Your brain will function optimally if you treat it well. This means anything from knowing when to study, how long to sit at your desk, and why it’s important to avoid studying late into the night. It’s not difficult to do. You need to create a routine that is doable and sustainable over time instead of treating it like a chore that you dread doing as soon as you wake up.

Start your day with an energizing morning routine.

When you accomplish several small things early, you give yourself an endorphin rush so you’re motivated to be even more productive the rest of the day. These things don’t all need to be cognitive tasks. They can be as simple as making your bed, tidying up your room and desk, making breakfast, and preparing your lunch ahead of time. A morning routine will give your day more structure so you don’t need to come up with different things to do each day of the week. You simply follow it daily: do a 20-minute workout, read one chapter of a novel, practice a 5-minute meditation or deep breathing exercise. I recommend reading The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod for more ideas.

Stop overwhelming yourself by setting one study goal for the day.

Instead of overwhelming yourself, narrow down your workload. Start the day with a question: “What is the one thing I am committed to completing today?” This way of thinking will encourage you to be strategic about your study goals and keep you focused on your TOP study goal. This doesn’t mean you don’t have many study goals, however, you are promising yourself to finish one today. Write the question in big letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on your bedroom or bathroom wall, then read it out loud as you’re getting dressed or brushing your teeth. Take a few moments to think about what you want to prioritize, and then say the answer out loud.

Do your "deep work" early.

Deep work is what your analytical brain does that requires the most concentration to perform the most complex tasks. These tasks can range from reading and writing notes to repeat the learned material and problem-solving. Some scientists call this time of day the brain’s peak performance time, and it's roughly 2-4 hours after we wake up. If you wake up at 6, your peak times are between 8 and 10 a.m. Be sure to block this time off to cover your most important work instead of spending it on social media apps or watching YouTube videos.

Instead of working longer, divide up the day into short increments.

You don’t need to be sitting at your desk for hours in order to pass an exam with top marks. If you do that over many months, you’ll just feel more exhausted and stressed. Instead, use a timer on your mobile phone or your desktop to better manage your study session. The length of the session should be under one hour. To review study material, set the timer to 30 or 60-minute increments to maximize concentration. To practice exam questions, go even shorter with the Pomodoro technique (25-minute blocks of time) which is ideal for rehearsing for exams where you’ll have less time to write answers. And don’t forget to rest between sessions — step away from your desk, get a snack and some water, coffee, or tea.

Give your brain plenty of time to absorb the new material.

 

Your brain needs downtime in order to process all the new information you are studying, make connections, and store the information so it’s easier to memorize and recall. To help your brain, choose an activity that doesn’t require high cognitive performance. For example, go out for some exercise, even if it’s a 20–30 minute walk, bike ride, or run. What else helps? Plenty of sleep, which for students may require 7–8 hours. If you sleep less, do what Einstein and Churchill did regularly — take a power nap to boost brain performance. Make sure to nap before 3 p.m. so you don’t disrupt your sleep schedule, and keep it around 20 minutes to get that burst of energy you need in the afternoon.