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How to achieve a positive study flow

By Nick 02 Jun 2019
Image of man studying at desk.

I think we can all agree that study is an important aspect of university life, right? We’re told that we’re meant to do about 10 hours of study per week, per subject. So let’s say you have 3 hours of lectures and tutorials each week for each of your different courses, that still leaves seven hours of your own individual study to be completed each week, for each subject. That’s a lot!

Throughout my degree I found a few different ways to make those many hours of study more manageable. How, you ask? Well, it’s all about optimising the environment that you’re studying in. You need to be able to get into that flow, that moment of pure, concentrated brilliance where you’re able to smash out 500 words in 30 minutes and feel like a hero.  

Flow is a psychological concept where an individual can reach a mental state of focus, fully involving oneself with the activity, as well as enjoying it. Basically, it’s a fancy concept for what many of us students know as being ‘in the zone’.

But how do you actually get there?

These are my tried and tested tips to help get you ‘in the zone’ and achieve that flow.

Identify your optimal study time

Firstly, it’s important to find the time of day that suits you best for study. Can you concentrate better in the morning, afternoon or at night? Consider your study/work/life schedule and when you feel most alert. With a little trial and error hopefully you’ll figure this out by the end of your first semester and be able to use this to your advantage.

Limit all forms of distraction

Once you’ve found your perfect time of day, make sure you are able to fully utilise that time by limiting the distractions made by your kids, siblings, parents, partner, friends, pets or anything else (ahem, Facebook). Make it clear to those around you that you’re in study mode and then set yourself a goal of working for a particular amount of time without getting up. Make it realistic, but also make the most of it. If you know you’ve got an hour or two of uninterrupted time, don’t waste it with study breaks every 15 minutes.

Bonus flow points if you keep others at bay with these free USQ doorhangers!

Consider your study space carefully

Your study space is a very personal choice. I knew a lot of people who went onto campus to study in the library while others had their own office at home, or just studied in their bedroom… sometimes even on their bed. Being comfortable while studying is important, as you want to be able to immerse yourself in what you’re doing without the potential distraction of a sore neck, strained eyes or being too hot or cold. Personally, I study in my bedroom, and I’ve designed my bedroom space to be as study-friendly as possible. I leave the door and windows open to have a nice fresh breeze come in when it’s hot, I have a comfortable chair and use two monitors to allow me to read articles on one screen while taking notes in a Word document on the other. This maximises my ability to reach that state of flow and write something I’m really proud of. Spend some time experimenting with different study locations and when you find the one that works best for you, invest in making the most comfortable and study friendly it can be.

Save the best for last

Another good plan is to understand what particular subjects you would prefer to study first or last. Personally, I always prioritised study for the assignments/exams that I disliked the most (stats!) so that my other coursework would feel almost like a reward. Getting ‘in the zone’ can lead to some serious productivity, so try to use your flow on the courses that you find more challenging and that need you to be in your optimal state of focus.

While flow is a fairly complex psychological concept, getting into your study flow doesn’t have to be. Hopefully Nick's advice will help you get ‘in the zone’ and smash those study goals, but if you’re still finding it hard to be productive, make sure you check out these tips for tackling study procrastination.

Image of Nick.