The Work Equation

You have been told countless times that if you work hard, you will do well in your exams. This is not particularly truthful. Plenty of students work hard and still end up with mediocre scores. This is because the work they are doing is not very useful.

Work which is not useful is unlikely to improve your exam performance. To make your work useful, you must increase your productivity. Productivity is the total amount of useful work you manage to get done. Working hard is, quite literally, only half of the equation:

Productivity = Time x Efficiency

From the Work Equation, we see that there are two ways to increase your productivity:

  1. Work longer. The brute-force, ogre-beating-down-a-door approach.
  2. Work more efficiently. The swift, turn-the-key approach.

The vast majority of people struggle to work effectively for more than a few hours per day. Just like with physical energy, we have limited mental energy and willpower. Your brain needs time to recover and consolidate what you have learned.

In fact, spending all day grinding away at your desk can easily do more harm than good. Your physical and mental health will suffer. Your attitude towards exams will become increasingly negative as your preparation erodes the rest of your life. Your progress will be slow, which only makes you feel worse. None of this is fun, and ironically all of it is horribly detrimental to your exam performance.

Instead, we will focus our attention on turning you into a ridiculously efficient worker. If you work twice as efficiently as somebody else, you only need to work for half as long to achieve the same outcome.

Efficiencies multiply. If you find three ways of doubling your efficiency, your total productivity will increase by a factor of 2 x 2 x 2 = 8. Now your 8-hour working day can be completed in just one hour. You can easily achieve this if you aren’t already an efficient worker.

How to be Efficient

Imagine you have been entered for a race. Your goal is to cross the finish line in as little time as possible. You must choose your own route, for there is no racetrack between the start and finish lines. The best race times will require the fastest car and the shortest route. With this in mind, there are two ways of working more efficiently:

  1. Pick the shortest route to the finish line. Not all work is equal. Prioritise tasks that will bring the most value to your preparation. Aimless driving will lead to an aimless path. This means you will need to think about and plan your work in advance.
  2. Drive faster. Complete those tasks as quickly as possible, without lowering the quality of your work. Your car must be in good order and not break down too often. This means you must focus, avoid distractions, and maintain a clean mental state.

We will spend the rest of Part 2 looking at how you can boost these two forms of efficiency and win the race.