The information crunch

Facts. Data. Interpretations. News. The unstoppable pace of today’s world places us in constant bombardment with information. We cram for presentations, job interviews, meetings with clients and other demanding engagements. In the process, our internal circuits become jammed. Our wires become crossed. Add studying for class to the mix and it’s enough to push your brain cells into mutiny.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. While it’s true that memory weakens as we get older, strategies to lengthen retention and quicken recall do exist.

Studies show that the average adult can focus on one topic for only a few consecutive minutes before concentration weakens. If the topic interests you, you might fare better. However, the amount of retention is still questionable.

Capitalizing On Time

Study time doesn’t always have to be carefully carved out of your schedule. However, planning quiet time for homework and test preparation is a good idea. But you may be surprised to learn that stolen moments of impromptu study time are effective and efficient windows of opportunity.

When was the last time you actually took a break at the office? Many of us leave our desks only for trips to the bathroom or scheduled meetings. Why not spend those 10 to 15 minute intervals with your nose in a text behind a closed door? Better yet, drag it outside under the shade of a tree. Fresh air will do you good. Consider spending your lunch hour in the park with your laptop or other course materials.

How much time do you waste commuting every day? If you spend significant time riding public transportation, such as buses or trains, why not replace the sports page or fashion rag with a chapter of your history book? If concentration is an issue, blind your ears to distractions with headphones playing calm music into your personal environment.

If you commute an extended distance in your own vehicle, try finding textbooks or other course materials on tape. Though texts might be difficult (or expensive) to find, supplemental reading materials are often easier to obtain electronically. Check out, and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic to find audio books for your classes.

It goes without saying that business trips provide an excellent chance to catch up on reading assignments, review notes and study for exams. Long flights and layovers can be just as much a blessing as they are a curse. Quiet evenings alone in your hotel room, away from family and outside of your normal routine, are gifts, as well. Again, if you’re traveling by car, you can make use of audio texts.

If you spend a lot of time at the gym on treadmills or stationary bikes, you should consider reading while you’re pedaling, or listening to audio texts instead of today’s Top 40 while you’re jogging.

Do you indulge in long bubble baths or frequent soaks in the hot tub? Take your reading homework or class notes with you. Water is said to have a calming and clarifying affect on the mental state, often inducing creativity. While your body is relaxed, the mind is free to focus on the task at hand, be it brainstorming for a term paper or analyzing scientific principles.

Is it practical for you to arrive early to class? A few quiet moments in your chair before the instructor starts lecturing often helps center your attention on the subject matter.

The bottom line for finding time to study is to know where to look for it. The key is realizing that ample time rarely exists. Fortunately, this works to your advantage. Since the average human mind can only focus for a few minutes on any one thing, frequent breaks in absorption actually help you.

Tips For Retention and Recall

Memory works in two distinct ways: short-term and long-term. Short-term memory lasts only about 10 to 15 seconds if the information isn’t repeated. In addition, your brain can only hold about seven pieces of information in short-term memory at any one time.

Long-term memory lasts much longer, but it requires encoding. The process of encoding, or passing information from short-term to long-term memory, affects the way in which it will be recalled. For the most part, long-term memory works by association. Whatever your mind associates with a particular piece of information during the encoding process is what will trigger that information during recall.

When memorizing facts, use mnemonic devices. These trigger recall by association. For example, if your goal is to commit seven important historical dates to memory, envision a familiar place with each of those dates occupying a particular space in this place. Your house is an excellent choice. Associate one date with your living room, another with your bedroom and so on. If people or events accompany the hard facts, simply picture the person sitting on your couch or the event that is taking place in your dining room.

People have used herbal remedies for memory loss for years. Ginkgo biloba extract, one of the most common, supposedly works by correcting cerebral vascular insufficiencies, or poor flood flow to the brain. Ginkgo increases the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain and helps brain cells make use of glucose. This results in improved energy production, nerve signal transmissions and brain wave tracings. Check with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for more information about Ginkgo.

Besides mnemonic devices and dietary supplements, following are a few strategies to help make the best use of your study time:

1. When reading long passages of text, highlight key points, or take reading notes if you don’t want to deface your texts. Prior to continuing after an extended break, review the main points you highlighted.

2. Always try to read course material prior to the lecture. Repeated exposure reinforces the learning in your memory, and advanced familiarity with the topic engages application during classroom discussion.

3. Don’t stop at highlights and reading notes. Take class notes, too. At the end of the period, review the learning in your mind. Banging out a brief summary of each class experience in a journal helps you remember what was covered. It also practices your writing skills.

Most experts agree that the brain is like any other muscle – the more you use it, the more fit it becomes. If this is true, memory and recall can be improved. All it takes is diligence. Coupled with time capitalization techniques, you can achieve academic excellence.

Perhaps an even greater benefit is the fact that your new habits of efficiency will bleed over into other areas of your life. Before you know it, you’ll be one of the most efficient people around.