13 hacks that will massively increase your productivity
Full of enthusiasm, bright ideas and good intentions, but somehow never seem to get sh*t done? This guide will change your life!
Credit: Leo Leung – Flickr
Even if you're one of these students who goes to every class and spends hours at the library each day, this is all pretty much useless if your productivity levels aren't up to scratch.
Just being present, sitting staring at a screen all day with the intention of working doesn't qualify as getting stuff done, and what's more – wasting time like this is both demotivating and pretty stressful.
Nailing productivity is the most important skill you'll acquire as a student, and we're confident that if you manage to take some of these tips on board, you'll see a massive improvement in how you perform both at uni and even outside of academia.
Productivity is something that can be applied to every area of your life – whether it's getting better at organising your monthly budget or working out new ways to make some extra pocket money while you're at uni.
Take some time to work out what makes you most productive, and you could even find yourself in line for a first class degree!
Work out your routine
Credit: Marjolein Parys – flickr
We're sure you're probably sick of hearing how important it is to get your eight hours' sleep in, particularly as this very rarely happens when you're a student (too many deadlines, too many nights out, and too many TV series marathons to get sucked into).
But even if you do struggle to get to sleep at a reasonable hour each night, the important thing is waking up at the same time each morning, as this is key to starting your day on the right foot.
Whilst getting up early each morning might leave you feeling a bit groggy initially, you should find that it gets easier and easier to fall asleep at night when your body clock gets used to being kickstarted at the same time each day.
If you tend to be on your phone/ computer/ iPad a lot in the evenings, make sure you make a point of putting them away 30 mins before you go to bed.
The blue light that emits from electric devices tricks your brain into thinking it's still day time, making it more difficult to fall asleep if you're using them late at night.
Also, try installing F.lux, which is a software that turns your screen into a much warmer light (which is kinder to your eyes/brain). Most iPhones (6 and above) now have a "night shift" mode too, which essentially does the same thing.
As well as regulating your sleep pattern, eating your meals and snacks around the same time each day is not only great for your digestive system, but it's good for your productivity too.
Try to stick to eating brain fuel foods that don't make you crash and feel rubbish an hour later, and if possible, factor in 15-30 mins of exercise each day – even if this is just a brisk walk round the block before you sit down at your desk, or ditching the bus to walk to the library and get your heart going.
Check out our guide to keeping fit on a budget for more inspo.
Set achievable goals
Setting yourself a whole range of goals is the perfect way to motivate yourself – whether it's gunning for some first class grades on coursework, staying within your monthly spending budget or even just making it to every class that week.
The key is to set yourself some realistic and achievable goals. Set too many targets that are overly ambitious (yeah, we know, you're just trying to motivate yourself) and you'll just get used to the idea that you won't reach them and gradually stop trying to, which is totally unproductive.
Instead, focus on SMART goals. That's goals that are…
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
Begin with an easily attainable ‘trigger goal’. For example, dragging yourself out of bed and to the gym before your morning lecture. Trigger goals like this are the perfect motivational push you need to get off on the right foot, and the rest of your goals will feel more easily attainable when you've hit the ground running.
If you're someone who tends to set goals but struggles to stick to them, setting some small consequences for not meeting goals can be a great source of motivation (although this doesn't work for everyone). One example would be, if you don't manage to finish your first draft of an essay before Friday as planned, you can't go out on Friday night (even though deadline isn't until Monday).
Planning everything from your day-to-day efforts to your monthly calendar events will make your life a whole lot less stressful and help you feel much more in control.
Getting yourself a diary is the first step in the right direction, and the second is actually using it! People who really implement using a diary in their lives never experience the dreaded deadline panics, as they're always aware of what's round the corner, and can plan accordingly.
Breaking down bigger tasks into bite sized efforts and listing them in your diary each day will help you both prioritise and avoid procrastination (for example: Monday, essay research; Tuesday, essay plan and introduction; Wednesday, first draft completed, etc.).
