It may or may not have included a clip from everyone's favorite song about Ashurbanipal.
The talk focused on the ‘why’, of taking studies seriously, but did not expand on the ‘how’.
I have no formal training on pedagogy. But I have studied a lot, so I thought I’d pass along the results of my anecdotal experience.
Here are my thoughts on how to discipline curiosity and thrive academically in undergrad:
1. Understand the Concept of Flow and the Value of Momentum.
Momentum is the currency of all creative work. Whether you are writing a paper, or solving a problem set, or generating a lab report, or learning a language, 90, consecutive, undistracted minutes are much more valuable than 90 minutes interspersed with 30, or 60, or 90 minutes of ‘study breaks.’
Creativity isn’t magical or mysterious. Our brains are wonderful and even mystical organs, but they can be trained. Creativity inhabits a mental space psychologists call ‘flow.’ The key to productivity in and after college is to learn how to create and sustain flow.
2. Create Sustained Undistracted Time Windows
The environment for flow is a substantial, but tractable, block of undistracted time. I think for most people it generally works best if it is in a regular, predictable time and space.
Predictability and structure may seem like the opposite of the conditions for creativity, but creativity is a discipline not an emotion.
If you learn to create a habitat for creativity, it will become a regular companion. Buy a timer, set it for 60 minutes at first, then 90, then 120 and, don’t go online or check e-mail. See if you don’t learn to create and sustain momentum.
3. Track Your Time and Budget Your Hours
How many hours a week do you study? If you don’t know the answer to that question ±3 hours you are probably working reactively rather than proactively. Time is a commodity, and if you are going to spend it wisely, you need to budget it. Here’s my recommendation:
i. Lay out a week in your favorite medium (graph paper, calendar, Excel, dragon skin and the blood of a newt, medium doesn’t really matter).
ii. Subtract a healthy amount of sleep. If I was to make one change in the many regrettable study practices of my undergrad, I’d sleep more.
iii. Then block out the non-negotiable activities that are ‘above the line,’ activities that you prioritize before academics. For me, in undergrad, it was church, participation in Intervarsity large and small groups, and, in my senior year, a Saturday date with my girlfriend. For some this will include exercise, close friendships, a sport or club. With the rising costs of school, for more and more students, this includes non-trivial hours, working to pay the bills. If video games or television are non-negotiable, budget a reasonable (and I would argue, a reasonably brief) time for them, and then stick to the budget. Sabbath is a good principle here. Make time for rest and protect it.
iv. Then find the blocks of time for work and study. Mark some in stone as non-negotiable, the same time and place where you are not likely to be interrupted by friends or internet, and make others flexible in time and place, experimenting with what is most conducive to flow…but assess that critically and don’t self-deceive.
v. Whatever you are doing, be fully present. Don’t watch Netflix during study time. Don’t worry about the test while you are enjoying time with friends. Just like with money, if you make a budget and stick to it, it not only keeps you from wasting the resource, it makes enjoying the part set aside for fun guilt free.
4. Find a Study Group for Problem Set Classes
This one is particular to STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math). A good study group can be hit or miss in the humanities, social sciences and even the descriptive sciences. They can sometimes waste more time than they save for reading, essay exam, discussion, and term paper based classes. But for classes based on problem sets (Math, Physics, Chem…) find a study group, or make one. The best study groups meet at the same time each week to tackle a regular problem set, early enough before it is due so that you can each visit office hours to get help on problems that you get stuck on.
It is ideal if there is someone else in the group as good or better than you at problem solving. Often if there is at least someone of your caliber in the group, you will figure out different problems or different parts of the same problem, saving time. But a study group is valuable in STEM even if you are the strongest performer in the group. As long as the others don’t simply copy your work, if they solve the same problem even with your approach, they can verify your solution independently (or catch mistakes).
5. Go to Class…Always…and Early
Class is the best use of your study time. There is no better return-on-investment for your time than going to lecture. The time cost of reconstructing the material from a class is almost always much too high to make missing class worth it, even if you have a test in your next class.
Also, if you get to class 5-10 minutes early and review the previous class’ notes, you will get more than 5-10 minutes of value from that time, because it is close enough to the first introduction to plant it more firmly in your memory, and because it will help you understand the new material (that will, presumably, build on it).
6. Notes > Text
This might not be true for English, but in all the STEM classes I took, and most of the liberal arts classes, the professor was far more interested in what he or she told me than what the book had to say. In many cases the professor has forgotten what was in the book. I have a very close friend whose GPA jumped a full point when she stopped spending all her time reading the text and really metabolized the notes.
Granted, this is a tip for grad chasing rather than learning, but it is best if your learning manifests as grades, and your time is limited.
