Study Tip: The Write-Off Principle
Updated: May 12
Everyone's had one of those days, you've set yourself up for studying but no matter how hard you try, you just can't get the ball rolling. Whether it's at the start of the academic year or a few weeks until your exam, nothing seems to 'click'. But stick around, for I have a unique, but controversial study tip that could help students to study smarter and more effectively - I call it 'The Write-off Principle'.
This is one of those study strategies we ought to be very careful with. If used incorrectly, we could trap ourselves into an endless cycle of inactivity and idle nothingness.
Nevertheless, it remains legitimate in its description and its effect. Though I'd understand if you were sceptical upon hearing it for the first time.
Personally, I like this study technique a lot. It reminds me that there are in fact two sides to the 'productivity coin' which must be respected - 'time on' (Active) and 'time off' (Passive)
Active concerns the activities you 'actively' work towards, it's the 'aggressive' side of the coin in which you pursue opportunities and build your future, very high energy stuff.
Passive concerns exactly what you think it does, the period of time you rest and effectively cool down from your 'time on', the ‘less aggressive’ side of the coin.
Both are equally important and must be respected proportionally if we want to be truly productive because productivity isn't just the act of getting things done, it's also having respect for the amount of time that isn't involved in these 'high energy activities'.
So, if you're suffering from study stress or you have no motivation to study at all... your body and mind might be asking for something of a 'mild' reset.
This is especially common if you're stressed about exams or suffering from burnout. Remember this, uni stress is accumulative, and we have to treat it with an 'accumulation of rest' to balance it out.
This means, if you really feel like you need it, take a big break. I'll explain below...
The Write-Off Principle
In short, I'm essentially asking you to make a commitment and drop everything you need to do for the day... and relax instead.
Relaxing can be done in any way you see fit, but there is one rule. It has to be something that genuinely separates you from your work, both physically and mentally.
Sounds crazy right? I'm literally asking you to give up...or so it would seem. But there is a depth to this kind of action.
How many times have you found yourself trying to complete work but time and time again, you discover that you achieve nothing?
More importantly, you notice that your mind is so engaged in thinking about this work, yet your actions just can't seem to align and follow through.
You could've been sat there for hours, but the pages remain blank and your mind remains unenlightened, and yet somehow, you feel the same exhaustion as if you've completed everything, and then some!
Feeling this exhaustion probably comes down to the idea that although you are trying to pursue the right actions, your mind and body are too stressed to engage with the task at hand.
Usually, we meet this 'inertia' at the start of a task, but then within minutes of forcing yourself to begin, a feeling of commitment can develop and you start to be productive.
However, If after an extended amount of time, this doesn't happen, and you struggle to enjoy what you're doing...and this has been happening for a while! The Write-off Principle might be of use.
But, I can hear you ask "can writing off an entire day really be the right course of action?" - The answer is a yes, but only if done properly, and only if you genuinely rest.
The aim here is to release your mind and body from this accumulated stress, to take yourself completely away from your work and enjoy yourself.
Of course, it would be nice if it stopped there and you walked off into the sunset - but your work still needs to be done, I'm sure!
So, this is the next bit - after your successful rest day, you must re-engage with whatever you needed to do.
The difference being, now you're doing it on the back of a fulfilling rest period. Before, you were starting on a foundation of stress, then accumulating more stress.
With hope, you've got rid of an amount of stress thanks to your day off and now actually have the capacity to test yourself, while actually getting things done.
When to use it
I've alluded to it above, but this is something of a last-ditch effort, the very last revision technique to be used while studying/working.
This technique requires that we respect it and use it carefully. We need to be very aware of defining the times in which we are being lazy and the times in which we are genuinely out of resources and can't proceed.
If you're having trouble with study motivation and university stress management as a whole, especially for exam preparation - I've covered a trick or two to motivation before and how to think about it in a different way, here's the link to that.
