marcel neidinger

APIs, Programmability + Automation | Programmability Lead @cisco | now: 🇨🇭 | prev: 🇩🇪 🇳🇱 | ❤️ tech, APIs, flying, DevOps and everything ☁️

A Lazy Students Guide to Studying

  • Tue 11 July 2017
  • Blog

What is this?

I hate blog posts that start with an assumption of who you, the reader, are. Maybe you're a fresh student looking for tips and tricks on how to survive the first semester or one of those long-term students who finally want's his degree. What I can tell you, is who I am.

For the past 3 years, I've been studying computer science at the university of Basel finishing with a bachelor of science. Besides my studies, I worked part-time, was involved in a student research center tutoring high school students in physics and computer science as well as representing all CS students at the University of Basel. Oh, and besides that, I also put in between 14 to 22 hours of swimming, biking and running to train for an Ironman.

This is, what made time management crucial for me and why I'm happy to share some nifty little tips and tricks. But first a disclaimer. Everything I write here is based on personal preference and experience. Just because I do something in some way this does not mean that it'll work for you. Use your own judgment on whether something works.

The Basics

Alright, so what is the start of living a lazy students life? Despite you might want to look at your assignments and how to plan your day, let's look at the exact opposite. If you're not a vampire you have to sleep. Sleep might only make up about a fourth of your entire day but it impacts every minute of your life. Is he coming with the Get up early thing again? Well kind of, but let me explain. Despite Benjamin Franklin's claim that every sane and healthy person should head to bed at 10 p.m and wake up at 5 a.m. the key is not to wake up early, but to wake up consistently. Sleeping schedules are amongst the most important things for our health. After a hard work week waking up every morning at 8 am your coming back at 4 a.m. from a long party with friends, waking up at 1 p.m. feeling like crap. Sounds familiar? Well even if you didn't drink any alcohol just the fact that your changing your sleep schedule is fucking up your body. Change your wake up time every two or three days, in an extreme manner, if best and you're on the perfect track to disaster land.

So what should you do? Get a sleeping schedule that accommodates you most of the times. If you have to be at university by 10 a.m. try to wake up every morning at 8 a.m. This means that you can head to bed at midnight and still get yourself 8 hours of sleep. And the best thing, on weekends you can party till 2 a.m. and you'll still be fine after 6 hours of sleep.

If however, you find that you need some extra time the morning is the way to go. Why? Let me explain by showing you what I do every morning.

By accident and without knowing his routine I kind of follow Ben Franklin. This means I usually go to bed at 10 p.m. and wake up at 5 a.m. every morning. Heading to class at around 7:30 this gives me about 2 hours of additional time to work on something. Even more important these are 2 hours of uninterrupted times. Since nobody is so insane to wake up at 5 am there is no e-mail, no one snap chatting you and no other obligations coming in your way. Think for a moment: How often did you set yourself a goal of doing something extra in the evening and ended up running some errands or going out with that classmate you haven't seen in a long time. All of this won't happen on a Monday morning at 5:30 a.m.

The routine

Now that you're up what's next? Get into the habit of a morning routine. There is quite some fuzz about morning routines and some of this stuff is between cringy and funny but the truth is that a good morning routine will set you up for the day. So what should you do? Again I'll outline what I do every morning. This might work for you but it also might not work for you. I've included some timestamps that actually quite well match.

  • 5:00 a.m. - Wake up. I tend to put an alarm for 5:00 on my watch and an alarm for 5:03 on my phone that is charging in the bathroom.
  • 5:03 a.m. - Finally wake up and do 20 push ups. I don't do them to get big, seriously that train was gone the moment I decided to go for long distance triathlon, but they get my body start working.
  • 5:05 a.m. - Mediate for 10 minutes. Sounds stupid or useless but it might give you a bit of piece of mind. I use the app headspace
  • 5:15 a.m. - Open up emails and todoist.

I have to quickly jump in here and talk about todoist because this app is literally running my entire life. You probably guessed by the name that it is an app to manage your ToDo's. If you ever want to visualize infinity the ToDo apps might be a good starting point since there are a gazillion of them out there. What I like about todoist is that it gives me a very clean interface on all devices as well as an easy way of setting repetitive tasks that occur for example every last Friday in a month. The way I use todoist is that I have a project for pretty much every aspect of my life and, every morning I add all the things I have to do that day. In addition to the reoccurring tasks and the tasks coming in by mail, this makes up a pretty solid outline for the day, my day plan. As the day progresses I'll add new ToDo's for the day or schedule new Todos for another day. The beauty of this is that, when my todoist task list is empty for that day, that means that I have free time. Free time without having to worry if I forgot something and with knowing that I'm on time with pretty much everything.

