Not enough hours in the week to get everything done? Try the 2 by 2 challenge.

Imagine all the work you could complete if you had Hermione’s time-turner necklace?

In my blog on motivation ( I told you I start my revision study skills sessions by asking students to write the top three revision challenges.  One of the most common answers is that there is not enough time.   I will show you how to make the most of your time. See if you are ready to take on the 2 by 2 challenge to overcome this.

Let’s start with a two quizzes on how much effort you are putting into your studies weekly.

Quiz one:

Think about your average school week. Rate how much effort you put into the work you complete outside of lessons (homework/revision/coursework etc).  Where would you rate your effort on the scale below?

Text Box: Maximum effort

Quiz two:

Now think about how many hours of independent work you do in an average week. 

Text Box: 1     	 2	 3	 4	 5	 6	 7	 8	 9	 10

Most students rate themselves at effort level 6. Students putting in little effort typically overestimated their effort. The students putting in a lot of effort underestimated their effort.  Quiz two gives a more accurate answer, so we will focus on your answer from quiz two.

20 Hour Rule

Researchers (Oakes and Martin 2018) have completed quiz 2 with over 400 Y12 and Y13 students. They compared their answers to their final year exam results (Y12 mocks and Y13 A-levels).  The students attaining the lowest grades in their exam results were those who had stated they spent on average 3 hours independently working per week.  This is probably no surprise to you. It is obvious that if you don’t do the homework, revision and consolidation then you are unlikely to succeed.  The students achieving the highest grades were spending 20 hours per week working independently.  Therefore, the recommended number of hours an A-level student should be spending per week is 20 hours. 

Barriers and Bypassing Conscience

The grade you achieve is a result of the hours you put in, not ‘natural intelligence’ as is commonly misconceived.  You all have the potential to achieve highly. There is no ‘intelligence barrier’, the barrier that exists in one created by you if you are not doing at least 20 hours per week. 

What are the barriers you are putting up?  One common barrier is known as ‘bypassing conscience’ where you deliberately justify situations to feel better about not working.  Have you ever told yourself ‘the rest of the class haven’t done it either, so it’s fine’ . Or ‘other classes weren’t set this homework, so I shouldn’t have to do it’. ‘I have been working so hard and I deserve a break’. ‘the teacher didn’t tell me clear instructions on the homework so I won’t bother’?   

It is common to feel guilty about avoiding work. This is why our mind searches for excuses to justify the lack of work to bypass the feeling of guilt.  If you notice yourself having these thoughts stop and think, are you deliberately bypassing conscience to avoid work?  When you start to notice yourself doing this try to override the thought and power on with the work.

The Iceberg Illusion

Sometimes you may be too quick to assume that another student always does well. To assume they are smarter than you and you will never be as good as them.. But this student’s success is like an iceberg. 

You only see the tip of the iceberg, which is their success.  What you don’t see is the enormity of the iceberg below the water. You don’t see everything that has led them to succeed.  You don’t see the hours they have dedicated, the sacrifices (they probably aren’t on TikTok and Netflix!). The disappointments and the failures they would have experienced along the way before they succeeded.   

Working 9-5

Let’s think of effort and hours of working another way.  How many hours do you think the adults in your life work (parents/guardians/siblings/cousins)?  As an A-level student in the UK you will probably have between 18-22 hours of lessons per week.  If you are using all your free periods for work, then you will be working around 30 hours per week.  As an A-level student you have chosen to stay in education instead of a full-time job, but are you putting in the same amount of time?

How many hours do you think UK workers do on average?  In the UK the average is 43 hours per week.  If you have 22 hours of lessons per week and were to then do 20 hours of independent work too (homework and revision) then this would take you to 42 hours, just below the average working week for a UK worker.

The 2 by 2 Challenge

If you are not at 20 hours per week yet, don’t panic!   Changing the number of hours you work per week is very difficult to start with, but if you stick at anything for 2 to 3 weeks it becomes a habit and therefore much easier to follow.

If you are ready to make this change then the first step is to be realistic in your changes. Don’t jump from 3 hours per week to 20 hours immediately, as this will be too hard to follow and will therefore probably result in failure and you giving up on this change. Instead, build up the hours gradually.  Add on two extra hours of independent work for two weeks so it becomes your new habit, then increase this by another two hours for another two weeks.  Continue this 2 by 2 challenge until you reach 20 hours of independent work per week. 

So, are you willing to take on this 2 by 2 challenge, two extra hours of work each two weeks to change your habits?  For this week, think about where you could most easily add in two extra hours.  Could you stay at school for 30 minutes longer for four days?   Or, could you arrive at school an hour earlier on two days?  Maybe you could you work in 2 of your free periods you currently don’t use for work? Could you reduce your mobile phone usage by 30 to 60 minutes per evening (check out my blog on this  Whichever feels most easy, that should be your starting point.  When that becomes a habit, consider again where you can add in your next two hour.  Continue the 2 by 2 challenge until you reach 20 hours by week.

No Time Machine is Needed

I used to wish I had a quick trick like Hermione Granger’s time-turner necklace, a flux-capacity, or Tony Stark and Hank Pym’s quantum time travelling tunnel but I’ve learnt it is possible to get all my work done without these fantasies if I choose to take control. Have a go at taking control of your time by taking on the 2 by 2 challenge. Good luck!


Oakes, S. & Griffin, M., 2018. The A-level Midnset: 40 Acitivities for transforming student commitment, motivation and productivity. s.l.:Crown House Publishing.

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