How to become a topper?
It is a question that often perturbs many people. They fail to understand that why despite hard work and countless hours of study they can’t get success. We all know such people who seem to study very less but achieve a lot.
Some of us are born intelligent. Some of us are born lucky. A few of us were fortunate enough to get education in most premier institutions of the society. Few of us has excellent well qualified parents who groomed them from the very childhood.
Others are not so fortunate. Most of us had seen really poor teachers in our colleges and institutes. The kind of education that we got was not up to the mark. And in many cases the support from the parents was negligible.
However, even those students who have not had the luck stars shining upon them can and will achieve success. They would do so, if they can create an optimal mixture of hard work, correct procedure and techniques.
I have qualified quite a few examinations in my life. I have also been with various achievers. I have seen many toppers and students who succeeded. Believe me, when I say this, that you can succeed.
The difference between those who succeed and fail is not of talent or intelligence. In most of the cases it is the difference of the quality and quantity of efforts they put in to achieve their success. Consider a singer, extremely talented, who squanders away his talent in drinking and hardly practices his ragas and vocals. Consider another musician who is lesser talented but is hard working. he daily practices his vocals and works hard to master the intricacies of music. Who is more likely to succeed?
Obviously the hard worker.
You must have all heard the story of the turtle and rabbit. The slow and steady wins the race was the moral of the story. The slow and steady still wins the race. Moreover, if the slow person can get some good guidance and work intelligently , he may even get fast. He may even win by a very wide margin.
Research also shows that a mediocre student who works consistently and with focus is more likely to succeed than a brilliant one. It is more likely that the brilliant one would lose his interest and would stop working altogether.
So, how can a student, a mediocre one at that, excel?
There are various steps involved in achieving such mastery. They are related to study techniques, time management and personal management.
I would deal with each of these aspects in a separate article. This time it is the turn of time management.
Most of us have made timetables. These timetables have more often than not failed. They have made us sorry. Eventually, most of us have given up making timetables all together. What is the purpose of making a timetable when one could not follow it? Right?
No! Definitely wrong. A failed timetable is better than no timetable. Firstly, making a timetable makes you aware of your goals. Secondly, daily making a timetable makes you realise how precious and limited the time is. Hence, having made a timetable, you are less likely to waste time, than when you don’t have a timetable at all.
Thirdly, successful timetables begin with a failed one. Our mind is like any other muscle. The more you practice it the better it gets. When a person continues to make a timetable and doesn’t give up his efforts to follow it, a day comes when he actually starts to follow it. Lastly, timetable gives you an idea that you have various tasks at hand and thus to actually be successful you would have to do multitasking.
Therefore, my dear friends, don’t give up on timetables. Even if they fail, they give you something. When they succeed, they give you a lot.
It is expected that timetables fail, but it is not necessary that they would fail. There are many ways and tricks by which you can make your time management more effective.
What are these tricks?
The first rule of making a timetable is to begin with a light one. Most of us make a time table that is difficult to follow. They cramp as many things to do as possible in a single day. They overestimate their capabilities. They think that they would achieve success on the very day they create the timetable. These notions are actually harmful. Success motivates and failure discourages. If you make a timetable that is bound to fail then it is quite possible that you would not make it again. Thus you would not manage the time and severely reduce your effectiveness.
The right thing to do is to begin with a reasonable amount of time to study. Say 4-5 hours. The hours of study should be chosen when the possibility of disturbance is minimum. If you chose the time of study to be 5 pm right when your friends come to call you for playing a cricket match, or when your mother would ask you to run some errands, then you may not be able to say no. There goes your timetable.
The place of the study should be a spot which is as far as possible from disturbance. Some of us may not get such spot in our homes. We may go to a library or a park. Or we try to do the best in the circumstances that we have.
While studying , it is very important to keep your mobile phone away. You have to realise that without a decent job, all your friends, girlfriend will go away. You are not the PM of the country. Even if you don’t pick up the phone for a while , no hell would break loose. Mobile phones and laptops and television sets are usually nagging disturbances.
