Even the busiest person can incorporate these techniques TODAY and get IMMEDIATE value.
More doesn’t always mean better...
…especially when we talk about the time required to study for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification through PMI.
Think about it...
Would you rather try to squeeze in 10 hours of ineffective study (cram sessions) when you’re half-awake or while the kids are running around the house, or have 4-5 hours of high quality, high focus study?
The secret is all about a person’s “study form.”
A persons “study form” can be improved by implementing easy productivity tactics, no-brainer time management techniques along with putting simple study practices into place, so good patterns emerge.
I love this example by Andy Crowe from his book “Alpha Project Managers: What the Top 2% know that everyone else does not.”
“Practices does not make perfect. Endless repetitions of a golf swing with an incorrect stance will never lead to the long-distance drive, the consistency, or the accuracy you want. Practicing bad handwriting will not eventually produce a beautiful script. Practicing the trumpet with a flawed embouchure will not produce the pure tone or precision the musician craves.”
If your study practices leave you feeling frustrated and discouraged, I urge you to try a few of these tactics.
Even the busiest person can incorporate these techniques TODAY and get IMMEDIATE value.
These aren’t hacks or some fad. These techniques will improve your study form and have been making many business professionals and productivity lovers get more done.
I nerd out to blogs, participate in forums and groups chats with aspiring PM’s and those who are looking at the exam in their rear-view mirror. I have also spoke to a lot of these ambitious individuals personally. When you talk to enough people, patterns emerge.
In this case, on of those patterns was “time management,” and how it is one of the most common pains aspiring PM’s are faced with when studying.
Checkout my unedited interview snippets below:
- Time management and energy. I have a full time job and it was time consuming and energy consuming. I don’t have a weekend life, can’t participate in anything, if i go celebrate it takes away from studying
- So having a little kid, my daughter and I was having almost no time to start at this. I have like four hours per week. so yeah, that’s my biggest challenge
- Really kind of finding that balance is to say that I’m consistent in when I’m sitting down because, you know, I find if I go a couple of days without having looked at it then, oh gosh, probably get back to go about finding that consistent, consistent pattern.
- I’m reading material and not remembering it a day later
You know what fascinates me? There is commonality between the struggles PM’s face. However, there are some who manage to study and pass in a fraction of the time. But how?!?! We all have 168 hours in a week, no more, no less than anyone else. So I decided to dive deeper into time management, productivity, etc to find out tactics that some of the most productive people swear by, so you too can also get more studying in while leveraging easy strategies to create good “study form.”
We all have 168 hours in a week, no more, no less. I decided to dive deeper into time management, controlling information overload and productivity to find out how so many others get things done and make it look easy.
The Pomodoro Technique
Earlier I wrote about trying to squeeze in time to study and mentioned cram sessions. I am sure we have all had to re-read a part of the PMBOK, or our preferred PMP study tool because the information began to blur together or as one person I interviewed said, “I’m reading material and not remembering it a day later.”
I am sure anyone who has already taken the PMP or is studying the material now can relate. Well it just so happens I came across a time management technique called “The Pomodoro Technique” that addresses a lot of the challenges of getting more done while staying effective.
The Pomodoro Technique essentially focuses on small sprints of 25 min of concentrated/focused work (without multitasking) and then taking a 5 min break, increasing the length of breaks after every few sprints. Since the brain begins to lose concentration after about an hour or so, small intervals can improve concentration and the ability to retain information, which has been said to be motivating?!?!
Now I consider myself somewhat of a productive person. I mean I somehow managed to get through grad school, had a full-time job (that required regular travel), maintained a social life all while staying consistent at the gym. However, when I studied for the PMP back in 2017 I had to study. Something that I didn’t have to do a ton of through my academic career.
I was also constantly trying to scrape enough time together to study. My study sessions were inconsistent. This forced me to do a lot of re-readying, causing my journey to be a lengthy one. I only wish I had known about some of these techniques that I now use for work and have easily incorporated them into my routine and found them to be very effective. As you begin to do this, I think you’ll be amazed at how fast 25 minutes will go by.
My business partner (and my guinea pig) who is studying for the PMP is applying this tactic himself. He gave it a try after I raved about how much work I got done within a few sprints. He tried it for two weeks while studying and here is what he had to say:
I thought my study sessions were going pretty well. Although, after an hour or two, I began dozing off and reading words but not comprehending nothing. Breaking sessions up with Pomodoro changed that completely. It allowed shorter, more productive study sessions. Which meant more time doing things more enjoyable than studying for the PMP. Which is pretty much anything ever.
Have you heard of “The Rule of 3?” It is all about starting small and leveraging a SIMPLE technique that works WITH the way our mind has always been programmed to work, making the technique more memorable.
What is the "rule of 3"
The idea behind the technique is to focus on what is important and determine the 3 outcomes you’d like to reach by the end of the day. Focusing on only 3 outcomes makes the technique more achievable and less overwhelming that a massive to do list. If you find yourself on a roll after reaching the 3 intended outcomes you set out to do that morning, then everything else is a bonus.
