The 4 Post-it Notes Strategy or How to Find Focus and Motivation for Studying


The first thing you usually hear about focused work and studying is “your environment.” However, have any of these ever happened to you:

  • You are in a quiet room with no distractions, and
  • You turn on the background music that is supposed to help you focus, and
  • You turn off your email notifications and set your phone in silent mode, and
  • Your desk is perfectly clean and organized, and 
  • You have materials to study, a brand-new notebook, and a study plan, and
  • You are ready to start studying, but…

… you simply can’t focus. You can’t motivate yourself. You can’t get deep into it. Your brain is jumping from one thought to another. You understand why you are studying. You know that now is the time to start reading the book. But, you simply can’t. All of a sudden, you feel an urge to read an email, to go to the bathroom, to check on your kids, to add an item to your to-do list before you forgot it, to get a glass of water, etc.

Does this sound familiar? Most likely, yes! Everyone has been through this, but the good news is that there is a simple strategy that will help you. It is called the 4 Post-it Notes Strategy.

Here is how it works:

1. The first note is your goal. For example, if your goal is to become certified, write your name with the certification letters after it.

 Example: Sophie Herbert, CMA

2. The second note is your why. Remember what Brian Hock, says: “If you can answer why are you studying, then you are ready to pass your exams, and you will pass your exams.”

Example: I want to become a CMA because I want to make more money and buy my own home.

3. The third note is a “10 minutes” reminder. Brian also says: “The hardest 10 minutes of each study session are the first 10. So, all you need to do to study 1-2 hours is to make yourself study for the first 10 minutes.” Remember, 10 minutes of deep, uninterrupted work is all you need to set yourself up for success. 

Example: The hardest 10 minutes are the first 10 minutes. I can do it!

4. The fourth note is the plan for this study session. You have to write what you are going to study very specifically. When you are writing this note, make a firm decision that you are not going to interrupt or stop your study session until you are finished studying what is on this note. If you finish this topic and would like to study more, you can add another Post-it.

Example: CMA Part 1, Section E. Topic: Internal Control. Pages: 177-201.

This strategy sets you up for success: you are reminding yourself why you are studying, you are visualizing the results, you are making it doable because you need to start with only 10 minutes (and everybody can do anything for 10 minutes!), and you are writing a specific plan. Make the “4 Post-it Notes Strategy” your study ritual. Even if the first three notes do not change, don’t keep them on your desk all of the time. Take them down after you have finished studying and make new ones when you are ready for the next study session. It is an important mental strategy and study ritual that will help you study successfully and pass your exams with confidence!



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