People keep asking me how I manage to take so many courses at the same time and finish them all so quickly. They tell me they would love to pursue a degree online but they’re afraid they’d just start a bunch of courses and never finish them like other projects in their life. How am I able to start and balance so many courses at the same time? How do I actually finish them all in a timely manner? The answer is determination and good study habits. A long time ago, I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. This post is about the 7 study habits that I use to finish my degree so quickly.
The vast majority of the time I’ve put into earning my degree has been on the weekend. I work eleven hour days during the week. After work, most nights, I spend another couple hours with my family. It’s really hard on a weeknight to have the time and mental focus to study or take exams. On the weekend, I try to start and finish 2, sometimes 3, entire course. I also need to leave time to spend with family and friends and do things around the house. Here’s what I do to stay focused, execute, and finish my courses:
- Start with a good night’s sleep – This may seem obvious, but it’s hard to study as quickly and effectively as you possibly can if you’re tired. I’m an early riser by nature. I usually get up at 5:15 am seven days a week with or without an alarm. Last night, for example, we had some people over to grill out and play games. It was a late night. Since I knew I’d be studying this morning, I turned off my alarm clock and naturally slept in until 7:00 am. If I had forced myself to get up at 5:15am, I probably could have studied but nowhere near as effectively.
- Begin with the end in mind – This is probably my favorite Stephen Covey concept. Sometimes I use this on a large scale, like “What do I want to accomplish in the next five years career-wise?” I also use it on a small scale, like “Which courses do I definitively want to start or finish this week?” When you begin with the end in mind and work backwards, it helps tremendously. This eliminates firing up the computer and staring at it, thinking, “I’m so overwhelmed I don’t even know where to begin.”
- Eliminate distractions – Back when I was getting ready to write my first book, I was lucky enough to read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. This book taught me many things, like how to complete small projects and overcome writer’s block, but one particularly important idea was eliminating distractions. For me, it is very hard to study when I am in a room with a TV or other people. Back when I was writing my book, I set up a desk in our spare bedroom. There’s nothing on the wall and nothing on the desk. This is where I take all of my exams and where I go when I really need to study effectively without any distractions.
- Unplug from social media notifications – If you are allowing yourself to receive social media notifications while you are studying you are slowing down your progress, big-time. At the same time that I started my degree with TESU, I deactivated my Facebook account. (On a side note, how much feigned outrage over politics and pictures of people’s kids can you possibly take?) I turned off email notifications on my phone. I turned off all email and social media notifications on my computer. I don’t receive work emails on my phone. Notifications steal your time and attention. It’s amazing how much more effective you can be when you’re not distracted by notifications.
- Don’t be afraid to fail – My goal is to finish my bachelor’s degree as quickly as I possibly can. You could look the courses I choose to take as a minimum viable product. I don’t waste valuable time and resources trying to perfect ALL of the concepts. I study until I feel like I’ve mastered enough material to pass all the quizzes and final exam, and then I got for it. This is probably the most important of my study habits. I don’t get stuck on courses that are too hard. I’ve failed a couple of exams. I’ve abandoned a course that required way too much work. I’ve abandoned a course where the format was way too difficult. The important thing is that I throw myself into studying until I feel like I can test out as quickly as possible, and then go for it. I don’t spend weeks or months on a course because I’m afraid to fail.
- Study smarter, not harder – There is a ton of feedback and information about courses online. You should spend a few minutes, or even hours, finding the smartest sources of credits. This can save you days, or even weeks of studying, per course. Also, it can save you a bunch of money. Don’t feel like you need to get all your credits from the same source. If you need a certain type of course based on your degree plan, spend a few minutes researching the different places that you can earn the credits. Look at the cost. Look at the syllabus and think about how many quizzes or projects are required to pass. What’s the weighting of the final exam vs. quizzes? This can save you a lot of time and money.
- Reward yourself – I believe that unless you were born unusually wealthy, you have to work hard to get what you want out of life. You don’t deserve anything. Nobody owes you anything. When you set a goal for yourself and start achieving it, it feels good. You need to reward yourself. For me, I like to study my butt off all day Saturday and Sunday morning and then put the computer away and watch a football game and kick my feet up. One of the best ways to reward yourself is to tell other people about your success. However you want to go about it, set small milestones for yourself and when you achieve them, take a moment to pause and enjoy the feeling.