Time management Monday: Budgeting your time for Input vs Output

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Student studying

This post is good timing for those of you who are doing school projects and papers, and/ or studying for exams. But this is good advice for anyone who is creating something (whether it’s art, writing, presentations, product development, etc.) or is studying/ learning new information or skills.

This post will help you budget your time in your daily schedule for creating (output) vs. learning/ studying (input).


In this recent post I referred to various experts’ opinions and study findings on how much time it takes to create meaningful work. The bottom line is: for most people, four hours seems to be the sweet spot. It’s enough time to really get going and produce some meaningful work on a larger project. Once you get past four hours, your creativity starts to fizzle out and it’s time to do something else.

Of course your mileage may vary: some people can bang out great work in an hour. Other people need extended periods of time to produce something valuable, especially if you want to finish a project all in one go. Do what works best for you. But in general, four hours seems to work best for most people trying to generate good work.


Putting information into your brain works differently than generating output. In this post that I wrote about this time last year I gave you several tips on how to streamline your studying process and study more effectively in less time. But even with condensed studying methods, in general you’ll need a break about every 45 minutes, because your brain has a hard time absorbing information for longer periods of time.

Again everyone is different: if you are studying particularly dense material, you might need a break every 20 minutes. If you are super-focused and engaged in the information, you might be able to go an hour or more at a time. But in general, long study sessions don’t allow you to absorb information as well.

When learning it’s more effective to do “little and often.” Take your flashcards with you everywhere and practice while you are on the bus or waiting for something. The more often you engage with the information, the better it will implant in your mind.

So when you are planning to write that paper or study for an exam, remember to block out large blocks of time to create, and smaller chunks of time (with breaks in between) to absorb information.

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