Of course, your opportunity to use this trick is time dependant. If you're edging closer toward a deadline and you're limited on time as it is...perhaps this will have to be a study skill for another day.
I should say, this rest day doesn't actually have to be an entire day...it could be an extended period of time or even just a handful of hours, whichever works for you - the important bit is that you find the amount of time that's necessary for your mind to recover.
Commit to something nice! - Venture into the city, play minigolf...have a few days in the park with friends, video games, just anything that can remove you from the study environment and mindset.
Mind you, I would bear in mind that you don't want to overdo it and increase the chances of not feeling 100% when you reconvene with your work.
You want to do things that don't inhibit your ability to focus on your study materials when you get back on the wagon, but give you the relief of 'time off'.
How this Helps to Study Effectively
The fruits of this technique come in the form of being able to fully enjoy both sides of the productivity coin mentioned in the intro.
If we continue to push ourselves too hard and exhaust ourselves to the point of diminishing returns, we will no longer be able to enjoy any of the active or passive activities.
We will swing within an uncomfortable zone of not being able to fully produce work, nor being able to fully relax.
You can think of this Write-off Principle as a time to disengage and allow your batteries to charge to 100%, instead of just hanging around 50% all the time by starting work, then burning out quickly.
The idea is that if you can indulge in the 'rest' period, you unlock the privilege of profiting from following the 'active' period. It‘s very similar to having a holiday every now and again that just gives you the feeling of remembering what 'a breathe of fresh air' can be like!
This technique also helps you understand the idea of quality over quantity (which I'm sure you've heard of before) Either way, it's a fantastic skill to have in your book of 'effective methods of studying', should it be used correctly.
Even The Best Revision Tips have a Con
Awareness is crucial, mastering this study trick requires we have a real in-touch understanding of ourselves and how we feel.
Deploying this technique too often or too quickly can trick our minds into liking the 'passive' side of the coin too much, which of course leads to an imbalance and nothing to be proud of.
If you overdo it on the number of rest periods in correlation to the number of work periods, you'll notice a complacency mindset arise - this is a big no-go
To solve such an issue will require a giant reset, one where you will likely have to remove the things you enjoy in order to not do them...which of course, begins to contradict many of the things I've said above!
In short, you'll require a hard reset which is not something I'd advise - ever!
To limit the chance of this happening, it's important to use this principle at the very end of your attempt to try and work. Ensure you've really searched deep and realized that this is the right action.
The Lesson That Leads to a Smarter You
Though we've talked about this skill in reference to getting work done and studying, the principle actually extends far further than that.
It's teaching us that there's a skill not only in the engagement of tasks but also the skill of 'calling them' i.e, declaring that no more resources should be spent in their pursuit.
This 'study tool', as a wider achievement, is one that can be used in many areas of your life, it's one that isn't talked about but really should be.
Too often do we talk about getting things done and pushing ourselves incredibly hard. Though this is admirable and can be totally valid, there needs to be a discussion which talks about the courage in not perusing tasks that are draining us unnecessarily.
Whether it means cutting them off completely, or just for a short time. In both scenarios, they provide a fantastic benefit when you engage in something else or reengage in the original thing.
Ultimately, it comes down to being aware enough to understand what your mind and body are asking for and knowing the advantage of providing it.
I've heard of many techniques in my time yet this is probably the most underestimated one, simply because of how it sounds on the surface.
My opinion is...I really like it, though it did take me a while to master.
Throughout university, I practised this technique but I only could do so when the rest of my study plan was successful (starting revision early in the year, etc), this wasn't great for me during the cramming phase - just on the basis of time.
For me, I needed pretty long breaks..usually more than a day, for you, it may be different!
Either way, this is going to be something you'll want to try if you resonate with what's written above. I hope it can be resourceful, though if not, at least it's something you've tried.
Let everyone know what you consider to be a 'break' or 'rest' in the comments below, everyone's got their thing, right?. You might end up helping someone find theirs!