“I’m too busy.” “I’m too tired.” “I have six quizzes, and I can’t keep up.” “It’s finals week, and I can’t finish everything I have to finish!” I’ve heard all of these statements while teaching simple study skills as a tutor, student, and friend. How do you deal with a large workload? Do you sleep off the school week on Saturday morning? Do you try to cram really hard on the weekends? Consider these two ways of approaching massive student workloads which have become commonplace.
Approach #1 – Zone & Cram
This approach emphasizes doing as little as possible for as long as possible. To keep up with your grades, you then play catch-up in short bursts to get work done. Words like “chill” and “laid-back” are the mantras of this team. They zone out in class, trying to do as little work as necessary, doing what is mostly the bare minimum until test time. Then, since these people still want to make decent grades – some even want to make great grades – they cram in a ton of work in an evening or weekend, do well on the test, then go immediately back to zoning out. After all, cramming wears you out.
Does this sound familiar? It should, because everyone I’ve ever met has lived this way for at least a semester.
The Zone & Cram approach is the American Student default mode. Multiple reasons keep the repeat customers coming back. First of all, it’s easier. Zoning & Cramming requires little to no forethought; you simply keep breathing and make it to class on time, and then panic when the words “test” or “quiz” are said loud enough to drift within earshot and shrug off your mental drowsiness.
Additionally, since almost every student defaults to Zoning & Cramming, you’re not alone. Fellow zoners can hang out every night, do the minimum to get by, enjoy the free-time, and still make good enough grades to survive. This default mode can actually be a lot of fun.
Third, the Zone & Cram approach carries little to no short-term consequences. Almost anyone can survive school this way… for short-term bursts. The problems with the approach don’t show up until later. It’s often only after years of Zoning & Cramming that students suddenly find themselves over their head. As a friend of mine remarked recently, “At some point everyone finds out that their study skills can’t handle their academic load.”
Before you think I’m being harsh here, let me stress this again: we all do this.
We call it procrastination, or getting some “me time,” or perhaps you just call it “having fun.” The ever-present allure of “fun things” beckons at every study break. I, for example, can somehow always find time for James Bond movies, sand volleyball, or Sportscenter. (Isn’t it amazing how Sportscenter can provide such a fantastic excuse for so many hours in one day? I don’t know why, but watching the same highlights over again for the sixth time always seems like a valuable way to spend an afternoon)
So, I bring this up merely to say that if you are a Zone & Cram fan, fear not. You are not alone. Nevertheless, you have probably been overwhelmed recently. An alternative lifestyle does exist, though.
Approach #2 – Surge & Rest
Now, at first glance, Surge & Rest may not sound too different than Zone & Cram. Both approaches have a resting period and a working period. Some might even say they rest through zoning out. That’s why they made Hulu, YouTube, and Netflix. But one key difference distinguishes these two approaches: what gets the emphasis.
In the Zone & Cram approach, students’ goals consist primarily of resting for as long as possible and contributing as little effort as possible while still making the grade. Rest comes first and receives the priority. Work is minimized and put off as long as possible.
The Surge & Rest approach reverses these goals. Surging gets the emphasis for these students. Resting is a vital part of the rhythm of life, but it isn’t the goal of life. Future dreams, directions, and desires are goals. School work becomes a means to an end. Class becomes an exciting opportunity instead of a necessary evil.
School is still hard. That doesn’t change. But when students take a Surge & Rest attitude, work is infused with new meaning. Algebra, Moby Dick, and Louis XIV have a point.
One Key Benefit of the Surge & Rest Approach
Believe it or not, students who Surge & Rest do both phases – the work and relaxation phases – better than students who Zone & Cram. As odd as it may sound, a “work-first, rest-second” attitude will produce students who both work better and rest better than those who rest first. As ironic as it may sound, work hard, work first, and you’ll find that you actually rest better.
Don’t believe me? Try it for a week and share your results in the comments. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.