We’ve all been there. You have a lot to do and don’t know where to begin. You start your hour-long break between classes by returning a few emails and suddenly it’s time to head to your next class. Or, your “quick” Facebook break turns into 90 minutes.
It’s easy to waste time on unimportant activities, chipping away at the hours of each day until there are none left—and you feel unaccomplished and stressed out about how little you finished. It doesn’t have to be this way. If you need to start getting more done, here are six tips to help you do just that.
Hold yourself accountable.
If you find yourself succumbing to productivity killers longer than you should, try one of these seven tools to minimize social media and digital distractions. RescueTime helps you track your time and gives you detailed reports on what applications and sites you visited. Freedom lets you block the websites, social media sites, and apps that distract you the most. Focus works similarly. Explore some of these programs if you need a little help reclaiming your study time.
Make a schedule for each day.
Start each day with a schedule. Block out time for everything: school, studying, homework, your job, your family, eating, working out, and even downtime. Next, make a plan for what you’ll work on during any scheduled study periods and prioritize each task (we’ll talk about that in the next tip). Here’s an example of what a day’s schedule might look like:
|Exercise||6:00 to 6:30|
|Get ready||6:35 to 7:15|
|Drive to work||7:20-7:45|
|Break (study time)||2:00-2:55|
|Break (study time)||4:00-4:55|
|Prepare tomorrow’s plan||8:50-9:00|
A schedule is helpful, but a prioritized task list is critical. As you create your schedule each day, jot down the most important goals or tasks, too. A to-do list with 15 items is overwhelming, so take the time to rank them in order. What must be done today, tomorrow, this week, or later? What is absolutely critical and what is more of a “want to” than a “have to”? Of your day’s top items, what must you complete first? This exercise helps keep you focused on what matters most and is a quick, easy way to shorten your to-do list to the essentials. If you’re an app person, check out tools like Google Calendar (and add reminders for your to-dos) or Any.do and its sister calendar app, Cal.
Figure out your “peak” time.
Successful business people often talk about finding their most productive work time and doing their best to do imperative, more difficult work during that time only (and the more tedious tasks at other times). The same logic can be applied to school. Pay close attention to your habits and when you feel energized and focused and whenever possible, schedule your homework and study sessions during those times.
Take small bites.
Large projects or looming test deadlines are procrastination traps. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by those big to-dos, break them down into bite-sized ones. If you have a paper due on Friday, take it step by step. Choose your topic Saturday. Create an outline Sunday. Do some research and write your introductory paragraph Monday. You get the idea. Breaking big tasks into smaller ones gets you moving. Bonus: This approach leads to more productive “mini” work sessions because often, just getting started is half the battle.
Get enough sleep.
Don’t blow off sleep. Why? The National Sleep Foundation shares that sleep improves your ability to make accurate decisions, strengthens the working memory, helps you improve your response time, and prevents burnout at work. You also take longer to recover from distractions when you’re sleep deprived. College students are famous for burning the midnight oil, but you can’t argue with science. You’ll maximize your productivity if you’re well rested.
College is a busy time, especially if you work part time or full time and/or have a family. Boost your productive activities so you can make the very most of your minutes. You’ll feel happier, more accomplished, less stressed, and highly motivated to continue working hard.