Self-organisation made easy: how to study more efficiently
With good self-organisation, you will not only achieve your learning goals successfully, but also in a stress-free way. This gives you more time for other things in life that are important to you. Here, we have compiled helpful tips for you on time planning, learning methods and learning environment. We also show you interesting apps that improve your time management even more.
Overview of successful methods for time planning
Forget about not having the time! If you take a structured approach, you can organise your everyday life in such a way that your studies are optimally integrated – alongside family, friends or work. You don't have to plan your day down to the smallest detail. This is because effective time management does not require lengthy deliberations, but proven methods that are as simple as they are successful.
The Eisenhower Matrix (named after US President Dwight D. Eisenhower) helps you to structure and prioritise your tasks. This is how the method works: Write down all the tasks you want to do and divide them into one of four categories. You decide whether the task in question is
- unimportant and not urgent
- unimportant, but urgent
- important, but not urgent
- is important and urgent.
All tasks that contribute to your goals are important. Urgent tasks are usually linked to a fixed deadline by which you must complete them. The Eisenhower method gives you a recommendation for action for each category, which tells you how to proceed with the task.
Categories of the Eisenhower Matrix
Unimportant and not urgent (D-tasks)
This category is home to your time thieves: The many small, not so important and urgent tasks that take a lot of time. Time that you should first invest in one of the other three categories.
Recommendation for action: Do not do.
Example: Layout design of documents for which no content is yet available.
Unimportant but urgent (C-tasks)
You work on tasks in this category according to your time capacities. Don't give them more time than necessary and make sure you work through them efficiently.
Recommendation for action: Work through later.
Example: Answer e-mails and chat messages.
Important but not urgent (B tasks)
Do not lose sight of this type of task despite its low urgency: This is because they make an important contribution to the fulfilment of your goals. These are usually long-term in nature, so you can plan for them. Think about when you want to tackle your B-tasks and set clear deadlines for them.
Recommendation for action: Schedule.
Example: Studying for an exam that is not imminent.
Important and urgent (A-tasks)
Tasks that are both important and urgent should be done immediately. On the one hand, they contribute to the pursuit of your goals and, on the other hand, they give you a feeling of achievement when you have completed them. Make sure not to pile up too many tasks in this category.
Recommendation for action: Deal with immediately.
Example: Proofreading of your term paper with its timely submission
A proven time management strategy is the ALPEN method. Behind this term is a simple and practical approach that you can use to effectively plan your day. You proceed in five steps:
- Write down your tasks, activities and appointments
In the first step, you collect all tasks, activities and appointments of your day and list them like a to-do list. This gives you a first overview.
- Estimate length
Next, estimate the time needed for each task. Make sure that you calculate it realistically and rather more generously. This way, you avoid taking on too much and being stressed or disappointed later.
- Allow buffer time
Don't plan your whole day, because that is unrealistic and increases your stress level. It is better to calculate with only 50 to 60 per cent of your available time. This way, you can take breaks in between and unpredictable events won't take you off track so quickly.
- Making decisions
Despite buffer time, it is sometimes difficult to complete all the planned tasks. Prioritise the tasks you need to complete by the end of the day. The Eisenhower Matrix is helpful for this.
In the last phase of the ALPEN method, you compare your original plan with the tasks you have actually completed. You should record and analyse deviations in order to be able to plan even better in the future. In this way, you also gain experience with each instance of use, which you can use to optimise your time management
You want to try us out? Go for it!
We give you time to check at your leisure whether the IU online study programme is right for you: That's why we offer you the chance to try out our entire range of study programmes for four weeks, free of charge and without obligation.
Simply register online for your desired study programme.
Create the ideal workplace for your studies
Last but not least, you need the right learning environment in order to really accelerate your learning. The right workplace depends on several factors that you can actively influence. We show you how to set up a learning environment in which you can make optimal progress.
To study, you need a large enough desk and a chair that fits your height. When it comes to the size of the table, both the width and the depth are crucial for learning in comfort. A desk with a width of 160 cm and a depth of at least 80 cm offers you enough space for your work materials. This is particularly noticeable when learning with several large books and folders.
Your chair should ideally have an adjustable backrest so that your back is relieved when sitting for long periods. With this function, you can set the optimum seat height for your body size. When choosing your seat height, make sure your feet are straight on the floor and your calves and thighs form a 90 degree angle. Many office chairs also have a rocking mechanism. This allows the inclination of the backrest to be adjusted in various stages or even seamlessly. By varying the angle of the backrest and avoiding prolonged sitting in the same position, you do something good for your back.
