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Study at the weekends and get productive

Back to a few years ago, some colleagues registered a Japanese language test JLPT 5(the entry-level). I grabbed my husband to join them as we both love to watch Japanese anime since child, and we planned to travel to Japan on our own.

No one took it seriously at first, until a few months left for the test, and I started to get anxious. As a Chinese growing up in the "education for test" environment, this is like something deep in my bone.

"Oh, NO! I hate tests!"
"I don't want to do it again!"
"So I'd better pass it once and say goodbye to it forever!"

When I finally started to study the textbook seriously, I found the study action itself was even more challenging than the grammar.

I couldn't focus as my mind gets continuously distracted by my mobile phone, the social media, and my husband who loves to watch TV by my company and suggest me to relax and play after work.

And my time was often highly fragmented. Living in Singapore with working relatively longer hours makes us get up late, clean up the apartment once a week, prefer having food out of the home than cooking, and frequently purchase fresh groceries as everything spoils super fast under the hot and moist weather. Sometimes, the weekends only have a little real free time before bed just like workdays.

Honestly, I felt nothing wrong, but the upcoming test urged me to completely change my lifestyle.

To gain better focus and a larger chunk of time for study, I looked for suggestions online and tried several methods. Here are the methods that worked well on me:

Thinking about priority before doing anything. You may have heard of the urgent/important principle, which to me is the easiest and fastest way to set the rough priorities of almost anything. While the principle suggests trying our best doing only the important and non-urgent stuff, the test had become both important and urgent thanks to my procrastination. But it effectively convinced me to put my phone down immediately when I took it out start browsing brainlessly.

Training focus with Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro Technique introduces focusing and relaxing cycles by:

  • only doing one single thing for 25 minutes;
  • next rest for 5 mins;
  • repeat above for few rounds;
  • then take an extended break;
  • repeat the cycle.

I used an app to help me with the time checking. I forced myself to postpone doing anything else than the current task in the first week. Util few more weeks later I found the timer interrupted me from my focusing, then I removed the app and completely dropped it.

Studying in a cafe or library instead of home. Home was too comfortable for us to study before Covid-19. Many attracting things distract us at home: TV, food, games... Since Covid-19 forced almost everyone to work at home for several months even a year, the sweet home became hell for spending the lovely weekends. A switching of environment could help us keep mentally healthy and being more productive both for weekends and the following workdays.

That's why Starbucks always fills with annoying students occupying the tables for a whole day. If we were lucky to get a table among them, the study atmosphere around drove us to focus more on the learning. (😬It's not a good practice to occupy seats for a long time. Please be considerate for others!)

Planning to lower down travelling time expense. As a Frontend Developer, I try to reduce requests to save the network round trip time during development. In real life, I could save my life by reducing the round trip time of going out frequently like magic, especially in a city like Singapore.

For example, I could:

  1. Depart early around 9-10 am from home;
  2. Have an excellent breakfast from a beautiful cafe or food court in a shopping mall;
  3. Then stay in the cafe or move to the nearby library and study around 2 hours till hungry;
  4. And try food stall or decent restaurant within short walking distance;
  5. Then go back to the library, cafe or move to another cafe for another 2 hours;
  6. Next buy groceries, cloths if I need. Or go to the gym, watch a movie, meet friends for dinner, go back home to clean or cook or change clothes and jog, and then end the day with a relaxing night watching TV or reading.

The magic could not happen without these conditions:

Cafe/library, food places, gym/grocery store mentioned above are close to each other. Which is relatively easy to find in Singapore. (A list of places I tried attached at the end)

Bring everything we needed along, like an iPad, laptop, earphone, shopping bag, water, book, towel. Since the backpack gets heavy, sometimes may have to adjust by using a phone or iPad instead of a laptop, avoid scheduling outdoor sports and study outside on one day.

Planning roughly ahead and being flexible of unexpected like some cafe does not allow to take out tablet/laptop and we didn't know that before going, then Google right on the spot and change plan.

And the magic turns my husband from complaining about my changes to actively join me, help planning, doing his stuff rather than watching TV. The new lifestyle meets our interests: trying new places and getting our stuff done efficiently.

The magic may not work for everyone, as each family has different conditions. But I believe you could always find a way works for you.

Hopefully, this crap that I wrote when I could not sleep at night thanks to a powerful cold brew helps.

APPENDIX: Recommended places in Singapore

  • Harbour Front mall - there is a fantastic library with lots of seats, a clean and excellent food court on the 3rd floor and several cafes as alternatives when the library is crowd, various food choices available, cinema, supermarket, almost anything we need.

  • Funan mall - breakfast in Tiong Baru cafe, and then move to the free bar seats on the 3rd or 4th floor for study, may do rock climbing in the climb central at the basement, have nice lunch, dinner, or watch a movie in the cinema and take a walk at the unique roof garden. As it's overwhelming from lunchtime, you may only find seats in the morning.

  • Paya Lebar PLQ mall - got cosy Starbucks, a highly rated library within a short distance(Sunday closes), various food choices, 2 cinemas, and most importantly has Scoop the Whole Foods that I could load groceries without plastic usage.

  • Suntec City - the CBD after Covid-19 has more nice cafe with good lighting, most store survived and new restaurants and brands took over those closed, and it is much less crowded than before.

  • Plaza Singapura - several cafe and dessert places for sitting, lots of food choices, 2 cinemas nearby, but gets crowded very fast.

  • National Library, Bugis Plus, Bugis Junction - the largest library island-wide, the 2 nearby popular shopping mall contains various food and shopping choices.

  • Farer Park City Square - few cafes available but large and clean food court as an alternative, got Decathlon for sports gear, Japanese supermarket Donki, Daiso, and Highly rated Indian food and supermarket Mustafa within 5 mins walk.

  • Toa Payoh Library, HDB market - the old library provides quite some seats, surrounded by the hopping HDB market with many food choices and cheap grocery stores.

  • Tanglin Mall - the old, small mall is kind of far from any MRT, quiet and not crowded at the weekends. Several chain cafes in the mall, got Scoop whole foods and cold storage for groceries, making it a good choice when living in that area.

  • Great World City - the renovated mall got famous PS cafe, several eco-friendly stores including Scoop, and large cold storage to satisfy any needs. But same as Tanglin Mall, far from reach if not living nearby.

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