The title of this post might seem a bit odd, after all surely most students are not working hard enough! Well, not usually! While there are many students who would benefit from working more, in my experience a large proportion are actually working too hard and this is one of the reasons why they are doing less well than they could. In fact I would go as far as to say that one of the main reasons students under-perform in their exams is that they have worked too hard.
Why is working too hard bad for you? Primarily because it makes you tired. As you get more tired your ability to learn falls significantly. A common pattern is that overworking leads students to struggle to concentrate in lessons and when doing their homework. As their performance drops they then (wrongly) conclude that they need to work more and so the cycle continues. Usually this only ends when the student falls ill and has to take time off school. That time-off then leads the student to fall further behind, causing even more difficulties.
Another reason working too much can be a problem is that when you work too hard this is usually at the expense of other important activities like spending time with your family and friends, relaxing, doing sport or other hobbies. While they can sometimes seem like an optional luxury, in fact they are crucial to your health and happiness and should not be neglected. And while doing those vital things your mind assimilates the information you have learned and your body recharges its energy stores. When those activities get dropped the tendency is to feel more tired, bored, and irritable which is not conducive to working productively. Also the more you work, the more your life is centred round work which can make it seem all important and very stressful.
So how do you know if you’re working too hard? These are some important signs to look out for:
– You struggle to concentrate during lessons or homework
– You sleep poorly and wake-up feeling tired and sluggish rather than refreshed
– You find yourself feeling unmotivated or lacking interest in your work
– You keep making the same mistakes in your homework or exam practice – your grades are not improving
– Homework seems to take you several attempts and much longer than it takes others
– On the weekend all you want to do is sleep
– You frequently get colds and flu
If you are experiencing several of these then WATCH OUT you could be approaching exhaustion or burnout, meaning you will need to take time off school / college to recover.
So what do you do about this? How much should you work?
No one can say exactly how much or when you should work, as it varies enormously from person to person. However there are a few principles you can follow which should help prevent this problem:
– Don’t work for longer than 1 hour at a stretch and even better, 40 minutes. Then have a break where you do something that doesn’t tax you like go for a walk or have a snack before re-starting.
– Few people can cope with studying for more than 6 hours in total in one day. If you have also been at school then it is probably 2 hours in one evening.
– As you approach exams you should be steadily reducing the number of hours you work as you approach the exam, not increasing it! This will ensure that you are fresh for your exam.
– If you have a revision timetable you should also block in time for fun, exercise, relaxation and treats which you look forward to. Don’t cut these out!
– If possible, don’t study in your bedroom as this can make the room associated with work and stress, making it harder to sleep well at night. (If you have to work there then make sure you pack away books and notes at the end of the day so that it feels finished before trying to sleep).
If you commit to these things what you will find is that your work is no longer the chore it once was, that you come to it refreshed rather than tired and that you see that work is part of life, not all of it! You will work much more productively and achieve better results. Sometimes less really is more!