Part of an optimal learning environment is ensuring there is enough sunlight so that you don't get tired so quickly while learning. The positioning to the sunlight also plays an important role. Your work desk should not be positioned in the line of sight of the window, but to the side of it, so you’re not looking directly into the sun. It is also helpful to have blinds installed so that you can regulate the amount of light.
In addition, your workplace should have enough electronic light. This way, you can continue to study in the evening. The colour of the lighting plays a role and should not be neglected. Lamps with a high blue component increase your concentration, while lamps with a high yellow component help you relax.
Another consideration that is at least as important as the right lighting is the quality of ventilation. Your optimal learning environment should have plenty of fresh air available at all times. Short, but vigorous episodes of ventilation are a good way to stimulate air circulation. Avoid having a window that is permanently open at a slight angle. This is because the oxygen exchange is not effective when the window is tilted.
You need quiet in your learning environment so that you don't get out of sync. You should remove distractions from your environment. This includes not only the smartphone and the TV, but also external disturbance factors that are sometimes difficult to influence, for example, a noisy construction site. While you can simply turn off your smartphone and TV, you can use earplugs or headphones if there is noise outside. Music also drowns out disturbing background noise. However, make sure that it is not too loud and that you listen to instrumental music that stimulates your learning process. Music with vocals distracts you more quickly and, therefore, tends to be counterproductive.
If possible, arrange your furniture so that leisure and work areas are clearly separated. For example, your TV has no business near your desk. Your bed should also be as far away from your work area as possible. This helps you to consistently pursue your learning goals because you are already subconsciously setting yourself up to learn. Separating your living and working areas not only makes your learning more effective: It is also easier for you to relax after learning.
Even with a strict division of space, your smartphone, smart TV or social media platforms will always tempt you to interrupt the learning process. Therefore, you should be careful not to distract yourself by surfing the net unnecessarily. Easier said than done? Why not try locking plug-ins like StayFocusd? With such browser extensions, you can block access to certain websites for a set period of time. They help you to keep the focus on your tasks. Before studying, deactivate all notifications from e-mails or chats and preferably turn off the sound on your computer.
Also, stay consistent with your smartphone use and activate flight mode for your next study session or simply switch off the mobile phone. If you want to be accessible in emergencies, lock apps help you restrict usage of unimportant apps.
The workplace is ready, but you still lack the necessary motivation for your distance learning? Then creating rituals is for you! This is because recurring actions help you prepare better for your tasks and switch off more quickly after studying. You can determine your rituals individually: Popular morning rituals to start the day right include taking a hot shower or listening to your favourite song. Decide on an activity you want to do before you start studying that will get you in the mood. You can also fill your breaks with activities that give you new strength: Have a coffee or go for a little walk. Such small rituals are important for your learning success as they motivate you and create a supportive learning environment.
Make sure you have all the necessary documents and materials on your desk or nearby before you start studying. Having to look for something while studying makes it tempting to procrastinate and this can disrupt the learning process.
Sure: A clean and orderly environment has a calming effect. But are you also one of those students who finds themselves in a cleaning frenzy during exam preparation? Then you suffer from a common student disease called procrastination. Symptoms: You do unimportant things with enthusiasm in order to put off unpleasant tasks. The antidote: Make your home shine before you start studying and tame the procrastinating cleaner in you by ignoring any dust particles on your windowsill – at least while you're studying!
Studying in libraries and public institutions offers some advantages: Because of the quiet order that surrounds you, you have few distractions in these learning environments. In addition, they are tailored to your learning needs and you can use the literature available on site. Since you usually have to keep your jacket and backpack in a locker, you will be given a transparent bag to easily transport your study materials through the library. Please note that you are not allowed to eat food in the study rooms. Drinking water, on the other hand, is allowed in many libraries. It is best to find out about the applicable regulations in advance so that you can plan your learning day better and are well looked after during the breaks.
The best learning methods
Which learning method is the most effective depends on your personality and your individual learning type. In the following, we will introduce you to tried and tested methods and provide you with valuable learning tips – including popular tools that we offer specifically for your distance learning at IU. Just try out which learning methods and tools work best for you!