This is another example of setting yourself achievable goals so that you get the sense of progression every day, even if this involves teeny tiny baby steps. Just being comfortable in the knowledge that as long as you follow your plan, you'll reach the bigger goal in X amount of time is great for your motivation.
Don't forget to include things like exercising and socialising into your weekly plan too – make sure you get your down time, or you'll see your motivation drop.
Choose where you work carefully
This might seem like a no-brainer, but choosing where you work carefully can make a big difference to how much you actually get done in a day.
Distractions like loud music or overcrowding can really get in the way of your focus. Likewise, heading to the library floor where you know lots of people is a no-no – essentially, you have to rely on the idea that your friends will be just as focussed as you are planning to be, otherwise you'll have people disturbing your work flow by asking questions, proposing breaks, or just generally pestering you 'cause they can't focus themselves.
Find your quiet zone – finding somewhere that faces a wall or a desk that has a surround is perfect (if a bit grim) – and get settled.
We'd also recommend investing in some noise cancelling headphones if you have the spare cash. Particularly during busy (and noisy) exam periods, these things are a godsend.
Close open loops
Credit: Micadew – Flickr
'Open loops' are basically just small niggling things at the back of your head that you know you need to do but haven't quite found the time to do them yet.
If they're likely to take less than 2-3 minutes to complete – so for example, sending a text, putting a wash on, or paying your rent – do them straight away. If they're likely to take any longer than a couple of minutes, pop them on a list. Making your way through these mini tasks will contribute to the feeling that you're really getting stuff done.
As you've probably guessed by now… the key to getting things done is writing lists – in your diary, on post-it notes, on your smartphone – whatever suits you best.
Feeling inspired is the key to unlocking your motivation to get going.
We'd recommend bookmarking a few key news sites or sites that are relevant to your field/ area of interest (relevance is important here! No checking the football scores or Buzzfeed – these articles aren't called 'time wasters' for nothing) and spend 15-20 mins reading before you do writing yourself.
News sites can be a good option, as the psychology of feeling like you're caught up with the rest of the world before getting sucked into your own little productivity universe can set you up well for the day.
The tone and vocabulary used on a news site (well, most news sites anyway) will be of a higher standard than what your friends are posting on Facebook (no offence intended here, we're sure your mates are super smart), meaning it will help unlock the best of your vocabulary before you start typing your own words up.
Reading some industry-relevant articles will also get your creative juices flowing and is the perfect way to get going. Going in cold turkey will only result in disaster!
Think of it like going for a morning run – you'll never perform to your best if you don't do your warm-up stretches before you head out the door.
Tackle the monsters first
Credit: Frank Hebbert – FlickrWe all know the situation: You start off with a few of the less painful tasks on your to-do list in order to ease yourself into the day, promising yourself you'll start on the more difficult stuff later.
This process is a sure-fire guarantee that you'll have the mammoth task to deal with just before deadline, or on a Friday when you’re already starting to winding down.
Tackling your least favourite tasks first is a trick that will make your day so much easier (however painful it might seem at the start of the day). Once you get that huge initial obstacle out of the way you’ll be so pumped to whizz through the rest of your much less painful tasks.
Work in time blocks
Credit: Gayatri Krishnamoorthy – Flickr
Working in small 'blocks' can be a great way of increasing your productivity levels, as you can assign smaller bite-sized tasks to each block.
This links back to the idea of setting yourself easily attainable goals: Rather than just telling yourself "I have the whole day to write this essay" you're saying "I have until 1pm when I'll stop for lunch to have all my research finished and a plan written up, so I can start writing when I get back from lunch".
Research has shown that we're way more productive the less time we have assigned for focus in a day. This is precisely the reason why Sweden have introduced the 6 hour working day – they've established that employees are likely to work harder, be much happier, and use their time more wisely when there's less time available to get things done in a working day.
