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Ok so I am a student so my question is not exactly related to workspace but it is related to work productivity so that is why I am posting it here.

I am planning to learn a few things during the summer holidays -- Java Servlets , HTML5 Game Designing and brushing up my rusted Mathematics

So, I chalked out a plan that

  • in the morning I shall do HTML5 game designing. I shall maintain a rigorous routine of 10 pages a day that shall allow me to complete a 700 page book in 2 months.
  • in the afternoon I shall do math. One topic a day.
  • Servlets at night, same 10 page rule
  • I would like to ask if this approach is productive or not reason being that I was told monotasking is better than multitasking. I do not see how this is multitasking as I am doing everything at their distinct times, focusing my attention on only one task at a time.
    Also, is this not how we study in the formal education system ? A lot of subjects per semester ?

    Is this approach productive or not ?

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    migrated from Mar 3 '13 at 6:59

    This question came from our site for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting.

    That isn't multitasking. Multitasking is posting on Stack Exchange while also working on a report and having an IM conversation. – enderland Mar 2 '13 at 19:50
    I don't have enough to say to make this an answer rather than a comment, but I think you are absolutely correct: doing several things at different times of the day is not "multitasking". – Carson63000 Mar 2 '13 at 20:12
    is it productive or not is the main question :) – Little Child Mar 2 '13 at 20:13
    There's no way to determine if this will be productive for you. – Dave Newton Mar 5 '13 at 0:50
    @enderland, Well, it's still context switching. – Pacerier May 28 '15 at 5:52
    up vote 4 down vote accepted

    I've spent a whole lot of my life learning and/or teaching- both technical topics including some of the ones mentioned and non-technical topics like dance, presentation giving, and management topics.

    I find that there's a big difference for most people between what I'll call "project time" and "study time", and I'd conjecture that there's probably other breakdowns for the benefits of other types of time as well.

    Here's my basic division:

    Project time

    Time spent doing some sort of focused project. Examples include:

    • a single, really hard math problem or writing a big math paper
    • a lab in almost any science, or an engineering project like writing a web site or a feature in a program.
    • an artistic work - like sewing clothing, sculpting, painting, being part of a show, etc.
    • home repairs

    There's a general theory in this kind of work that you have an overhead to the "context switch" - the time spent getting your brain ramped up into what you are trying to do. It can include true physical tasks - like finding your tools, or their mental equivalent - like mentally remembering all the things you learned the last time you were doing this particular project.

    In general, if you give a person several projects of a similar ilk and tell them to perfectly balance their time, this won't go as well as if you let them start and finish each project with some sort of flow. Many people want to finish one before starting another - particularly if the projects are quite similar.

    Study/learning time

    Conversely, I've found that as a general metric, students can focus on learning a given topic for about an hour. Students can learn for many hours in a day, but the need a break and a shift in topics after approximately an hour. This refers to true learning - examples include:

    • studying from a book
    • doing a set of exercises that are taking you very carefully through some material (as opposed to an open-ended project)
    • learning a given type of dance, or a particular dance choreography
    • learning lines in a play

    Push students too far past one hour and you will get diminishing returns. The brain will get overloaded and retention will drop off.

    Note - this is for pure teaching - lecture/listen, or very directed studies. A class that mixes exercises, discussion, activities, and lecture will have a lot more play here and may manage to keep students meaningfully engaged for many hours.

    A theory

    When you do a project, you are actually flipping between ways of thinking - one minute you're learning with trial and error, the next your creating a solution, the next you are analysizing the results... but the whole time you build a body of knowledge. So your brain doesn't get worn down so easily, and being able to tie everything to a context is critical.

    When you study, you are building up a set of knowledge about something - the repeated learning actions of your brain get worn out after a while, and the type of short term memorization with cramming in knowledge about a given topic takes a part of the brain that has limited capacity for each topic. The brain needs time to transition from short term to longer term memory and you can't do it while you're still struggling to learn.

