Hi everyone!

A couple of days ago I was sitting at my desk, starting at my calendar and seeing it completely full with commitments that had seemingly piled up out of nowhere.

When I’m faced with situations like this, time spent studying is usually the first to disappear from my calendar. Inevitably, I want to compensate for this loss, and I find myself thinking that I need to “try a bit harder” to stay on track.

I’m sure that every student has wondered what would happen if they spent more time studying, but I believe that trying harder is one of the biggest mistakes that any students can make.

In this newsletter I’ll explore:

  1. Why working harder is so dangerous
  2. What you should do instead.

Why you should never press the ‘try harder’ button

Although spending more time working is a natural response to difficulty, it can lead to a slippery slope of unhappiness and burnout.

First, trying harder has a fixed ceiling. No matter how much we try, we all have 24 hours in each day. As we grow older, the challenges we face tend to get harder and harder. Year 9 is easier than year 10, high school is easier than university, university is easier than getting a PhD and getting a PhD is easier than getting a PhD with kids. If our response to each successive challenge is to spend more time working, it is inevitable that we will run out of time.

Moreover, time spent working must be taken from somewhere. Even if you procrastinate, increasing the time you spend working will eventually bleed into the time you spend with family, friends and resting. From experience, giving a procrastinator more time to study often just increases the amount of time they spend procrastinating.

Endlessly putting in more effort can be an excuse to not think about how things could be done a different way. For example, spending more time studying as a procrastinator doesn’t help solve the underlying procrastination problem.

Finally, failing when we try our hardest is soul-crushing. It’s heartbreaking to try hard and not achieve the results we want, even when it might be our methods letting us down. It’s easy to think that we are not capable, or not deserving.

So, what should I do instead?

When you face a challenge that makes you want to try harder, take a step back and analyse your situation.

Ask yourself:

  • If I want to work harder, where will this time come from (relaxation, hobbies, relationships, procrastination)?
  • Is it really likely that this time will come from there, and not somewhere else (rather than spending less time procrastinating, would I be more likely to spend less time sleeping)?
  • Is there any way that the activities that I’m doing at the moment could take less time to free up time for me to work?
  • Is there any way I could work smarter, not harder on any of my current goals?

When I reflected in this way recently, I found that it wasn’t really feasible for me to spend more time studying. I felt that all of the activities I was partaking in were as important to me as studying, and I didn’t feel comfortable sacrificing them to study an extra few hours each week.

Importantly, reflecting in this way made me realise that I can continue to optimise my study processes, so that I’m able to extract more value out of the finite number of hours I study each week. By investing energy into this area, I can build skills which will scale by saving me time - unlike spending more time studying, I can build these skills infinitely.

One of the reasons that I am so passionate about effective studying is that it enables us to reflect on what is truly important to us. Rather than running the rat race of studying the hardest, we can optimise the time that we spend studying to live more balanced and healthy lives.

So the next time you find yourself thinking “I’m going to try harder”, step back and reflect!

- Emil

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