Why should the “Rule of 3” be used
There are a lot of techniques that require changing habits, which are hard to do. As humans, we are averse to anything difficult, boring or challenging. The Rule of 3 is easy. Most of us have to–do lists anyway, so prioritizing them by picking the top 3 for the day and making them outcome driven rather than task driven can give us a sense of pride that we finished, completed or finalized at least 3 things we were hoping to do.
Using the as an gym example, if you are trying to get back in the habit of working out – starting out by saying you’ll working out 5 days/week right off the bat, will probably result in you quitting shortly after.
Instead, you can achieve the same result by making it a goal to go to the gym 1-2 days a week for a few weeks and then anything after that is a bonus, even if you can eventually work up to 5 days a week after a month or two.
Starting small gives you immediate wins more often by starting and staying small.
Think about a project with no milestones for months. Its hard to feel a sense of progress of accomplishment.
How would I use this for the PMP?
Start by taking your study plan, looking to see what is up next for the day and the week and breaking it down to look something like this:
- Finish last 10 pages in Chapter 3 of Rita’s book
- Complete and grade end of the chapter quiz
- Watch the Ricardo Vargas video
- Review and fill gaps from week 3
- Update PMP study plan
- Play the Rita process game at least twice
Information overload and how to control it
“Don’t let the information control you.”
It’s a hard pill to swallow.
Yet it was one of my biggest takeaways from the Andy Crowe book I mentioned earlier in this article.
Like many of you, who continually find yourself overwhelmed by the wealth of information in the profession, and the level of information we receive and process daily as a project manager.
The same can be said, when it comes to studying for the PMP exam. Even though we all magically hope reading the material will suddenly make it all “click.”
After a number of conversations with others pursing the PMP, there was more of an underlying reason so many others were struggling with the amount of information there is to consume too.
Unedited comments, part 2:
- I really did not pick up good study habits in school so I had a really hard time with this.
- I just feel exhausted from studying and trying to learn everything
How do you learn to study? How can we feel less exhausted by consuming material?
Despite a large number of PMP aspirants having very impressive academic backgrounds and holding several degrees, many are still trying to figure out how to study.
For starters, it helps if you understand your study style, if you don’t know yours click here. After answering 20 simple questions, you will get a summary and some tips on what will work best for you.
The second is to know and take advantage your Biological Prime Time (BPT) a concept that author Chris Bailey discusses in his book, The Productivity Project. Find out when you have the most energy and tackle your highest impact tasks at that time. Bailey suggests that time management isn’t simply just about time, but its even more so about monitoring your energy and attention as well.
Once we know how best to study and when our optimal study time is, it is time to study. Although each study style will have recommendations on how best to study for you, there is also a ton of merit to a few others I think are worth mentioning; you’ll see why shortly.
In the last section, we talked about using the Pomodoro technique to retain information. When used in combination with some of my favorite easy to use methods during your pomodoro sprints, it can help to further extend the minds ability to remember new material.
Read the material out loud
I suggested this one to my business partner who is currently studying for the exam. I am pretty sure he thinks I am nuts. Think about it though. When you read aloud, the minds are processing information multiple ways, as both a visual and audio learner. Many studies suggest this strongly improves memory and it is a simple technique that can be incorporated to your study regimen.
Teach the material
This quote has a lot of truth behind it. If you know material well, its usually easy to summarize it simply. However, if you were distracted and only half focused – – I am sure you can imagine how much of a challenge it would be to teach someone. For anyone who has taken any type of academic course over the years, you’ve probably had an instructor ask you to read though some material and teach the class or your partner. I had this happen in grad school and in a PMP boot camp course I took. In those settings, I kind of hated it. The overall ideology behind it made sense.
My favorite way to use it is to teach my business partner some of the techniques I learn from all the time management and productivity readying I do. Further, I continue to read up on the PMP and content to be a better teacher, and there is no better of a student than my business partner who is smack dap in the middle of his journey to a PMP.
Summarize the material after reading
After each section, summarize it in your own words and refer to it as reference when you need to. If you are comprehending what you are reading, which is the goal with studying and reading in general this should be easy. It will help to consolidate ideas and focus on the main points and takeaways from each passage.
Phew….we got through it all.
So in summary, studying is all about quality over quantity and overall effectiveness. Trying to cram in hours of study, wont necessarily be more effective than someone else who has better “study form” and retains information easier.
To retain information, try the pomodoro technique and work in sprints, taking a short break between each one. If you get overwhelmed, set yourself up with 3 outcomes you’d like to achieve by the end of the day, or end of the study session and solely focus your time and energy into those.
Speaking of energy, its important to study during hours where you’re at your peak. Take advantage over your study style and exploit it. When all else fails, reading aloud, teaching what you learned to others, and simply summarizing each key section can trigger multiple parts of the brain that are not only effective, but increase the memory and retention of the information you’re consuming.
Remember, we all have the same 24 hours in a day/168 in a week, and by implementing no-brainer tactics like these, you can begin to immediate results and high returns of your time by your next study session.