You may say that you use your mobile phone to study. It is better if you don’t. At least not in your home at your study table. However, if you really have to do, then keep your phone in flight mode, and prepare a goal you have to reach. Without a target to keep you out, you may drown in the world of mobile, only to realise later that your timetable is ruined.
Another important precaution is that one should not fix an entire 5 hour block for studies. It is not humanly possible. Studies have shown that humans can keep their concentration up for a maximum period of 40-50 minutes. Thereafter, they begin to loose interest. This is why periods in schools hardly exceed 1 hour. So, an ideal session of study should be of 40-45 minutes followed by a 5-10 minute break.
In the break it is advisable that you should not use your mobile. You may get lost and exceed your target. Rather, the best thing to do is to drink water, go to rest room, do some exercise and stretching to keep your blood pumping and eat some fruits or whole grains. Eating fruit and whole grains is preferable to eating sugar, or glucose. Sugar and glucose and sweets give an instant dose of energy, followed by an energy slump. As the energy slumps strikes you ,you start to feel fatigue.
After 4-5 session this is the period of a long break of about half an hour.
This way of studying is called POMODORO technique and is one of the best methods to study.
The timetable should not only contain the time allotted for studies but should also contain the targets set to be achieved. For example you should not only think that you would study from 9-9:45 pm. Rather you must also make clear the target you would like to achieve in these 45 minutes. The targets should be SMART. Specific, Measurable, Action oriented , realistic and timely. An example of the target is that I would revise the today’s political science lecture and would learn all important concepts. Another can be that I would remember all the important dates of the freedom struggle from year 1900-1947. Thus the targets should be such that you can measure whether you were able to achieve them.
If you don’t fix targets then you may spend your entire time of studying without achieving anything. You may sit for 10 hours but gain nothing. Before you sit down to study you must begin with an end in mind.
You must not be discouraged if you could not succeed in first few attempts. It will eventually come. I know it is not easy. Something and other always keeps us from fulfilling our duty. We all find that our will power is not strong enough. To make time management even more successful, it is necessary to understand how will power works. That is a very vast topic and would be dealt in subsequent articles of this series. As of now it is sufficient to understand a few things. First, self control begins with self awareness. Try to think of how we control an animal. We observe. We find out its habits and schedule. We gather knowledge about its food. Our instincts are also somewhat feral in nature. To control them we have to observe them and then to creatively use this knowledge in our favour. Observe, the times when you are most likely to give up on your timetable, things that lure you most, people who make it difficult for you to continue with your commitment and thoughts that haunt you when you study. By observing yourself you would know how you function and it would be easy for you to control yourself. When you begin to feel like giving up, try distracting yourself. Try taking a short rest just before the moment when you can no longer continue.
Another trick that has proved helpful is meditation. Regular meditation for as little as 5 minutes a day has shown to strengthen those areas of our pre-frontal cortex that is involved in self control.
Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at meditating, but at a wide range of self-control skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness. People who meditate regularly aren’t just better at these things. Over time, their brains become finely tuned willpower machines. Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness.
Meditation increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, in much the same way that lifting weights increases blood flow to your muscles. The brain appears to adapt to exercise in the same way that muscles do, getting both bigger and faster in order to get better at what you ask of it. So if you’re ready to train your brain, the following meditation technique will get the blood rushing to your prefrontal cortex—the closest we can get to speeding up evolution, and making the most of our brains’ potential.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Sit still and stay put .
Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, or sit cross-legged on a cushion. Sit up straight and rest your hands in your lap. It’s important not to fidget when you meditate—that’s the physical foundation of self-control. If you notice the instinct to scratch an itch, adjust your arms, or cross and uncross your legs, see if you can feel the urge but not follow it. This simple act of staying still is part of what makes meditation willpower training effective. You’re learning not to automatically follow every single impulse that your brain and body produce.
