Ask LH: How Can I Stay Motivated When Studying?

Hi Lifehacker, I’m a PhD student who just completed his first year. Looking back I really didn’t get a lot done. I suffered through a lot of unforeseen problems and setbacks, which cost me a lot of time. Do you have any good advice for keeping motivated in the face of constant problems that keep you from progressing? Thanks, Rotten Break

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Dear RB,

If it’s motivational advice you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. The Lifehacker archives are chockablock with anti-burnout hacks — you can peruse the lot by following our Motivation tag. Some good, solid articles to get you started include Burnout And How To Deal With It, Top 5 Ways To Maximise Your Productivity At University, Finding Balance Between High Productivity And Burnout and Ten Ways to Defeat Brain Drain.

Just yesterday, we ran an in-depth guide to staying motivated at work. A lot of the advice in this article also applies to university students. It covers everything from avoiding self-blame to the /”rule of three” strategy. This involves creating a list of three outcomes you want to achieve for each day, every day. Your focus should be on outcome results rather than simply listing three activities.

You should also try to stay on top of things from the beginning of the semester. If you allow your workload to pile up it can quickly look insurmountable, which is a real motivation-killer. Instead of cramming at test time, stick to a regular study timetable from day one. While it’s hard to stay disciplined all year, you’re experience less work, stress and physical exhaustion in the long run. Just be sure to include plenty of study breaks to avoid burnout.

Enlisting a friend to be your study partner can be a big help too. This ensures you have someone to revise with, grants you access to notes if you happen to miss a lecture and means you have someone other than your lecturer to ask if something isn’t entirely clear. Making friends with people doing the same degree as you will also improve your university social life, which can help to boost motivation.

You should also allocate yourself some exercise time each day. In addition to making you healthier and less lethargic, regular exercise has been shown to boost learning and memory. You can find out more about how better energy management can improve productivity here.

Naturally, the main thing to remember is to recharge your brain’s batteries. It’s essential to relax and switch your mind off a few times each day — just don’t make it a compulsive habit.

If any student readers have motivation tips of their own to share, let RB know in the comments section below.


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