  • 5:20 a.m. - I'm usually finished with my day plan by now so it is time to start with the execution. From here I'll usually go for a run or a swim depending on the training that is planned for that day. I might also hop on the indoor trainer for an hour to get a bike workout in.
  • 7:30 a.m. - Most of the times I'm showered by this time. Now I have another hour to do something. I tend to use this hour to cross of the most important item on my list. An hour might not seem like much but think about it this way: When was the last time you got an hour of uninterrupted work time? If you're working a normal job in an office your answer will most likely be "never". Doing exactly this, getting the most important thing of work out of your way will relieve you from a lot of stress. If you have your paper that is due the next day finished on the morning there is no nagging voice in your head the entire day that tries to remind you of what is yet to come.

The time management

When planning a triathlon you usually do two things. You first plan your rough weeks. How many hours of training? Emphasis on what aspect? What kinds of intensities? This is called macro planning and is usually done 4 to 8 weeks in advance. Your weekly schedule, often referred to as micro planning then decides what kind of training you are doing on what day. Why am I telling you this? Because like triathlon you have to plan your day. With your day plan you have a macro planning. Now it is time to go into the execution. And how?

Chunk all the things

Humans are terrible at focus oooooh look at that bee flying in front of the window. You get the point. So what do we do?

Chunk all the things meme

Yes, we chunk all the things. What I do is to divide my time into focus and break chunks. This is also known as the Pomodoro method. Each hour of work is divided into 4 parts.

  • A 25 minute work interval
  • A 5 minute break
  • A 25 minute work interval
  • A 5 minute break

Two work hours make up a unit of work that is then followed by a longer 30-minute break. The big point is no multitasking. For those 25-minute intervals focus on one task or area of work. Don't jump between topics. You'll see how much you can get done within two or three of these units a day. If you're numbers freak like I am you also might want to keep track of how much time you spent on a specific subject. You then might want to use an app like Pomodoro Timekeeper Pro. If you just want to get the work done then a simple timer is enough. On a good day, I'll get about 8 or 9 of these sessions done in a day. Remember, the key to good performance is to concentrate. This means during these work intervals, put away any distraction. Your snapchat and what's app can wait and no, you don't need to post the 186-th picture of your workplace on Instagram. Just get some work done.

The elephants in the room

So this is it. These are my tips on how to structure your day and get stuff done. But I'm sure that there are some questions. So let me answer some

You must be fun at parties, right?

Yes. If you want to invite me, hit me up on twitter.

But seriously do you ever have fun? Or are you a working robot?

See my programmers didn't allow me to talk about this, I'm sorry. No seriously, I do like to have fun and I frankly do have quite some free time. But this is only due to my structured approach to life. If I want to continue doing all the stuff I do right now but without this "strict" scheduling, I'd probably either stop sleeping or collapse at some point. Just because you have a schedule for a day does not mean that you have to pack this thing so full that you're barely finished at 10 p.m.

What about going out? There ain't no good party that starts at 6 p.m.

You might be right in that aspect. The thing I do when I want to go out on the weekends is simply not changing. I have times where I get to sleep at 2 a.m. I still wake up at 5 a.m. I also had days where I didn't sleep at all. I don't know if this works for you but I do for me. If you have to sleep longer, maybe don't sleep until noon. I'd opt to get up at 8 a.m. the latest.

Do you ever do fun things like watching television? Reading?

Why? I can plug my robot brain into the USB cable and download all the stuff. Alright enough with the robot jokes. Let's do a quiz. I bet I can tell you more about House of Cards or some other Netflix show than most of your friends that use marathon as a synonym for eating salty fast food and lay on the couch. Believe me, you can watch a bunch of TVwhile training on an indoor trainer. Outside I can listen to audiobooks while running or riding. So yes, I do all of them. Sport is one of those times where you can really multitask. The same goes for driving. Please don't read while driving but listening to an audiobook or podcast is totally fine.

I'd love to wake up at 5 but I can't get to bed until 2 in the morning. What do I do?

Let me answer this with another question. What do you do the day before? Do you hang in front of your computer all day till late evening? Then had to bed to check out the latest chicks on Instagram? Well, there is your problem. I'd advise you to stay away from the screens. That bright light is stimulating the areas in your brain that tells your body "Hey it is the day. There might be a lion running around somewhere. Better watch out". So shut down the computer and get a book to get tired.

You forgot to mention ...

Yes. Yes, I did. But I can only cover so much in here. I might do a few follow-ups.