2. Turn your attention to the breath.
Close your eyes or, if you are worried about falling asleep, focus your gaze at a single spot (like a blank wall, not the Home Shopping Network). Begin to notice your breathing. Silently say in your mind “inhale” as you breathe in and “exhale” as you breathe out. When you notice your mind wandering (and it will), just bring it back to the breath. This practice of coming back to the breath, again and again, kicks the prefrontal cortex into high gear and quiets the stress and craving centers of your brain .
3. Notice how it feels to breathe, and notice how the mind wanders.
After a few minutes, drop the labels “inhale/exhale.” Try focusing on just the feeling of breathing. You might notice the sensations of the breath flowing in and out of your nose and mouth. You might sense the belly or chest expanding as you breathe in, and deflating as you breathe out. Your mind might wander a bit more without the labeling. Just as before, when you notice yourself thinking about something else, bring your attention back to the breath. If you need help refocusing, bring yourself back to the breath by saying “inhale” and “exhale” for a few rounds. This part of the practice trains self-awareness along with self-control.
Start with five minutes a day. When this becomes a habit, try ten to fifteen minutes a day. If that starts to feel like a burden, bring it back down to five. A short practice that you do every day is better than a long practice you keep putting off to tomorrow. It may help you to pick a specific time that you will meditate every day, like right before your morning shower. If this is impossible, staying flexible will help you fit it in when you can.
Don’t be discouraged if you find it difficult to meditate. Even if you turn out to be bad at meditation you would get better at self control.
Time management can be made even more effective if we follow a simple time management plan. Most of our plans are short sighted and overambitious. If we keep many things in our mind at the same time then we would find it difficult to focus. So I would suggest you a simple yet very effective plan. This plan is borrowed from best selling book “How to Become a Straight A Student.” I hope that you all would like it.
This system requires two pieces of equipment.
1. A calendar: It doesn’t matter what type of calendar, and it’s not something that you have to carry around with you. It can be Microsoft Outlook or iCal on your computer, a cheap day planner, or one of those advertisement-laden freebies they hand out at orientation. It just has to be something that you can reference every morning that has enough space to record at least a dozen items for each day.
2. A list: Some piece of writing material that you can update throughout the day. This you do have to carry around with you, so make it something simple, like a sheet of paper ripped out of a notebook each morning.
The Basic Idea
Record all of your to-dos and deadlines on your calendar. This becomes your master schedule, the one place that stores everything you need to do. The key to our system, however, is that you need to deal with your calendar only once every twenty-four hours. Each morning, you look at it to figure out what you should try to finish that day. Then, throughout the day, whenever you encounter a new to-do or deadline, simply jot it down on your list. The next morning, you can transfer this new stuff from your list onto your calendar, where it’s safe. And we’re back where we started.
That’s it. Pretty simple, right? The whole system can be summarized in three easy steps: (1) Jot down new tasks and assignments on your list during the day; (2) next morning, transfer these new items from your list onto your calendar; and (3) then take a couple of minutes to plan your day.
Now, we’ll examine these steps in a little more detail. In particular, we need some strategies for how to plan your day each morning using your calendar and what to do when unexpected events interfere and turn that plan upside down (trust me, this will happen more often than not).
Update Your Calendar Each Morning
This is where the magic happens. Every morning, spend a few minutes to update your calendar and figure out what you should try to accomplish. This is the only serious time-management thinking you have to do for the whole day, so the demand is pretty reasonable. This updating process should proceed as follows:
Find your list from the day before. It will probably look something like this.
• 10:00 to 12:00 Class
• 12:00 to 1:00 Lunch with RAHUL
• 1:00 to 1:45 Government reading
• 2:00 to 4:00 Home Work
4:00 to 5:00 Laundary
• 5:00 to 7:30 Polity Constitution reading
Things to Remember
To study mathematics, quadratic equation
Revise words copy
To appear for test.
Don’t worry too much about how this list is formatted; we will discuss that shortly. For now, focus on the “things to remember” column, which contains the new to-dos and deadlines that were jotted down throughout the day.
