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Nothing worth having comes easy?
Nothing is as easy as a Netflix marathon. I’ve actually studied this extensively, mainly during times when I should have been studying other things extensively, and I’ve come to the conclusion that watching Netflix is what man was meant to do.
This is bad news for those of us who want to do anything else, though, because… well, inertia and stuff, right? Why do something other than what you’re already predisposed to doing? Why study when you could make yourself, your mind, your body, and the underlying order of the universe happy?
Am I hyping up Netflix too much? Well, consider how you’d feel if studying for a test was as easy and natural as watching four episodes of House of Cards in thirty-seven minutes. (Don’t think that’s possible? Think again.)
If studying were that easy, it would practically be a crime—so why do we just accept that Netflixing is that easy? Maybe there’s a way for us to, somehow, have a say in what comes easily to us and what we have to work for.
Of course, you should always work for your grades and your achievements, but maybe if you made it a little easier on yourself—or if you made watching Netflix and other distractions a little harder—you might see some improvements in performance. Or at least have a better time at it.
Righting wrongs and wasting time
So what can you do? First of all, stop trying to tell yourself that you’re wrong for watching Netflix. “I should study, but I’ll probably just end up watching Netflix instead” is an offhand comment I and people around me have made a billion times. It’s almost a crutch.
No, not almost. It is a crutch. Netflix is a socially acceptable waste of time. Of course, no waste of time is actually socially acceptable, so we have to feel (or at least act) a little guilty about it. But deep down we know that we are being #relatable by spending our time this way.
It’s all part of this effort to commodify productivity, to make it like a luxury or a sort of status symbol. Productivity is the emblem of the elite. Netflix is the emblem of… most of us.
So I’m saying that you should stop guilt tripping yourself, even as a joke. Stop being sheepish about the way you spend your time, because if you don’t take ownership of that, your idle hours own you. And they don’t care if you study for that final. Odds are you care, it’s just difficult to get up and motivated to study. Netflix requires almost no motivation.
There are a couple qualities unique to procrastinating with Netflix. First, it’s very likely that you have a “go-to” show or two that you almost automatically click on when you log into Netflix. That’s incredibly valuable, because it means that Netflix doesn’t have to do any work to keep you.
And if we aren’t in the mood for security, Netflix recommends us various shows and movies to try based on the interests we already have. They categorize their selection into admittedly odd subcategories that guarantee we’ll find something interesting.
Clicking “next episode” on studying
None of these qualities seem like qualities of studying. And they’re not, intrinsically. But you can imbue studying with the essence of Netflix—maybe not to as great a degree, but enough to get at least one page of that paper out of the way before the next episode of OITNB.
The variety of Netflix is something you can try to emulate in your studying. You can make studying interesting for yourself. You can stick a dollar in your notebook at the beginning of a long day, and if you study later, you’ll come across it and can grab yourself a candy bar.
(I know. This sounds really ridiculous. But I personally forget where I put my money all the time, so it was a great surprise to have an excuse to go get chocolate at the end of a string of classes. I think chocolate is good whether you know it’s coming or not. The point is variety.)
You can also stick links to your favorite social media or online shopping sites into a bookmarks folder with your studying materials. This can be a double-edged sword, because you might go to study and get distracted by Facebook, but let’s be real, that would have happened anyway; here’s a chance for the reverse to occur.
One thing that I have found really useful is the way I structure my notebook. Now instead of having one section for each class, I just make a new heading for each new day and take notes for my classes in the order in which they occur on that day.
At first, this was really confusing to me, because all of the material for one class was spread out over the whole notebook, interspersed with four other classes. But after just a few days, I noticed I was concentrating more because seeing my notes in each other’s company jogged my memory for what that day was like, how I felt, what I learned, and what my headspace was like.
Enjoyment and boredom: a fine line
Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, even if it’s just a little challenge like that. If you think Netflix isn’t a challenge, I’d beg to differ—every time I settle in for a two-hour movie I’m accepting the challenge to not fall asleep or get bored. Studying presents a similar obstacle.
So have a favorite. Just like on Netflix, have a subject or a topic, a book or a study habit, that you really enjoy, and feel no shame in turning to that one first every time. That’s what it’s there for. I like to chew gum whenever I read about cognitive science. I can’t say why, but here’s the thing.
The associations will form in your head between the things you like doing and the things you like studying. There will still be plenty of things you don’t like studying, but you will see that it’s possible to actually enjoy studying.
As for making Netflix harder, this is, unfortunately, much easier to do. Only let yourself watch Netflix at your desk (my back is sore just thinking about that). Never use a blanket when you’re Netflixing so you’re always a little chilly. (This is getting really coercive.)
Multitask, which is great in itself (whatever the experts say), and at the same time associate Netflix with unpleasant chores, by watching it as you do your laundry or clean your room. And one big thing you can do is: watch bad stuff. Find a terrible low-budget horror movie or a romcom with cringey acting and your palate will be pretty cleansed.
New category: heartfelt paper-writing films
When it comes down to it, though, it’s not Netflix that will make or break a student (although it can come close). It’s not even studying. It’s passion. No, no one expects you to be passionate about everything you study. But I’m willing to bet you’re not passionate about Netflix, either.
And yet look how much time people devote to it. Imagine, when you find your calling, how your binge-watching will turn into binge-doing. (On the note of attempted clichés, I’m resisting the urge to say, “Click ‘Next Episode’ on life!” I won’t say it.)
So the one thing that can really turn your studying into something almost-enjoyable is if you love what you’re doing at least as much as you love Arrested Development or Reign or I’m running out of shows. Make sure that you feel in your life like you’re brimming with excitement to see the next episode.
If you’re not, it might be time to start a new show.
Or study for that calculus exam.
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