Set Up a Consistent and Manageable Study Schedule to Succeed on Test Day

procrastinationWhen I ask my students how their studying is going, the response is often to give an embarrassed smile, and admit that they just haven’t found as much time as they would have liked to devote to GMAT problems. This is understandable. Most of them have full-time jobs. Many serve on the boards of non-profit organizations. Others have young families. Preparing for a test as challenging as the GMAT can often feel like taking on a part-time job, and when piled on top of an already burdensome schedule, the demands can feel overwhelming and unreasonable.

Consequently, whenever they do find time to study, they tend to cram in as much work as they can, forsaking little things like socializing, exercise, and sleep. In an earlier post, I discussed why it can be counterproductive to engage in marathon study sessions, so in this one, I want to explore strategies for consistently finding small blocks of time so that our study regimens will be less painful and more productive.

The good news is that while we all feel incredibly busy, research shows that, in actuality, we’re a good deal less saturated with responsibilities than we think we are. In Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No Has the Time, Brigid Schulte discusses how our sense of having too much to do is, in a sense, a self-fulfilling prophesy. When we feel as though there’s too much to do, we tend to procrastinate, and part of this procrastination involves lamenting to others about how overwhelmed we are. Of course, while we’re complaining about our busy schedules, we’re not exactly models of productivity, and so we fall even further behind, which compounds our overriding sense of helplessness, compelling us to complain even more, a cycle that deepens as it perpetuates itself.

So then, how do we break this cycle?

First, we need to identify the biggest productivity-killers that trigger our procrastination tendencies in the first place. It will surprise no one to hear that email is a major culprit. What is surprising, at least to me, is how much of our idea was devoted to responding to emails. According to a study conducted by Mckinsey, we spend, on average, 28% of our workdays on email.

If you’re working a 10-hour day, as many of my students are, that’s nearly three hours of pure email time. If they can cut this down to 2 hours, well, that’s an hour of potential GMAT study time.  A few simple strategies can accomplish this. This Forbes article offers some excellent advice.

The most salient recommendations are pretty simple. First, set up an auto-responder. Unless an email is urgent, the sender will not expect to hear back from you right away. Second, get in the habit of sending shorter emails. If complicated logistics are involved, make a phone call rather than going back and forth over email. Also, make judicious use of folders to prioritize which messages are most important. And last, do not, under any circumstances, send an email that is mostly about how you don’t have any time to do things like, well, sending recreational emails.

Next, during those times when we’d otherwise have been on our phones complaining how much we have to do, we can instead use our phones to sneak in a bit of extra study time. Many of my students take the subway or commuter rail to work. While I don’t expect anyone to crack open their GMAT books in this environment, there’s no reason why they can’t use a good app on their phones to sneak in a good 20-minute session each day. And if you were wondering, yes, Veritas Prep has an excellent app for precisely such occasions.

The hope is that simple strategies, like the ones outlined above, will allow you to make your study regimen both consistent and manageable, diminishing the need to over-study when you finally have a block of free time on the weekend. If you’re able to do something more restorative on the weekend and feel refreshed when you begin the following work week, you’ll find you’ll be more productive that week and more inclined to stick with your study plan without running the risk of burnout. In time, you’ll feel less busy, and paradoxically, will be able to get more done.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here