Be able to do more: Your Interactive Book
The Interactive Book is your study script in e-book form and an ideal aid for self-organisation in your distance learning: This is because it helps you to learn in a structured way by answering self-monitoring questions after each unit. The solutions are then displayed directly to you. You can also take digital notes with the Interactive Book. The best part: It is also available offline and can be synchronised with all your devices.
Helpful learning videos
For certain courses, learning videos are available to illustrate formulas, theories and terms or case studies from your script. In the videos, your tutor will explain complex content and show you what to expect on the course. This effectively promotes your learning progress.
With flashcards, you can efficiently learn not only terms and vocabulary, but also entire topics. Your learning process already starts when you create the flashcards. Try to formulate specific questions on the front page, as they could also appear in the exam. By formulating questions, you are already dealing with the topic in detail.
If you don't want to invest so much time in creating flashcards, you can also write individual terms on the front. The only important thing is that when you read the front page, you know what you want to ask yourself at this point. For a better overview, you can get a flashcard box or simply place them in different piles. You should organise your flashcards according to the following categories:
- Flashcards that have not been worked on
- Flashcards that you still have to repeat
- Flashcards that you have already answered correctly several times
In the loci method (locus is Latin for place), you link information to places. The method is based on the principle that the human brain retains associative images more easily than pure information in text form. It is easy to apply and very effective.
The starting point of the loci method is an imaginary environment with several distinctive places. This environment can be real or fictional. As an example, you can imagine your way home from shopping. On your way, you will encounter interesting places, so-called anchor points, which will remain in your memory. Remember these places in the order in which you pass them. You connect each piece of information with one of the anchor points. The link does not always have to make sense. The opposite is the case: The more abstract the link is, the better you can memorise the image.
Let's assume that you have memorised the anchor points front door, neighbour's house and bus stop on your way. For your next shopping trip, you would like to memorise three groceries. You need: Pasta, milk and cheese.
Front door: You are late and leave the house. As you step out of the doorway and look up, you are greeted by a dark cloud raining noodles down on you (noodles).
Neighbour's house: As you walk along the street, your neighbour greets you from the other side. They are walking the dog, which is spotted like a cow (milk).
Bus stop: When you arrive at the bus stop, the bus is just arriving. It takes you to the supermarket (cheese) on its big, round cheese wheels.
Are you more creative and visually inclined? Then the learning method of Mind Mapping is suitable for you. Starting with a specific keyword, you collect ideas in a two-part overview. The course of the lines helps you to get an overview of the learning content and to express relationships between individual aspects. You can create your mind maps in the traditional way with pen and paper or digitally with special software and practical online tools. FreePlane and FreeMind, for example, are free programmes for mind maps on the computer.
4 tips for successful studying
Study tip 1: Set yourself smart goals!
Set clear goals for your study units and record them in writing. They spur you on and give you new motivation with every item you can tick off your list.
Make sure that your goals are SMART
Make your goals as specific as possible.
Example: Edit marketing script.
Express your goals in measurable terms.
Example: Work on pages 55-57 in the Marketing script.
Formulate your goals in such a way that you really feel like achieving them.
Example: Work on pages 55-57 in the Marketing script to get a good grade in the exam.
Make sure that your goal is feasible for you.
Example: Work on pages 55-57 in the Marketing script to achieve a grade of 1.7 in the exam.
Plan your goals within a fixed period of time.
Example: Work through pages 55-57 in the Marketing script by tomorrow to achieve a grade of 1.7 in the exam.
The psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus noted as early as 1885 that what is learned is lost over time: Thus, after a few days, we retain only 20 per cent of what we have previously learned in our memory. This makes it all the more important to repeat what you have learned. Regular repetition causes this to be moved from your cache (the hippocampus) to your long-term memory (the cerebral cortex) – a process that happens while you sleep. During this process, the information gathered during the day is passed on from the hippocampus to the cerebral cortex. However, the brain sets priorities here, so that not all information is always transmitted. Emotional and dramatic experiences are often more likely to be consolidated than sober information. Therefore, it is particularly effective if you study immediately before sleeping. This way, you can be sure that your learning content is not overwritten by other impressions.
Make sure you take breaks while you study. Working for several hours at a stretch without interruption does no good: That is because it's not good for you or your body. It is better to always take a short break, for example, 10-15 minutes after an hour of studying. Use your breaks wisely to relax and recharge your energy reserves. Read a book, treat yourself to a good meal or get some fresh air. This will get you back in shape!