Set yourself some time goals and it'll give you a healthy dose of self-assigned pressure to get as much done before you ‘have to’ stop, kind of like you would have in an exam.
Work out your jam
Credit: Nickolai Kashirin – Flickr
However you work, it's important to be honest with yourself regarding which sort of worker you are: You might want to listen to some tunes while you battle through a 3,000 word essay, but if you know deep down that you work better without music – turn it off!
It’s also important to work out what sort of music works best for you. Although you might not be a fan of classical music, you might find that listening to some Mozart whilst studying can get you in the zone. In fact, research has shown that Mozart has all the right components to improve mental performance, so much so that scientists call it the 'Mozart effect'!
Be wary of listening to music with lots of lyrics whilst writing. This is quite distracting, and next thing you know the lyrics will start wiggling their way into your writing.
Take screen breaks
Taking breaks doesn’t mean switching from writing an essay to checking Facebook 20 times a day. By 'break' we really mean break – pull yourself away from your computer and do something totally unrelated for a few minutes.
Go for a walk, do some exercise, have a cup of tea and a chat with your flatmate – whatever it takes to help you switch off for a bit. You might think working solidly for 5 hours is a great achievement (and it is to an extent, of course) but remember that it’s almost impossible to work to the best of your ability for that entire duration.
It’s not about how much time you spend studying, but how effectively you use that time. Quality over quantity and all that.
Capitalise on commutes
Do you have a long (or long-ish) journey to uni or work and back each day? If so, you can still use this time productively and it doesn't have to be considered a waste of your precious minutes.
Your commute is the perfect time to reflect on ideas you have or stuff you’ve been working on. Stick some relaxing music on and have a think over what you’ve learned or read about that day, and if anything pops to mind, write it down.
Taking notes on your phone using an app like Evernote is handy, as you can then sync it with your computer so any notes you take on the go are transferred. This way, you won’t be hit with that "what was that idea I had on the bus again?" moment when you next sit down to work.
You can, of course just use your commute as your down time for the day – this in itself is 'productive' too!
Backup your work
You’re probably sick of people telling you this, but unfortunately it’s far too common not to take this point seriously enough until it’s too late.
All of these productivity tips count for sweet F.A. if your computer dies along with your entire workload for the last two years and you haven't backed anything up.
Why put yourself through this? We’ve been there, and it ain't pretty!
Avoid ever having to go through the pain of losing your hard work by either getting yourself an external hard drive or getting into the habit of working on cloud-based office programs like Google Drive.
Ditch social media
Although social media can be some students’ way of winding down, it’s worth being aware that it might not be the relaxation tool you think it is.
Studies have suggested that social media actually does more harm than good during times of high stress for students, due to the tendency to compare ourselves with others: We worry we’re not working hard enough or feel put out that we’re not going out getting drunk on a Wednesday like our classmates seem to be (how do they do it?).
Some students will go as far as temporarily disabling their Facebook over exam period, but there are other less extreme options you can try.
For example, just disabling push notifications for things like Facebook and Whatsapp will do wonders for your focus. Every time you get a message and look at your phone, you’re pulled out of the zone and it takes a few seconds to get back into it. Think of all that time wasted when you're checking your phone every few minutes!
You could also try productivity tools like Rescue Time app, which will show you how much time you’re spending on distracting websites that aren’t useful, then use the Freedom app to temporarily disable websites that are getting in the way of your productivity.
Hopefully this guide has provided a few new tips that will hot foot you on the road to becoming the most productive student you can be!
It's definitely worth bearing in mind that the way to make this guide work is to try everything out at least once, and figure out what works best for you.
Everyone works differently, and whilst one tactic might make you batter away enthusiastically at your keyboard, another might result in you staring into space thinking about what to make for your dinner.
Be honest with yourself about what's getting you the best results, and go with it – good luck!
Got any great productivity tricks of your own that we don't cover? Please share in the comments below!