Back to Podcast Index →

Better Grades in Less Time


Learn how to study more effectively. 


Do you ever feel frustrated because you spend too much time studying?
Are you not getting the grades you want?

Often some of the hardest workers don't actually get the best grades. This doesn't happen because these hard workers are not as smart.
Many of these hard workers struggle to get better grades because they are using ineffective study strategies.


Ready for the Ivy League Challenge?

Take the Challenge today!


Too many people are overwhelmed, stressed out, and frustrated about college admissions prep. I created this podcast to help you build a standout college profile and boost your confidence. Enjoy!

– Steve Gardner, Founder

Listen to my podcast

Listen to other podcasts 

Success Mindset

The right mindset can ensure your success. Listen to begin building your own winning mindset now. 

Start listening

Build Your Confidence 

When everyone else is trying to fit in or go with the flow, learn how you can develop the confidence you need to blaze your own successful path. 

Start listening

Reduce Stress & Anxiety 

Stories, research, real-life examples... Listen to learn how my Harvard peers and I faced stress and overwhelm. 

Start listening

How to Stand Out 

Hard work and great test scores are not enough- but what kind of admissions prep activities will help you get in? It's not what you think... 

Start listening

Admissions Strategy 

Essays, rec. letters, curriculum choices, college visits, research, test scores, and more. Don't wear yourself out with a bad strategy.  

Start listening

Succeed In High School 

The best college prep will ensure you thrive in middle school & high school. Don't settle for stressful, unhelpful college prep advice. 

Start listening

Would you like to be notified when new episodes are launched in your favorite category?

Yes, sign me up


You don't need more time in your day. You need to be more productive with the time that you already have. Have you ever thought that if you just had 25 hours or 30 hours or some amazing number of hours every day, you could somehow get everything you want to get accomplished and finished?

A lot of people feel that way. But the truth is, you don't need more time in your day. You need to be more productive with the time that you have, but how? This is a really important question because there's a lot of bad advice. There's advice that's going to lead you into that downward spiral that ends up in you feeling like you can't do it and that you're not good enough. You're not smart enough. You're not diligent enough. You're not hardworking enough. You don't have enough willpower or whatever else you might feel at that time. A downward spiral leads to that inevitable conclusion, which leads to wasting time and getting lost in social media or video games or whatever. We'll talk about that in just a second. But the truth is, you're not getting stuck in procrastination cycles and losing productivity because there's something wrong with you. Not. The reason that's happening is that you don't have a strategy. You've probably gotten bad advice about how to be productive.

So in the next few minutes, I want to talk about why this is so important, what most people are doing and why that is destroying productivity. And third, what can you do instead? I want to teach you the system that I've used to get into and through a master's degree at Harvard University and also the system that I teach my students how to be more productive with their time. It's surprisingly simple, but it works. Amazingly, you will be shocked. You integrate the system; you integrate the strategy, and you'll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish in very little time.

So let's begin with the reason why this is so important. We all have goals, and ambitions and want to accomplish important things in life. We want to get good grades. We want to be meaningful contributors in our groups, in our clubs, and in our organizations. We want to improve our skills and have time for practice. We want to do maybe an extra instrument or learn a new language any time that we want to be ambitious and productive and accomplish more with the time that we have during the day. Then we need to find a way to be more productive. But so often, instead, we begin to identify the fact that we have ambitions that we're not living up to. So we feel like we're not being productive. And then what happens next? You want to start distracting yourself because you feel bad about not being productive. And then you've distracted yourself just a little bit until you start to feel overwhelmed because you start feeling overwhelmed, you start feeling bad. Your brain switches from the prefrontal cortex, a kind of executive function where you're planning and executing strategy in your day. It switches to the reptilian brain.

Now, all you can think about is a distraction and junk food. And where does this end up? It ends up in outrageous levels of procrastination. It gets you lost in social media, video games, youtube, or whatever for the next 2 hours. Then the only time you get things done is in the last moment before it's due. And you depend on the stress of deadlines to get anything done. If what I just described describes you for more than a day or two, then we got to talk; all right, this podcast is a gift to you because that life does not have to be your reality. I don't need to sell this anymore, right? Because if you're already living this, that life is a series of procrastinating until the deadline and then being pushed by deadlines and external pressures to get things done.

Actually, if you can shift outside of that lifestyle, if you can adopt what we're talking about today, then you can begin to live life on your own terms. And you'll soon discover that you don't need to resort to these distraction techniques because you don't feel bad about your progress; you don't feel bad about not being productive about not accomplishing the things that you said you wanted to accomplish.

You begin to experience kind of the joys in life.

And you begin to recognize that there is a lot to be grateful for in each moment.

It all begins with understanding where productivity comes from. Productivity is not just effort. You may be thinking of productivity as just focused effort multiplied by the amount of time spent. And that's a good way to think about it. In fact, at a very basic level, that's not inaccurate. It's actually quite true. This is why fake studying or pseudo-studying is so detrimental. If you can focus your effort, and multiply that by the time you spend studying, then you're going to get a tremendous result. But if the time that you are studying is not focused effort, you're not multiplying that time by focused effort. And instead, you're multiplying it by unfocused effort; then you're gonna spend a lot of time studying and get very little back in return. And that could be frustrating. And that can lead to this kind of self-doubt in that entire downward spiral that we just talked about. That's important to understand. But there's one level deeper that you need to realize. Because true productivity, sustained productivity over a long period of time, also requires other elements. Sustained productivity is understanding a vision or a clear picture of what you want to accomplish and recovery, the foundation of productivity, getting the thing that you want, whether that's top grades or test scores, being productive in your group, or in your club, or executing your impact project, or whatever the case may be.