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    The gist of what you said (as I get) is this : If I can somehow prevent my brain from getting tired with the learning effort, the way of learning is productive :) – Little Child Mar 5 '13 at 2:30
    @bethlakshmi: Regarding learning, I think your explanation is based on pseudoscience. Consider the following quote >type of short term memorization with cramming in knowledge about a given topic takes a part of the brain that has limited capacity for each topic. The brain needs time to transition from short term to longer term memory and you can't do it while you're still struggling to learn. What part of the brain are you mentioning? What topics? We learn best when we have difficulties. These are known as desirable difficulties. So if you are finding something hard you are learning. If you ar – user4994 Mar 5 '13 at 17:21
    Um... no. Chances are good that you can't prevent your brain from doing anything. You can learn how it works and roll with it. If what you're doing is a bunch of mental "tasks" around a single goal, then you can do it for a long time. If what you're doing is a single "task" (reading, or memorizing, or quizzing yourself) - then your brain will get tired, and you'll need some sort of change - subject matter, new task, etc. – bethlakshmi Mar 5 '13 at 21:33
    Tom, the distinction between short and long term memory is well accepted and goid training plans work to ensure short term learning is pushed into long term storage. – Rory Alsop Mar 7 '13 at 7:09
    @bethlakshmi, Are you sure you can't prevent your brain from doing anything? He's talking about redbull, coffee, and better stuff like ritalin and etc. – Pacerier May 28 '15 at 6:26

    The very simple answer is:

    It is productive it it works for you!

    This is the challenge with any rigid productivity guidelines - everyone is different, so what works for you may not work for others.

    Monotasking works for some, multitasking works for others, but usually humans work best monotasking - but have differing ideas on how long to spend per task.

    A generally accepted approach for time slicing you may be interested in is , which uses much shorter time slices but seems to work for a lot of people.

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    How does pomodoro match up with "lost productivity due to context switches"? – Pacerier May 28 '15 at 6:23


    Everyone has their own limits. For some, it's a rigorous schedule. For others, it may not be. In computer science, it's normal for a good student to learn two new languages a year. For less experienced people, it might be difficult to learn one language a year.

    What's important in improving is that you find a challenging pace. If you're familiar with proper exercise method, you'd want to reach that line where you're tired at the end of the day, but not exhausted. If you're exhausted, you'll kill motivation, and stunt your progress for several days afterwards. If you're moving at a "strolling" pace, it's much too slow.

    Multiple Tasks

    There are benefits and disadvantages to doing many tasks on the same day.

    The biggest disadvantage is that everything has momentum. A strict schedule will hurt this. What if you're having a lot of fun on your HTML5 things? What if 1 hour on math isn't enough? What if the math is a difficult kind that just kills your mood to do anything else that day?

    Forcing yourself to a particular pattern, especially when you're drained, will greatly increase the chance of you abandoning that schedule later.

    On the positive side, similar to exercise, you should also cycle between different things. With exercise, there's a limit to how much you can work on your arms, before your legs and such. After that, you should leave it about 3 days to heal. Learning takes on a similar form, except that recovery on one particular topic might only need about 30 minutes.

    Some people are able to do a lot on one topic and not feel tired, so it's up to you to gauge what level you're at.


    You've got a limited amount of mental stamina, which may vary based on other factors (like the traffic of the day, workload for the week, or whether you've argued with someone recently).

    What's most important is that you save your most important tasks as the first thing you do in the morning. Try to cover different types of things a day. Instead of several programming/mental tasks, maybe do a simple, mindless practice one or something that requires experimentation.

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    I think that's a great plan. There is so much research out there about how important it is to do a little every day. Not only are you able to retain smaller chunks of learning, you're also much more likely to stick stick with your plan.

    I'd find a system of tracking your daily progress so you feel a sense of accomplishment on day 30 when it might feel like you're in a rut and feeling bored.

    Otherwise, great strategy!

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    Are you aware of any software that would do that ? :) – Little Child Mar 6 '13 at 19:05
    @LittleChild, notepad.exe would work fine no? Also, how old are you? – Pacerier May 28 '15 at 6:25

    Doing a few things that are relevant to you is great. Doing a lot of things isn't good.

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    This is too vague to be considered a good answer. Could you edit your answer to elaborate? Maybe add an example of why doing a lot of things isn't good? – Jeanne Boyarsky Mar 7 '13 at 2:52

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