In a hyper-connected world, studying for thirty minutes without interruption can seem like an impressive feat.
You’re sitting at your desk, skimming through class notes on your eBook, and suddenly it begins to buzz. Because of this, you temporarily escape from your reading and respond to the texts sent by your friend. Several minutes later, when the flurry of texts abates, you return to the eBook and complete the review of class notes. This process continues for several hours, at which point you declare that your studying for the day is over.
This brief example reflects the study habits for countless post-secondary students. The routine is as follows: read a few pages, take a break, text several friends, read some notes and then take yet another break. Unfortunately, this is far from an effective system; very little information is learned by this type of student, since much of one’s brainpower is consumed by the constant back-and-forth of studying and texting.
In a hyper-connected world, where it seems that one’s phone vibrates every few minutes, studying for thirty consecutive minutes without interruption can seem like an impressive feat. Because of constant access to newspapers, magazines, Facebook, Twitter and email, the itch to pause from studies and update one’s status is sometimes unbearable. In my case, I got rid of a cell phone between 2011 and 2013, so that I could take a break from the constant barrage of texts and inbox messages. Now that I’ve purchased an iPhone 5, I often feel glued to the digital screen, spending more time on Gmail than I do looking up at the world.
Serious Play For “Eureka!” Moments
For the students that concentrate intently on their studies, however, there is tremendous opportunity. Two years ago, I came across an article by Ben Weinlick of the Think Jar Collective entitled “Richard Feynman, Spinning Plates and Serious Play.” Weinlick, now a SKILLS Society advocate in Edmonton, earned his Master’s degree at Victoria, BC’s Royal Roads University, where he studied “serious play.”
The idea of serious play is simple, and it takes readers one step further than the usual discussions about creativity. In his Think Jar Collective piece, Weinlick writes “[W]hen putting conscious time in to taking breaks and daydreaming, it doesn’t mean you now have an excuse to be lazy.” This shows that in order to be creative — and to have those wonderful “Eureka!” moments — one needs to engage deeply in a task and then take breaks for relaxation.
Richard Feynman, the inspiration for Weinlick’s article, was a Nobel winner in physics who used this technique en route to reaching one of the most important conclusions in his academic career. Feynman would work hard on a given problem, asking a wide range of questions. When he felt that he needed a break, he would take a short walk (a breather) and later return to his desk.
Don’t Avoid Studying: Embrace It!
For students, serious play can take one from mediocre achievement in the classroom to enhanced creativity and performance on exams. For the avid texter, consider doing this: Rather than texting intermittently throughout study periods, work for thirty minutes at a time with intense focus. During these chunks of time, it is important pay close attention to readings, ask lots of questions and take plenty of notes. When enough time has been spent on readings, one should take a walk, text with friends, go for coffee at the local coffee shop, etc.
The benefits to serious play can be life-changing. In the year that I’ve implemented this new routine, I’ve launched what is now one of Edmonton’s highest-read online politics and culture magazines and came up with a book idea that has evolved into a soon-to-be published book. Interestingly, this added boost of creativity only required a slight tweak in routine. Rather than view studying as a task to be avoided, embrace it. Whether it is studying class notes or engaging in any other type of learning, dedicate your full attention to it and experiment with new questions and ideas. During your breaks, let out a deep breath, stretch your legs and do as much texting as you want.