
Be sure to factor in some rewards for yourself like watching your favorite TV show or eating a snack. It’s okay to take a break from studying so that your mind can get a little rest. However, make sure you box these activities in as well, just like you would your study activities. That way you won’t catch yourself in a middle of Family Guy marathon, realizing that you should actually be studying instead.
If you do block out a huge chunk of time to, say, do a practice test, make sure you rest your eyes from time to time. Every 20 or 30 minutes or so, look away from the paper in front of you, focus at something in the distance, then close and cover your eyes to block out the light. With your eyes closed and covered, try to ‘look around’ in the blackness. This will help to relax your eye muscles so they don’t get so strained. I do this when I’m putting in big blocks of time studying, translating (staring at a computer screen), and even taking the test. It only takes 15 seconds or so, and then you are back in the game.
Every hour, you’ll want to get up and get your blood pumping some how. This may mean a simple walk downstairs to get a glass of water or it could be dropping to the ground and doing 25 push ups. It is totally up to you. But, you do not want to remain in a seat for much longer than 1 hour. Sitting down for long periods of time has actually been shown to shorten your life, so getting your butt out of your seat every once in awhile is probably a good idea.
How about you?
How’s your studying going? Have you ever scheduled out your studies? Do you time-box? Tell us about it in the comments.
This is just an excerpt from the JLPT Study Kit. Inside the kit, you’ll also find:
- Different kinds of activities to use to study Japanese
- A powerful, effective, and free program I use every day to time-box.
- Effective steps to scheduling out your studies
- a PDF checklist of what to do each month
- and more…
If you haven’t picked up the kit, why not give it a try? It has a 90 day money back guarantee, so you have nothing to lose!