Reward your hard work and learning: Go to the cinema, do something with friends or fulfil a long-kept wish. To do this, you define a learning goal that you achieve before your reward. This way, you do something good for yourself and motivate yourself for the next learning unit!
The best online tools for your studies
Have you lost track of the number of apps available? We have put together 11 of the most helpful studying and productivity apps for you. They will help you organise your studying more efficiently and save valuable time.
IU Learn – How learning works today
Our study app IU Learn gives you everything you need to achieve your study goals even better and more independently. Whether online or offline, on your iPad, mobile phone or desktop: With over 600 scripts from all study programmes, integrated keyword search and more than 14,000 interactive knowledge tests, the app is 100% tailored to your needs.
Let our team show you in the video what the app can do!
Always connected: Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams ensures that you stay in contact with your teachers, tutors and fellow students wherever you are. You can connect with your fellow students via online forums. In addition, our Student Registrar’s Office (Studierendensekretariat) and Study Coaches are available to answer any questions you may have about planning and organising your studies.
With Trello, you can assign your tasks to different categories (so-called boards) and work on them in list and card form. Useful features include the synchronisation between device and platforms, the visually clear form and also the interface to other services, for example, Dropbox, Hangouts or Twitter. There are different versions of Trello: The simplest one is free of charge and absolutely sufficient for your study organisation!
Appointment management with Google Calendar
The free Google Calendar helps you to manage your appointments digitally. For a better overview, you have the option of creating thematically different calendars. The app is a real winner in terms of compatibility, as it is not only available for Android, but also for iOS. This way, you can easily view, create or edit your appointments at any time. Any changes you make will be sent to the rest of your devices via your Google Account. Using the Google calendar via voice control offers you additional convenience.
Do you find it difficult to put your smartphone aside while you study? Then the app Forest could be interesting for you; with it, you set a period of time before you start studying in which you do not want to use your smartphone. While you are studying, a tree grows in the app. The tree gets bigger the longer the period lasts. Each mature tree is added to your forest.
But beware: If you close the app within the set time period, the tree dies. What remains is a withered tree stump. In this way, the app shows you the consequences of your actions. The comparison with the "forests" of your friends gives you additional incentive for smartphone asceticism. The app also offers a whitelist that allows you to access up to three apps in an emergency. A quick glance at the diary or answering an urgent call thus goes unpunished and does not result in virtual tree death.
Evernote is an all-rounder when it comes to digital note management. In addition, you can add image and video content or PDFs. You can structure your notes by assigning keywords.
The search function is particularly practical: As soon as you start a query, Evernote searches through all the notes. In addition to digital entries, this also includes handwritten entries, text content from photos or linked Office documents. Evernote is available across all platforms and synchronises the current status of your notes with all your devices.
Microsoft OneNote is modelled on a traditional notebook, with the difference that it is managed digitally. You structure and collect your notes by creating hierarchically ordered pages. You can also attach image and video content or PDFs.
Similar to Evernote, OneNote has text and speech recognition, which you can also use to search for text components of images. The application can be used and synchronised across multiple platforms.
You have an iPhone or iPad? Then connect your digital world with the analogue one: The GoodNotes app offers you the ideal introduction to paperless document management. You can use the touch-sensitive pen to record notes and graphics.
GoodNotes makes your everyday study life easier by allowing you to make entries and changes in digital scripts in an uncomplicated way. If there is not enough space, a blank page can be inserted at the touch of a button.
In addition, you have the option of searching for handwritten notes or converting them to a digital script through the intelligent character recognition.
Google Documents is a free text editor that you can access via your browser. This tool supports you above all in the effective organisation of teamwork.
All documents can be edited by several people at the same time, with changes displayed in real time. The documents stored in the Google Drive cloud are available for retrieval at any time.
The BRAINYOO app extends the classic advantages of flashcards with useful functions in the digital space. Once created, the flashcards are available on all your devices. The cross-platform synchronisation ensures that your learning status is permanently updated. You can also include pictures or graphics.
With Khan Academy you can deepen your knowledge in natural science and humanities topics or train them through repetition. The non-profit organisation behind it has made it its goal to provide free education with the help of learning videos and exercises. There are now over 10,000 videos and learning units (mostly in English).
The app saves your current learning status and synchronises your progress with the browser version. Individual lessons can also be saved locally on your smartphone when you are on the move. You can then access it in offline mode without consuming data.