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It’s been a while since I’ve been in school, but I know a few friends who are still studying their way towards graduation. It amazes me how many tools currently exist out there to aid in the study process – tools that I would’ve loved to make use of back before I earned my degree. Unfortunately, my time for improved study habits is over, but you can still benefit!

Technology is wonderful like that. If there’s a lack, then someone will find a way to create technology that works to help alleviate some of that lack. Can’t focus or concentrate? There’s a tool for that. Can’t seem to keep your due dates organized? No problem, technology can help. Distracted by the Internet? Yup, technology can save the day there, too. All it takes is a little bit of know-how and a little bit of setup and your study productivity will skyrocket in no time.

Keep Mental Clarity With Pomodoro Technique

I once heard that it’s better to study in small bursts with short breaks in between because it helps your mind retain information. The theory behind it had something to do with the fact that you’re more likely to remember the beginnings and ends of an event while the middle can get a bit fuzzy. Whether or not that’s true, my personal experience does say that short study bursts are more effective than long cramming sessions.

better-study-habits-pomodoro

That’s where the Pomodoro Technique steps in. The basic gist of the technique is that you set a timer for 20 minutes and work (or study) as hard as you can for that time length. When the timer ends, you’ll get a 10 minute break. You alternate between study and breaks throughout the day and you should see an improvement in your study habits.

We’ve covered plenty of Pomodoro Technique apps and programs Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Procrastination is a malady that pervades students and workers in all corners of the world and it infects amateurs and professionals alike. As a writer, I suffer from procrastination on a daily basis. Some people... Read More that were designed to help you stay on track. I’ve been using this technique for years and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s amazing. Give it try and see how it works for you.

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Conquer Tasks With To-Do Lists

I feel like I’m tooting an ancient horn every time I mention to-do lists in the same breath as productivity, but there’s a reason why to-do lists are so popular: they work! Perhaps it has something to do with the psychological satisfaction of clearing a list one by one until you have nothing left. It’s wildly cathartic.

todolist

A lot of people use to-do lists to help them remember what they need to buy from the grocery store or something along those lines, but to-do lists can be helpful for studying. The key is to break down big projects into smaller and smaller tasks until each task can’t be broken down any further. Then, one by one, you go through and complete them, all the while ticking them off of the list. One huge benefit is that those huge projects seem less daunting when you’ve broken them down.

todolist

For example, maybe you need to “study for the final” that you have next week. Break that down: you actually have to “study chapters 3, 6, 8, 9, and 10” and “review lab reports.” Well, those can be broken down even further: “read pages 90 to 100, 100 to 120, review lab report 3, review lab report 4,” and so on and so forth. This way, studying is more methodical, even seems doable now.

My recommendations for to-do lists include Do It (Tomorrow) Do It (Tomorrow) Is An Extremely Simple Online To-Do List Do It (Tomorrow) Is An Extremely Simple Online To-Do List If you love the idea of an online list of things you need to do, but never manage to actually use one for longer than the time it takes for you to add all of... Read More , Any.DO Get Your To-Do List Done In Style With Any.DO For Android Get Your To-Do List Done In Style With Any.DO For Android To-do lists are not necessarily the most exciting applications ever, and the UI for most Android apps is often on the bland side. That’s the starting point for Any.DO, and it takes these two dull... Read More , and Todo.txt How to Stay Organized With the World’s Simplest To-Do System That Works - Todo.txt How to Stay Organized With the World’s Simplest To-Do System That Works - Todo.txt Here at MakeUseOf, we’ve covered plenty of to-do systems in the past. But if you’re like me, to-do systems can sometimes become too much work to maintain and end up costing you in productivity. I... Read More .

Look Up Strange Terms With OneLook.com

For those of you involved in high-level studies with words or concepts that are difficult to parse, OneLook might be the site for you. In layman’s terms, OneLook is a dictionary, but it’s an advanced dictionary like none you’ve ever seen. I thought I’d seen everything the Internet currently has to offer, but OneLook definitely took me by surprise.

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The basic lookup involves a search query for a word or phrase, then OneLook will spit back a definition. If you want to include or exclude specific dictionaries, you can do that. There is also the option to search translations instead of dictionaries. But coolest part, if you ask me, is the reverse dictionary, which takes a described concept and returns potential words that encapsulate that concept.