Transfer these new items onto your calendar. Write the deadlines on the appropriate dates, and write the to-dos on the days when you plan to complete them. Following our list you would choose a day to do laundry and jot down a reminder under that date, and choose a day to appear for the test and jot down a reminder under this date. You can move these items around on your calendar as many times as you want, so don’t worry too much about which date you initially choose for a new to-do. However, try to use some common sense. For example, if Wednesday afternoon and evening are packed with meetings and work, this might not be the best day to schedule doing your laundry. Similarly, if you have a big test Monday morning, don’t schedule a lot of annoying errands for Sunday; you’ll need your concentration for studying. If something is not especially time sensitive, such as revising word copy from the example from above, don’t be afraid to put it on a day far in the future, at a point when you know you will be less busy—such as right after a competitive exam.
Next, move the to-dos that you planned for yesterday, but didn’t complete, to new days on your calendar. If you could not do laundry on the day specified then transfer it to a next day.
At this point, your calendar once again holds everything that you need to get done. Now it’s time to figure out your plan for the current day. Go ahead and trash yesterday’s list—it’s served its purpose—and grab a fresh sheet of paper to use as today’s list. Divide it into two parts, as shown in Figure 1, and label them Today’s Schedule and Things to Remember, respectively.
Next, look at the calendar entry for the current day. It will probably contain a handful of appointments and to-dos. Your goal is to figure out how much of this work you can realistically accomplish. You might be tempted to simply copy all of these tasks into your Today’s Schedule column and then treat it as a simple to-do list for the day. Don’t do this! If you want to avoid getting overwhelmed by your work, you need to be smarter about your time.
Here is what you should do instead: Try to label each of your to-dos for the day with a specific time period during which you are going to complete it. Be honest. Don’t record that you are going to study for three hours starting at three if you know that you have a meeting at five. And be reasonable about how long things really take—don’t plan to read two hundred pages in one hour. For simplicity, group many little tasks (errands that take less than ten minutes) into one big block (for example: “10:00 to 10:45—mail letter, return library book, buy new deodorant, fill out transcript request form at registrar”). Leave plenty of time for breaks. Give yourself an hour for meals, not twenty minutes. And, if possible, end your day at an appropriate hour; don’t try to fit in work right up until sleep time because you need to be able to unwind and relax. In general—though it may seem counter-intuitive—be pessimistic. The truth is: Things will come up. Don’t assume that every hour that looks free in the morning will stay free throughout the day.
Remember, the goal here is not to squeeze everything into one day at all costs, but rather to find out how many of the tasks listed for the day you actually have time to accomplish. If you can’t fit all the to-dos into your schedule for the day, no problem! Simply move the remaining items onto the calendar entries for future dates. You can deal with them later.
Your final step is to record the tasks you will have time for into the Today’s Schedule column of your list. As shown in Figure 1, label each task with its time. That’s it. You can now reference your list throughout the day to remind yourself of what you should be doing and when.
But here’s the important point: The specific times on your schedule aren’t set in stone—they’re more of a suggestion. As we will discuss shortly, you will be free to move tasks around throughout the day, depending on your energy level and unexpected events that may arise. The main reason you break down your to-dos into time slots is to help you avoid the common student mistake of overestimating your free time. Many well-intentioned students use a simple to-do list to keep track of their daily obligations. But without time labelling, they have no idea how much they can actually accomplish, leading to an unrealistic plan. A twelve-hour day seems like a large amount of time, but when you account for meals and classes and meetings and breaks and socializing, your schedule suddenly becomes a lot tighter. The equation is simple: If you overestimate your free time, then you are likely to put off work until it’s too late. And this leads to all-nighters, panic attacks, and shoddy performance. A realistic sense of time is arguably one of the most important factors in succeeding as a student. After a week or two of time labelling your to-dos, you will be well along your way toward developing this crucial trait.
