Ways To Reset Your Study Process After the Holidays

Trying to get your motivation back after the holiday season? Use these tips to get back on the wagon.

Happy New Years Everyone! I don’t know about you, but I may have been a bit ambitious in my productivity expectations for the month of December. I didn’t have family visiting, and I hadn’t made extensive social plans, but I still ended up studying way less than I had originally planned. It’s really easy to get bogged down with feelings of guilt and ineffectiveness at times like this, but I decided to reset my thinking instead and shift my focus. You can take advantage of these tips as well, and let me know in the comments if any of these tips work for you.

Book an Exam

I have found that I work best under a deadline. As I’ve shared in my past videos, my entire study process changed when I bought my first exam seat in 2020. My energy, focus and priorities changed. Even though I am taking PPD in a few weeks, I decided to go ahead and buy a seat for PDD a month afterwards. This will allow me to keep up the momentum, whether I pass PPD or not, and stop me from losing focus if I do fail.

Connect With Your Study Buddies

I have both an accountability and study group for my upcoming exams, both of which I meet with once a week. In my first session with my accountability partner, she reminded me that everyone tends to fall off during the holiday season, and that it’s normal to fall behind during these times. It was great to hear that, since I tend to hold myself to very high expectations.

Connecting with other people going through the same thing as you will give a fresh perspective and understanding that we’re all going through the same struggles. It will also help you figure out how to move forward in spite of your setbacks, with a second set of eyes that can sometimes see a solution that you can’t.

Reorganize Your Calendar

One of my favorite concepts/thought exercises is this:

  1. Write down your top 3 priorities in life
  2. Open Up Your Calendar
  3. Check Where Your Priorities Show Up in Your Calendar

I love doing this exercise, because it really forces me to put my money where my mouth is in terms of organizing my time around the things I say are important to me. Long story short, if you say passing your exams is a priority for you this year, then your study time, exam dates, and study group meetups need to all be blocked off (marked as “Busy”) on your calendar.

For me, this helps avoid double booking myself, promising someone I will attend an event or a meeting when I’m supposed to be studying. This also helps me keep a regular routine, and build a consistent study habit. I did not have my study times marked out this December, which I hold partially responsible for my loss of focus.


Did you experience the same problems that I did this holiday season? If you did, let me know in the comments, and how you plan to overcome them. If you’re interested in receiving more updates and content from me, make sure to sign up for my mailing list.

My Studytime Rules

Rules that I use to keep focused as I study for the ARE 5.0

I spend a lot of time studying for my exams, so you might be wondering how I stay focused and study effectively. Together with my accountability partner, I was able to come up with some concrete rules on ways to study effectively without wearing myself out. You don’t have to follow these rules yourself, but feel free to use them as a template if you think they’ll help your study process.

1. Phone in a Different Room

This was a major one, as my phone is a major distraction for me. It’s the easiest way for me to get derailed in my study sessions. So the method that I use is to leave it to charge in a completely different room on silent. It’s a simple method, but it really works.

Another method that I’ve started using recently for productivity tracking and distraction free testing is using the Flora app. This app has a variety of great uses including time tracking and locked in study time frames, that stop you from seeing your phone notifications and checking your feeds, as you will lose all your studying progress. It also allows you to set time goals for yourself, and track your total hours over time. Flora also has a very fun function that allows you collect plants, trees and flowers for each successful study session, so you can create a new garden every week.

2. Laptop: Only Music & Clockify

Even though I avoid using my phone, I still need to use my laptop for activities like Young Architect or Pluralsight videos, Hyperfine assignments, or looking up concepts I’m studying, so I still keep it with me when I’m studying.

However, when I’m not studying with it directly, how do I make sure I don’t get distracted? I make sure that I’m only using my laptop for my studytime playlist on Youtube, and for the Clockify app for my time tracking. I’ve talked about how I use Clockify for both my PcM and PjM passes.

3. One Architecture & Design Event Per Week

In one of my posts, I’ve described in detail why I’m trying to avoid architecture events. They are a big temptation for me because I love to learn, but they also take up time that I could be studying. So I’m only allowing myself to attend one architecture event per week, and that includes events hosted in-house at my company. It doesn’t matter whether it virtual (they’re all virtual at this point, lol) or in person.