Another great feature of OneLook is its advanced searching. You aren’t just limited to looking up specific words like in other online dictionaries. Instead, you can search with wildcards, placeholders, search for words with similar meanings, words with similar concepts, phrases that fit an acronym, and more. Once you learn the intricacies, you’ll have a powerful tool in your hands.

Temporarily Block Websites

It’s funny how some of our greatest distractions today are technology, which was meant to make life easier and more efficient. Smartphones, computers, and the Internet can put up a roadblock when you need to study. Fortunately, technology comes to the rescue and protects you against technology: timed programs that temporarily block some, or all, websites so you are forced to study.

focus-filter

The one I recommend most is a Windows desktop program called FocalFilter FocalFilter: Block Websites That Are Distracting You From Work [Windows] FocalFilter: Block Websites That Are Distracting You From Work [Windows] Read More . With it, you can manage a list of sites to block. All you have to do is type in a bunch of websites, set a block duration, then click the button. This tool will block access to these websites for the duration on all major browsers: IE, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Sorry, Opera users. Highly recommended.

For browser-specific alternatives, you can check out LeechBlock for Firefox and StayFocusd for Chrome.

Use Nag Reminders to Remember to Study

Another big problem when I used to have when I was a student was that I’d take a short break and get completely side-tracked by whatever I ended up doing on break. “Just a quick glance at a website” turned into three hours of browsing and an aching back. “One more game” turned into five more games and suddenly all of my study time was gone.

better-study-habits-pesterme

If you run something like the Pomodoro Technique above, then the frequent alarm buzzes will minimize this risk and keep you on track. However, if you don’t like Pomodoro, then what can you use? Fortunately, there are a number of “nag reminder” tools out there that will periodically remind you to do whatever it is you set as the reminder.

A good one that I like is PesterMe, which happens to be really old (last updated in 2006) but still works well for me (at least on Windows 7). It sits in the background and displays a popup when the reminder duration runs out. For alternatives, you can check out these three reminder tools 3 Tools To Remind Yourself To Take A Break & Relax While Working At The Computer 3 Tools To Remind Yourself To Take A Break & Relax While Working At The Computer Working on the computer may not be very physical, nevertheless it's tough on your body. If you are damned to spend your working hours behind a desk, you had better find ways to do something... Read More which are meant to remind you to take breaks, but you can flip them around and use them to remind you to stop breaking.

Conclusion

The general consensus, at least in my circles, is that technology is a big hindrance to study. Websites, email, instant messengers, and video games might as well be flashing neon signs that point you away from work. However, hopefully the tools above will not only convince you that technology can help reduce distractions, but maybe they’ll actually help you with your studies.

What do you use to help you study? How do you fight distractions and keep focused? Share your experiences with us in the comments!

Image Credits: Via MorgueFile

  1. Rob Hatfield
    August 23, 2013 at 1:00 am

    Good post Joel, but the need to round out the study habits "tips list".

    Please add Evernote to your list https://www.evernote.com to keep it all organized. (Evernote, don't leave school without it)

    I would also suggest Study Guides and Strategies : http://www.studygs.net/ to your list. ( This should be number one on your list)

    Finally, keep any research and research papers organized look at Zotero http://www.zotero.org/ to help students develop good research study habits.

    Remember, it will take three weeks to develop your study / learning behavior into a pattern or habit to integrate with that learner's style.

    Rob

    • Marina L.
      September 7, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      My academic life just became a whole lot easier. Thanks, Rob!

  2. JN
    August 22, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    "Unfortunately, my time for improved study habits is over..."

    Sorry to hear of your untimely demise. (From your comment, I assume you are dead!) If, by some chance, you are still alive, then you are NOT done studying. Your 'time for improved study habits' is definitely not over! Learn something new every day. It can only add to your life.

    • Joel Lee
      August 27, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      I would say that studying and learning are two different activities. I still strive to learn something new every day, but I haven't studied for a test in years!

  3. Pooky J
    August 22, 2013 at 7:49 am

    I wouldn't remember anything if I just cram at the last few days.

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