Productivity is something I struggle with. I head to the library with a full backpack and the best of intentions, and then I get distracted by a friend, my phone, or the internet. A five-minute study break turns into a twenty-minute Pinterest session. Before I know it, three hours have gone by and I've done half as much as I planned.
I know that this is a problem for many college students. Productivity is truly the Holy Grail of college skills; if we could just figure it out, we could get better grades, find more free time, and feel less stress. And yet, it's so difficult to master – maybe the pull of our dinging cell phones is just too much.
To improve my own productivity and help you with yours, I've scoured the internet for productivity hacks for college students, shared by everyone from college bloggers to start-up CEOs. These are the hacks that I found most helpful for my own productivity.
Write down the 3 most important things you can do today
Focusing on three items, rather than ten or fifteen, will make your life feel more manageable. Phrasing it as the most important things you could do, rather than the top three things you need to do, may also help motivate you rather than get you down. Imagine you only get these three things done today. How much better would your life be? What if you did that every day?
Schedules rather than to-dos (Even schedule your breaks)
Through all the articles I read, the number-one tip that kept coming up was to try scheduling, rather than making to do lists. When you think about it, it makes sense – if you spend three hours muddling through the first item on your to-do list, the odds that you'll be motivated enough to keep going are slim to none. At the end of the day, you've only finished one thing. On the other hand, if you schedule one hour on this item and another on that one, with a break in between, you'll get more done on more assignments in the same day. If you start this habit early, you won't have to cram your assignments; you can do a bit every day, with excellent results.
Try airplane time
This is a tip I read from a CEO on blocking out distractions while working. Put your phone on airplane mode while you work, and (if you don't need it for research) turn off your Wifi, too. The constant distractions of social media and the news pull us out of our focused working space and make it harder to be efficient.
I've written about the Pomodoro method before. This is a great time-management method for One module of 25 minutes is called a “Pomodoro.” Work for the length of one Pomodoro, and then take a five minute break. After four Pomodoros, take a 15 minute break. There are apps for this: to see the one I use, check out my 5 favorite apps for college students (it's number 4).
Exercise in the morning
Get energized by working out for even a few minutes in the morning. I love this quick, 8 minute workout by Cassey Ho from Blogilates. It'll get you pumped up and motivated for a good day.
Keep a “done” list
Keep track of what you've accomplished during the day by writing a “done” list. Every time you achieve something, add it to the list. It'll help you feel motivated while you work on new things.
Work in a clean space
This is a big weak area for me, but I've heard that working in a clean space, free of distractions, helps you focus while working. So clear off your desk and get to work!
Don't work on your bed
Speaking of desks – use yours! Working on your bed will confuse your brain when it comes to both sleeping and working. Let your sleep space be for sleeping, and your work space be for working.
Find your “golden hours” and don't let anything interfere with them
This is a great tip from a start-up CEO. Figure out which hours in your day are the best for productivity and efficiency and use them exclusively for working. Make these your “airplane hours” if that helps.
This is slightly antisocial, but it's something I do sometimes when I need to focus. Wearing headphones or earphones sends a message to the people around you that you're not in a place to talk or do something right now. You don't even need to listen to music – just use them to send a message to others and yourself that that this “do not disturb” working time.
Forget what your mother told you – multitasking is a myth. What you're really doing is switch-tasking; going from one task to another and back in rapid succession. The time and productivity you lose with each “switch” isn't doing you any favors. Just focus on one thing at a time.
Check your email rarely
When you own a smartphone, checking your email constantly basically comes with the territory. I challenge you to break the mold and only check your email once or twice a day. If you become someone who responds to every email within five minutes, people will expect that of you. On the other hand, if you only answer emails once a day (say, at 9PM), you'll give yourself some peace of mind, and people will know that for emergencies, they should give you a call instead.
Switch up your surroundings
Break out of your routine by changing your study space regularly. The new surroundings will help your mind stay alert and prevent you from slipping into autopilot.
Sleep and de-stress
I can't stress this enough – don't pull all-nighters. Don't skimp on sleep. Being well-rested will help you focus and be more efficient when it comes time to work. Also, don't let the stress get to you too much. For advice on how to cope with stress and anxiety in college, you can check out this post I wrote about dealing with stress during finals. It works year-round, too.