Since I’m still wrapping up the last few hours of my AXP, I definitely value being able to use architecture events to earn AIA LUs (Learning Units) and CEUs. However, I feel like the AXP Hours will come eventually, but passing these exams may not happen without my deliberate effort.

4. One Personal Event Per Week

With a similar reasoning as for the architecture events, I’m trying to limit my interpersonal events and meetings. My state is currently in Phase III of reopening, so things are more relaxed and there are way more opportunities to interact than just a few months ago.

However, I realize that these social events take several hours out of my day, between the transport and the actual meeting. So until I pass these exams, I’m limiting myself to just one social/personal event or gathering a week.

5. Only 1 hour MAX of studying on site visit days or traveling days

We all know that work can get intense, which is why a lot of people recommend that you only start studying for the AREs if you have the time available. As I’m about to mention below, if you don’t have 3 hours a day free to study, you’re really going to struggle with this exam.

But sometimes we have those workdays that drain you and leave you completely able to function once you get home. That’s ok! Give yourself permission to take it easy, if you need a break. Your body and mind will thank you. Build this into your schedule, so if necessary, you can study for additional hours on the days you know you don’t have site visits or late nights. On days like that, I give myself permission to study for one hour or zero hours.

6. Study for 3 hours a day

So this is my goal for each studying day. I don’t always reach it, but it’s what I aim towards. One thing about my studying method is that I plan what I’m going to study weeks in advance, and sometimes it takes less than 3 hours. That’s still fine! I get that time back in my day if I’ve thoroughly studied everything on my plate for that day.

Normally I track my daily hourly totals through Clockify or through the Flora app on my phone. Clockify also allows you to see your overall study totals, and seeing that number go up is a big motivator for me. I have a goal to study 100 hours per exam, which I tried to capture in the #ARE100Challenge, which encourages people to study 100 hours for the ARE Exam. I also use the Study Material Tracker I created to help me figure out my overall hourly goal for each study resource.

7. One detail or document a day

This one is straightforward and is very helpful if you are taking any technical exams or CE, which I recently passed! It basically means that you are checking out or drawing or sketching a new detail or document every day.

You guys have gotten this far, so I’m pretty sure you know how to sketch. For the documents portion, it just involves going one step beyond your study materials. Cross train with real-world examples of your study content.

For example, if you were studying concrete and slump tests, watch a video of a slump test being conducted, or check out an actual test report. It really helps you with filling in the gaps of your experience, and help you better visualize the concepts.

8. No studying after midnight

This is as simple as it is effective. I know in architectural studio we prided ourselves on our long hours and thought that showed a level of dedication in our craft.

However, there are a lot of negative effects of studying late into the night, the most important of which for me is that I’m completely burned out by the next day, and I use my late night to justify studying less the next day.

Don’t fall for this cycle, it is a trap! Get the study hours you need in enough time to get to bed at a reasonable time (now I sound like someone’s mom), and your body and mind will thank you. I want my mind to be in top form for both my work and for studying again the next day.

9. All Notes need Title & Date

Do you take notes when you study? A lot of people do. I was against it at first, because it just felt like repetition to me, but I’ve been convinced of its usefulness over time.

But if you have a binder full of notes, on different subjects without labels, you’ll have no idea what you’ve studied, the relevant objectives, and whether or not you’ve covered this material before. So I try to make sure that every page is labeled with the title of the study material, the subject matter, and the date. This keeps my notes organized and let’s me see my level of understanding of the content over time, since I write my notes in my own words.

Another useful note taking tip for me is that I don’t write what I already know. Really basic information that I already know and will be able to remember for the exam, I don’t bother to write down. For example, what is the B101? I don’t need to write that down, I know that easily. As you start to absorb information, you’ll have to write less and less in your notes, making it easier to review materials.


If you made it to the end of this lengthy post, congrats! Thank you for taking the time to read it all, and I hope this explanation of my study time rules gave you some inspiration on things to add to your own routine. You can download the study time rules graphic as a PDF at my Downloads page or my Store for free.

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