learningAre you a last minute crammer? Do you feel you need to pressure of a looming deadline to get things done?

Do you wait until the last minute to prepare for a meeting, to rehears ahead of a presentation and revise ahead of a test or exam?

If the answer is yes, you might be getting in your own way of becoming an expert; of feeling comfortably reassured in your own knowledge and able to project it to those around you.

Here’s why:

  1. Learning is most effective when spaced out over time.
  1. Forgetting happens most rapidly right after the learning occurs and slows down over time.

So, these first two rules of learning* demonstrate that by doing things in a tight space of time, your learning is likely to be impeded and your longer term memory of what you’ve learnt will be reduced. This may affect your performance at the important meeting, presentation or exam and of course, your future level of expertise would be greatly reduced if the information isn’t retained.

The tricky part for many is that they really truly feel the need the deadline to get on with the task in hand. So simply knowing it’s not the best way to learn and retain information isn’t enough.

That’s why I suggest that you find a different way to add a psychological pressure.

Here are 5 tips you can try:

1. Use a Partner

For many, simply telling yourself that you will and must do something isn’t enough. This is because the easiest person in the world to let down is ourselves! Annoying but true.

It’s a whole different kettle of fish if you tell someone else. Add that level of accountability and the resulting embarrassment, discomfort or uneasiness of having to tell that person you didn’t do it. Chose someone who it would be really uncomfortable to admit a failing to, and make it relevant to the task in hand. May it be your boss, your tutor, your coach, whomever you respect and would hate to let down.

2. Add Financial Pain

For many, money is a big driver. So set yourself intermittent deadlines between now and the final one, and then find of a charity or cause that you commit paying a certain amount of money to every time you miss a target. You might like to add a level of accountability by telling someone about the promise too. It’d feel pretty mean to not follow it through if others knew of your commitment, and you’re therefore much more likely to not miss the self-imposed deadlines. And if you occasionally do, at least your money would come to a good cause.

3. Add Physical Pain

Same principle as the above, but instead of paying someone money, you commit to a certain level of exercise as punishment for missing a deadline. Maybe commit to going for a 5 km run or add 5 km to your usual one.

4. Apply the 5 Minute Rule

A great procrastination technique you may have heard me talk about before, which also works great here. Start early on a task with a deadline in the future and commit to only doing 5 minutes, then evaluate and do another 5 if you want to, then evaluate again and add another 5 and so on. Soon the momentum is up and running and you may even forget to check in every five minutes as you’re in the flow of it.

5. Quickly Now, In Depth Later

For ‘crammers’, I’ve found it’s often easier to do a quick read or walk through in the preset, and leave the in depth stuff to nearer the time of the deadline. There’s no real pressure to learn it off by heart or be able to discuss an issue with real expertise yet. There will be a level of enjoyment of simply reading or rehearsing with ease.

This will allow the learning to sink in somewhat, ahead of the usual cramming. So even if you don’t consciously remember that much about it after a time delay, it’ll be easier to learn when you return to it, and the retention of the information will be increased.

The 3rd rule of learning* supports the effectiveness of this technique. It states that:

  1. Once something is learnt and forgotten, the learning is quicker and retention greater when relearnt.


As the majority of our forgetting will have already happened within 2 days of the initial learning, and bearing in mind, learning is most effective when spaced over time, along with the fact that relearning results in quicker and better retained learning, make sure you use the above techniques over time.

Allow a number of opportunities to firstly get familiar with, then confident in and finally proficient in the subject, you will allow yourself to come across, and importantly feel, like an expert, with a lasting effect.

*Ebbinghaus ‘Memory. A Contribution to Experimental Psychology’ (1885)

How to Turn Learning into Expertise