do it now

Are you the study, study, type? Or the type who thinks about studying, but has a hard time actually getting around to it?

I was the second type; the procrastinator. One of my college roommates was the study ’til you drop type.

Either way is not ideal. But I learned a simple trick anyone can use to boost focus, increase recall, and prevent procrastination.

Bonus; the trick actually requires less work and gives greater recall!

There is a lot of research on this. I unpack it more in my book, Best Grades Ever!, but here’s the short and sweet version.

Boost Focus and End Procrastination

So what’s the trick? How do you less and remember more? How do you kill procrastination?

The basic technique is easy and it actually makes studying more interesting. It’s ridiculously simple. You’ll first need to…

Get a Timer

This method is deceptively simple, but don’t let that fool you.

That timer, when you use it right, can do several different things for you that will help end procrastination, and make your brain work better.

And, yes, the timer on your phone will work fine. The kind of timer you use is not nearly as important as how you use it.

I often just go to the google search bar and type in ’40 minute timer’ (try it now to see what happens), but you can use a watch, cell phone, sun dial, online stopwatch, whatever.

Set it for thirty  or forty minutes and study.

When the timer goes off, finish up the thought/idea you were studying and then do a quick review of what you just learned.

Important point; do the review from memory! No looking back over the stuff; quiz yourself. Force your brain to recall it.

Next. . .

Take a five minute break, and do something interesting and rewarding.

I set a timer to track my break as well. Once it goes off, start another session.

Start the next session by, once again, forcing yourself to recall what you’ve already studied. If you can’t recall it, spend some time getting it down again. Then go on to new material to round out your sessions.

In the last five minutes or so before the timer goes off, do a cumulative review of everything you’ve studied so far today. 

Then take your next five minute break.

So your sessions should look something like this…

  • 40 minutes of studying new material.
  • 5 minutes cumulative review
  • 5 minute break
  • 5 minutes cumulative review
  • 35 minutes studying new material
  • 5 minutes cumulative review
  • 5 minute break
  • 5 minutes cumulative review
  • 35 minutes studying new material
  • and so on

Bam! New brain power, automagically. AND, no more procrastination.

Did I say this was deceptively simple? It is; but it really works!

How Does it Work?

This process of short sessions, book-ended by brief reviews and breaks, uses several different psychological methods to increase your study effectiveness*.

The regular brain breaks refresh you. BUT; you must do something completely unrelated to what you were studying. Otherwise, you don’t get the benefit.

There’s actually research that tells us how long our breaks should be and how long the sessions should be.

I usually do a forty-five minute session with a five minute break, myself. But research shows that your breaks can be between 2 and 15 minutes long.

Break for less than 2 minutes and you don’t get much benefit. Break for more than 15 minutes and you forget too much of what you were studying before the break.

sessions should be between 20 minutes and 1 hour.

less than 20 minutes and you’ll have a hard time covering a complete idea. Study more than 1 hour and your study becomes less effective. (That’s what the research shows.)

So how does this prevent procrastination?

Ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? Invented in the late 1980s by Italian, Francesco Cirillo, this technique used a simple tomato-shaped kitchen timer (pomodoro is Italian for “tomato”) to break up study sessions into short intervals.

Cirillo used 25 minute work sessions, but I think 30 or 40 minutes works better. Experiment for yourself. Anything between 20 and 60 minutes should work as per the research.

So how does this end procrastination?

One of the big problems with us procrastinators is that we look at that big-scary Task in front of us as a mountain we have to climb.

Climbing mountains is hard, so we delay getting started.

The Pomodoro Technique breaks that mountainous Task into discrete steps, each of which is relatively easy. I avoid climbing a mountain, but climbing a few steps is easy, so I don’t avoid it.

PLUS, there’s a timer running, so you better get right to work. No time to futz around.

Even better, the first 5 minutes is just review. That’s easy. Again, no reason to avoid that.


Using a timer, study for 30 or 40 minutes.

Bookend your study sessions with 5 minutes or so of review.

Then break for 5 minutes and think about something completely different.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Try it. You’ll see instant results! Improved recall, better focus, and less procrastination, all by using a timer. Not bad.

Now, combine this technique with flashcards and mnemonics to make yourself freakishly smart.

*the Primacy and Recency Effects, Von Restorff Effect, and Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve , among others.

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

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