Use the List During the Day
As you move through your day, use the rough schedule recorded under the Today’s Schedule column to remind yourself what you should be doing. Keep in mind that the student lifestyle is, generally, quite unpredictable. Things will always come up at the last minute. Work will take longer than expected, your roommate will point you toward some absurd Web site that immediately demands an afternoon of your scrutiny—you know how it goes. Some friends may come for movie. So adjust your time labels as many times as needed. But don’t procrastinate excessively! The list you constructed in the morning should contain a reasonable amount of work, so if your schedule doesn’t become too unexpectedly crazy, you should be able to accomplish most, if not all, of these tasks. In general, if you’re completing most of what’s on your list at least five days out of seven, then you’re as productive as any student realistically needs to be. If not, don’t worry—the next article of this series would deal with the issue of how to avoid procrastination.
Remember, your list also serves another important purpose. During the day you will probably encounter various new to-dos and deadlines that need to be scheduled. For example, a professor might announce the date of an upcoming exam, or a friend might give you the date and time for an upcoming study group. The key is to get these obligations out of your head as soon as possible so your mind is not unnecessarily cluttered. Jot down a quick reminder on your list, in the Things to Remember column, as soon as they occur. This takes only a few seconds, and then you can forget about them. The actual scheduling of these tasks will take place the next morning; all you have to do for now is scribble a few words on a piece of scrap paper.
Remember, to-dos and deadlines that exist only in your mind drain your energy, distract your attention, create stress, and are more likely to be forgotten. When you’re working, you should be able to concentrate on working, and when you’re relaxing, you should be able to enjoy relaxing. But you can’t devote 100 percent of your energy to any activity when you have important reminders bouncing around in your head.
Few students have the energy to schedule every new piece of information that comes along during the day. Think about this for a moment: If it’s the middle of the afternoon, and you are hungry, and everyone is just getting up to leave at the end of a long class, when suddenly the professor yells out a notice that a paper topic is due the following week…you’re probably not going to have the energy to stop packing up, take out a calendar, think about what steps are involved in coming up with a paper topic, and then schedule each step on the appropriate days. It would be nice if you did, because then you could purge the deadline from your mind and be confident that it’s safely recorded in your calendar—but this is unrealistic. And it violates our original criterion that any time-management system should require only a few minutes each day.
That’s the power of the “things to remember” column of your list. You can’t expect yourself to be able to think seriously about time management at all points during your busy day. But the act of pulling out a piece of scrap paper from your pocket and quickly jotting down “anthro paper topic” requires minimal energy, no thinking, and barely any time. You don’t have to consider when to begin working on the paper topic, what steps are involved, or how many days it will require. You simply scribble down three words.
The key is that the list is a trusted piece of storage. You are confident that tomorrow morning, when you’re doing your only time-management thinking for the day, you will see that reminder and record the appropriate steps in your calendar. Because of your list, the deadline will not be lost. It will be scheduled.
Restarting After a Period of Neglect
To date, I have yet to have successfully followed any time-management system without interruption for longer than two months. I try, but inevitably I hit a rough patch. Typically, this happens during the few days following a really busy period—I’m so exhausted from the intensity of the preceding work that I find myself unable to even mention the word “to-do” without breaking into a cold sweat. This happens to everyone, and you can expect that periodically it will happen to you too. Don’t fear these occasions, and don’t let them make you feel like a failure. They’re normal.
The key point is that these lapses are temporary. After a couple days of swearing off my calendar, I always find myself growing uncomfortable with the increasing number of obligations that are free floating in my mind. Before I know it, I’m back into the swing of using the system again, and no worse for wear. The same will be true for you. Once you have learned the power of feeling organized, you will have a hard time going long periods without it.
Fortunately, the system described here is adaptable to these periods of neglect. If you skip a few days, all you need to do upon restarting is to dump all the to-dos and deadlines free floating in your mind onto a sheet of paper and then push these back onto your calendar for future dates.
I hope that you would sincerely follow this method of organisation. It is breathtakingly simple and yet astonishingly effective.
This is it for this article friends. I wish you all best wishes for your future careers. May luck and hard work be with you.