That type of productivity, the foundation, the core of productivity, is focused effort multiplied by the time spent. That has to be the foundation. But beyond that, in order to sustain productivity over the long haul, number one, you need to have a vision. You need to have a clear idea of what success means to you so that you can track your progress along the way, and you can look back and measure those gains and feel amazing, which is a key to all success, right? Your self-talk and recognizing your progress, and telling yourself that you're proud of yourself for your progress. That's an incredible hack to continued success. But we'll talk about that. We've talked about it before, and we'll talk about it again. In other podcast episodes, that vision comes first, and then the recovery is the surprising part. People who have not studied productivity and people who are not familiar with the neuroscience around key performance and sustained levels of high productivity are surprised to learn that recovery is just as important as focus.

So what happens for most people is maybe you get set up that something is really important. You need to study for this test, and you're at that stage where you need to be focused.

So you wake up early in the morning, and you begin, and you're on a roll, maybe you get started and 1/2 hour in. You feel like I'm doing great. And an hour goes by. And you're still feeling great, and you feel like, normally, I would take a break right now, but I am on such a role. I need to keep the momentum going. So you just push, and you push for another half an hour and another hour, and you're still going strong. And you don't want to give up the momentum. So you keep going 2.5 hours, three hours, three, and a half four hours, depending on what your kind of endurance level is. You push until you feel like you really need a break. But by the time you feel like you need a break after 2 hours, 3 hours, 4 hours, whatever that is for you.

By the time your body kind of forces the issue, you feel like, man, I need to just take a break, and then I can come back to this. And you feel like 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or 20 minutes will be enough. And you can come back and refocus. What happens? Think clearly about this. Look back at all the times that. You've done that. Not once have you come back with renewed focus and an ability to pick up, right? Where you left off. It's never happened before. Why? Because physiologically, you waited too long to allow your body and your mind to recover.

By the time you knew you needed a break, the time had passed, and the opportunity for full recovery had passed. Instead, you need to train yourself to pause before you feel tired and just go through a quick, 3-minute recovery routine. I promise you, for me, this is a 3-minute process. It takes no longer. If you want, you can push it to 5 minutes, but there's no need to. Three minutes is plenty of time if you know what you're doing. And you do it correctly. Would you like to know how this works, how to recover your body and mind in just 3 minutes? So you wake up in the morning and that you want to accomplish a certain amount of work over a certain period of time. Maybe this is one of those times when you're studying before big exams, and you have all day. And you really need to focus for 10 hours during the day or sometimes more.

So if you need to study for a long period of time that coming in, you get started in the morning. Instead of getting into a groove and feeling like, man, I'm on a roll, I just want to push a little bit longer. Set a timer, right? When you begin setting a timer for 50 minutes. And when that timer goes off, when the alarm goes off, no matter what, you could be in the middle of writing your sentence, you're in the middle of working out a math problem, or you're in the middle of doing an exercise.

Even if you're in the middle of writing a word, you put your pencil down, or you close your laptop, and you stand up and stretch for just 20, 30 seconds, put the pencil down, close the laptop and just know that when you come back in 3 minutes, the rest of that sentence or the rest of that exercise is going to be better than it.

It would have been if you had kept going until you finished, the alarm went off, you put your pencil down, you closed a laptop, whatever it is. You stand up and stretch for twenty, 30/2 and take four deep breaths as you are stretching.

As you take those deep breaths, you want to say to yourself; I love to say it out loud. If you must say it silently if you're in a library with other people, obviously say it internally silently, but you say to yourself, I do this out loud. I said, man, nice job, steve, you did. Great. We're so focused. We got so much done. That was amazing. And that's all you need to say, but you can continue if you like. And then you move your body, walk to the area where the drinking fountain is and refill your water bottle, go use the restroom, or go outside and do five jumping jacks. It doesn't matter. Move your body in an excited, animated way, and get the blood flowing back into the limbs and back up into the brain. You've already used deep breaths to get greater oxygen into your lungs; that greater oxygen now needs to be carried by the blood around your body.

So move your body. And again, this is just a couple of minutes, then come back to your desk and say, again, use that same self-talk, man. These next 50 minutes are going to be even better. This is an amazing way to go and set your alarm for 50 more minutes, sit down, and just be amazed by yourself; ongoing to be so much more focused than you ever dreamed possible.

Now here's the thing. If you push yourself until you are exhausted, and your body needs or forces the issue and forces you to take a break, you will not be able to recover until you've had an entire night's s if. Suppose you think back honestly about what happened in the previous times when you pushed yourself like that.

The second study session was totally worthless. Think about it. Wasn't it? There was no way to fully recover until you had a full night's sleep; what a waste of most of your day. Instead, you'll be amazed when you give your body just 3 minutes to refresh itself, get more oxygen into your brain, and get more oxygen running through your body. You'll be amazed by the self-talk, the stretching, and the movement, as well as the deep breath.

In just 3 minutes you can come back. I have been forced to do this for more than 10 hours in a single day, and I can tell you that an hour 12, hour 13, even hour 14 and beyond. I can still operate at around 90 % of the efficiency and effectiveness that I was able to operate within those first one or two sessions during the day. Hey, maybe that sounds unbelievable to you, but give it a try; at the very, very least, you will double or triple the number of hours you can be productive. Obviously, this is not the way you want to live your life forever, but those days when you really need to be productive, when you really need to sit down and accomplish a lot. This is a gift from heaven. This is my gift to you.

You'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish and how productive you can be.