Want to Maximize Downtime?

by | Apr 26, 2014

Special note…

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting some of the information from my new book to law students at two different law schools. I was so pleased at the caliber of students attending!

My presentation included several ways to improve exam performance by freeing up working memory, managing test anxiety (panic/freeze), and a technique for creating a peak performance state. While deceptively simple, each technique has been scientifically proven to improve performance in many disciplines, including academic.

I received some very good questions during the Q&A sessions that followed the presentation. Students wanted to know more about:

  • Maximizing downtime
  • Managing distractions
  • State related learning – using environment and other triggers to enhance memory
  • How to handle big life events while studying (like moving or weddings that occur during finals)
  • Sleep routines
  • How to keep from getting bored or in a rut from studying a particular way

Over the next few weeks, I will be exploring each of these in depth. Once you know about them, it will be easier to incorporate them into your study routine.

Maximizing Downtime

What do you do when you have been studying all day and need to take a break…but also want to be productive?
Should you study a different way?

Someone asked me this question the other day, and the answer I gave at the time was something along the lines of, “Yes, it’s a good idea to study different ways to break up the monotony, but don’t over-study. Downtime is important, too.”

Now, the idea of productive downtime kind of negates the whole downtime thing, doesn’t it? A recent study  from the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology shows that performance can be profoundly enhanced by engaging in a hobby.

I do this all of the time and find that I do better work when I keep up with my hobbies. Some of the things I do to recharge include photography, working out, painting, and cooking.

Maybe you have a hobby? If so, a great study break would be to do something you love. It’s even better when your hobby clears your head instead of adding information (e.g. playing music or drawing as opposed to watching a movie or reading the news).

I get it. When you are in the throes of final exams or are preparing for the bar exam, you want to squeeze in every possible bit of study time.


There are many ways to make that downtime productive. For now, I really like flashcards and here’s why:

Brain engagement and memory encoding

Flashcards are fun! There is an arts and crafts element to the creation of them. Use color! Make them memorable so that your brain can build stronger neural networks to associate with the subject matter.


You can take them anywhere – the gym, the car, lunch – and drill them easily. When you use them at the gym (like on the treadmill, bike, Arc Trainer…), bring along a few big binder clips to make them more manageable.


Flashcards allow you to study offline and away from your computer. Looking at a computer screen can tire your eyes and dull your ability to take in information. Flashcards give you the opportunity to rest your eyes.


Flashcards are a perfect pre-bedtime study modality . You always want to get enough sleep while you are studying. I could add links to about 45 studies (done just this year) on the benefits and necessity of sleep for memory encoding and recall. Electronics – computers, phones, tv – emit a blue light that wakes up your brain and can make it difficult for you to sleep. Use your flashcards and sleep like a baby!


Drilling flashcards is a great way to engrain information through repetition. If you incorporate this method early on, you will benefit from the intermittent recall of information over a larger span of time. It makes it easier to draw information from long-term memory because you will have established a solid recall path.


It is also a good way to gauge what you know and discover where you need to focus your remaining study time. While you drill, separate cards into the “know it” and “look it up” stacks. Be sure to continue drilling the “know it” cards – even if you don’t think it is necessary!

When I used flashcards for law school and the bar exam, I wrote the issues or questions of law on one side of a flash card with stars to indicate how many times the issue had appeared on past exams. I left the other side blank so that I would have to look up answers. This turned out to be a very useful way for me to spend my downtime!

Good luck and let me know about YOUR study routines and how you use this information.

To your success!