And while we are talking about grade optimization rather than learning, the best thing you can do for your grades is to read the syllabus, carefully, paying attention to the percentages, and apportioning your effort accordingly.
7. Stop Telling Yourself You Work Best Under Pressure…Seriously, Just Stop
“I work best under pressure” is self deception. Work under a deadline is rushed and unreflective. What you are experiencing ‘counterfeit flow’ is a truncated version creative productivity that comes from finally giving yourself a small, sad, exhausted block of undistracted time. But you would have had the same experience, only sharper and more productive and more creative, if you had given yourself the same block of time a week earlier, in the morning or mid-day.
Necessity is the friend of productivity but the enemy of creativity.
You might work fastest under pressure, but real learning requires time to reflect, and creativity is a middle-distance race not a sprint. You are most productive when you capture a state of flow (see #1) which usually requires regular, predictable setting of undistracted time.
8. Work While You Aren’t Working…By Working Ahead
Most creative work happens when you aren’t actively working. While you are eating or exercising or at a job or talking with friends…shoot, I once dreamed the solution to a physics problem. But you can only take advantage of the ‘work when you aren’t working’ phenomenon if you start early enough to have the basic ideas you are working on in the cognitive hopper for a while before the deadline.
If you have a paper outline in your head, you will fill it out while you walk to class, then when you sit down to work, momentum is close at hand.
9. Ask Yourself “Why Did my Professor Find this Subject Interesting Enough to Dedicate her Life To It?” and Then Try to Contract the Virus.
Your professor dedicated her life to this topic. At one time or another she found it that inspiring. Surely there is enough beauty and value in there for you to squeeze 4 quarter credits of attention out of it. And if your professor is seriously done, like out to tenure pasture done, long past inspiring anyone, then try to figure out what is so enchanting about the topic that your TA is committing her future to it.
You don’t have to make the topic your vocation, but you’ll have a lot more energy for the quarter if you find the secret to their passion.
10. Experiment with Academic Generosity.
I’m convinced that generosity is the most powerful prescription for worry and discontent. The problem is that we generally think of generosity in terms of money, and undergrads have none of that…in fact, given the loan situation, most undergrads actually have negative money.
But the most precious resources in undergrad are time and GPA.
Experimenting with academic generosity, giving time and donating insight when your time and insight can make the difference for someone else. This will deconstruct the competitive power of the academic life.
So that is my eccentric, anecdotal top 10.
I also reached out to some of my professor friends to ask them. I posted my friend Prof. Rich's, Prof. Teresa's, and Prof. George's thoughts in the comments and rolled Prof. Tiffany's thoughts into a second post here.
This post was written while listening to In the Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
 Like a real, life, physical timer. Don’t rely on an internet timer, because you want to be going to the internet as little as possible.
 Actually, dragons are apex predators, so even in an imaginary world, commoditizing their pelt is probably morally dubious, and if you are handling dead newts, be aware that the contain one of the most toxic neruo toxins in the animal kingdom. Maybe better to go with a moleskin and a pen…or at least sheep hide and frog blood.
 I use software for this, but I’ve had friends tell me that is weird
 The sleep deficit I ran made me exhausted in class, so even though I was there, I had to re-learn the material and had horrible notes, and when I tried to work, I was too tired to be creative. It is a psychological reality. You are more creative when you are well rested. Red bull does not provide the same brain chemicals as sleep…espresso does not consolidate and reinforce neural pathways. Sleep is part of learning.
 My now, wife. This was the best investment I made in undergrad.
 Rest gets confused with as entertainment. In your very limited non-work time, make sure to actively choose activities that are life giving.
 If you don’t have enough time in iv, revisit iii and your definition of ‘non-negotiable,’ or lower your academic expectations and be cognoscente of the future costs of that decision.
 This was my friend Tiffany’s approach to her first year of Grad School at a top 5 English program (where she measured the reading she had to do that year in meters). I stole it, and it has served me well.
 I think the ‘marathon-not-a-sprint’ metaphor is overused and mostly inaccurate. If an all nighter is a sprint, by simple temporal upscaling, writing a paper carefully and reflectively over the course of 2 weeks is a middle distance race, something like an 800m or a 1600m. Nothing in the quarter system is a marathon, but it’s also better if it’s not a series of sprints either.
 This may seem to contradict my advice to ‘be fully wherever you are’ but it doesn’t really. The ‘be fully present’ principle is about worry and distraction. If you have learned why your topic is fundamentally interesting or even beautiful, thinking about it recreationally does not violate the boundaries of Sabbath.
 I actually did a talk about this.
 I have reached out to some of my professor friends to provide a few thoughts of their own.
 It was also written IN an aroplane, somewhere over Nevada.