Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Using Windfall Time Effectively

It is easy to assume that we can accomplish nothing important in small chunks of time.  It is human nature to waste time increments that are under an hour, and especially under 30 minutes.  We feel we acquire permission automatically to take breaks, chat with friends, mindlessly surf the web, or complete any other leisurely task in such time blocks.

However, if one seriously follows this line of thought, it is very easy to waste enormous amounts of valuable time within a day.  There are many tasks that can be completed in small amounts of time.  It does not matter whether the windfall time occurs because a reading assignment was shorter than expected, class let out early, a ride showed up late, or there was merely a break between two scheduled classes.  For students, using those chunks of time can be critical as exams approach. 

Think about it.  If you capture 1/2 hour per day for small study tasks for 7 days, you have found 3 1/2 extra study hours during the week.  If you capture 3 slots during the same day of 20 minutes that can be rearranged to end up consolidated together, you have an extra hour to study rather than taking 3 study breaks at separate times.

Here are some study tasks you can do in blocks of time under 30 minutes:

  • Review the day's class notes for a course to fill in gaps, re-organize, and condense them as a pre-outlining step.
  • Write down a list of questions that you need to ask a professor.
  • Make several flashcards for a course.
  • Quiz yourself from your flashcard deck.
  • Complete 2 or 3 multiple-choice practice questions and read the answer explanations.
  • Complete 3 or 4 CALI questions on a topic.
  • Write out several rules or element definitions multiple times to help you memorize them.
  • Talk with a classmate about a case or concept you did not understand.
  • Make up hypothetical fact spin-offs to consider how a case rule would apply in another scenario.
  • Stop by a professor's office to ask questions about the material.
  • Edit several paragraphs of a paper.
  • Add a subtopic to your outline.
  • Review a subtopic in your outline.
  • Sketch a preliminary flowchart or other visual to finish later.
  • Make a "to do" list of tasks for the next day.

Please realize that I am not saying you should never take a break when you have windfall time.  (Walking around outside or running a quick errand may be productive use of time rather than a study task.) Instead I am saying that you want to decide carefully how you will use small blocks of time.  Do not just assume that you cannot accomplish something productive because you "only have a few minutes."  (Amy Jarmon)     

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