Top 11 Productivity Hacks Every Student Should Know
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People work for eight hours on average a day. However, scientists suggest that we are actually only intellectually productive for six of those hours. With techniques and planning, it’s possible to maximize these hours, complete your assignments, and have time for friends without working until midnight.
As a writer, I understand many of the stresses students face — particularly deadlines and procrastination. It’s easy to get caught up in work and have low energy. But here’s something I’ve learnt — it’s easier to be productive than not.
Once you organize yourself and learn how to maximize your time and efficiency, you will find balancing studying with personal time easier. Here are some tried and tested productivity hacks for students that have helped me.
Plan for Time Management
Most of the tips in this article relate to time management. So, it’s important to have the right tools that will help you.
I highly recommend having a calendar and a planner. Either of these items can be digital or analog, and they should be in a place that’s easy to access each morning. A calendar provides an overview of your schedule to help you keep up with deadlines. A planner, on the other hand, gets to the nitty gritty of daily tasks and to-do lists.
You can buy specific productivity planners, but I suggest sticking to something simple that has plenty of space for you to schedule your tasks. You don’t want to spend too much time planning and use planner prompts as procrastination.
Break Down Large Projects into Time Blocks
Multitasking makes us 40% less efficient. Large projects tend to require us to work on multiple things at the same time, so it helps to break work down into smaller pieces.
Create step-by-step tasks that you can work on individually. Whenever I do this, I stop procrastinating because the individual tasks feel less overwhelming.
To decide how to separate tasks, consider time. As an example, if I am writing a detailed research article, I know I’ll spend a lot of time researching. So, I may separate the task of research into creating a list of research sources, and then analyzing each source. I complete these before I move onto my writing tasks.
Set and Write Down Your Goals
Research shows that writing down your goals increases your chance of achieving them by 42%. This is because the process of jotting them down encourages you to clarify what you want to accomplish.
It also motivates you to track your progress. This is because when you write down your goals, it helps to solidify them in your mind and make them more concrete. It also allows you to see how far you have come and how much closer you are to achieving your goals, which can be motivating.
To create effective goals, use the SMART method. Goals must be:
S - specific
M - measurable
A - achievable
R - relevant
T - time bound
As an example, let’s say you have an exam coming up so you need to revise. Rather than just writing “Revise”, your SMART goal could be:
“I will revise for an hour every Tuesday and Wednesday morning, and every Thursday evening. I will use flash cards, mindmaps, and book resources. Each Sunday afternoon, I will complete a one-hour mock exam to measure my progress. This means I will do four hours of revision per week, which is achievable with my current schedule.”
This example is a SMART goal because:
- It’s specific enough to follow, with days, hours, and revision methods included
- It details how you will measure revision progress
- It answers whether or not the goal is achievable
Make a To-Do List
Our brains love lists. When we complete micro-tasks, our brain releases the hormone dopamine which increases our motivation and happiness. Putting together a checklist in your planner with achievable action steps is an easy way to keep our dopamine levels high.
In addition, the straight-forward and clear structure of lists helps our brain digest information.
To boost productivity, it’s critical to have an achievable list. However, be careful not to overwhelm yourself with too many to-dos.
To avoid creating an overwhelming list, start your day by writing down all the tasks you want to accomplish. Then, prioritize the tasks in order of importance. Consider how long each task will take and how many you can achieve today. If your list is quite long or demanding, remove the less important tasks and reschedule them for another day.
Prioritize Demanding Tasks and Routine Tasks
One of my favorite YouTube videos for students is from entrepreneur, Ed Mylett. In his video, “Why You Waste Time,” he recommends prioritizing the most demanding tasks first. He says human nature avoids the inconvenient — so we naturally avoid what’s difficult.
But, by pursuing the inconvenient first, we extend our capacity and build our confidence. When we take on tasks that we don't want to do, it forces us to become more disciplined. This allows us to better manage our time and resources, therefore increasing our capacity to take on more work.
Tackling the toughest tasks first also provides a greater sense of accomplishment, as you have achieved something that was initially daunting.
Another reason to prioritize demanding tasks first is that it stops procrastination. As the author, Lisa Jewell, says, “The longer you leave things, the harder they are to do.” Telling yourself you’ll do something after a certain amount of hours gives you more time to think of excuses for why you shouldn’t do it. When you take on the most difficult tasks first, it eliminates the risk of this.
Allocate appropriate amounts of time
Before writing your tasks for the day in your planner, consider how many hours certain tasks will require on average. Underestimating leads you to run behind schedule.
Another aspect to consider before creating your schedule is energy. Will you really have the energy to write an assignment immediately after a day of classes? Try to find space for assignments during a quieter day, or during a less busy morning.
You could also work on assignments in between classes. Break tasks into different time blocks or goals. For instance, you could set yourself manageable word count targets on different days until an assignment is complete.
Use Helpful Productivity Tools
One of the best productivity hacks for students is harnessing digital productivity tools. This includes Wordtune's text summarizer. There are three ways this tool can help you:
- When writing conclusions: By asking Wordtune Read to summarize your essay, you can quickly see the most relevant points and decide what you need to include in your conclusion.
- When researching: Wordtune Read identifies the key details within a text to stop you from wasting time reading unnecessary information.
- When checking your work: You can use the summarizer to see if you have left out any essential points in your work.
To use Wordtune read, simply upload any file or copy and paste your work directly to Wordtune Read. When you sign up or login, you will see the options to upload and copy text.
Another productivity tool is Clockify: a timesheet app that lets you track your hours. Ideal for planning and scheduling, you can use their free plan to see how long it takes you to complete certain tasks and see how you manage your time.
For instance, you may find that you’re not spending enough time studying because your assignments take up most of your working week. If that’s the case, you can look at ways to plan your assignments better to free up your schedule.
Utilize Five Minute Breaks During the Day
Research shows that taking regular breaks can improve productivity. One method I like to use is the Pomodoro Technique.
To follow this technique, you work in 25-minute focus periods that are followed by five-minute breaks. Set a timer each time to stick to your schedule. This is an effective way to remind you to pause and take a breather, rather than stare at your screen endlessly.
In addition, knowing you only have 25-minutes before your next break encourages you to focus and avoid distractions.
Create a Productive Space with Natural Light
A productive space means somewhere that is clutter-free and ideally has access to natural light. Too much clutter wastes time, as you can spend ages trying to find files and notes you need when things aren’t organized.
In addition to a clear space, you should work in natural light when possible. Natural light can reduce eye strain and fatigue, leading to more energy. You can harness natural light working next to a window.
Placing mirrors opposite your window can also bounce light through your room, leading to more brightness. During the darker winter months, you can use an artificial light that’s designed to mimic daylight.
Listen to Productive Music to Decrease Distractions
A Stanford Medicine study found that music helps our brains to pay attention and can stop us from getting distracted.
As a writer, I understand how tempting it is to check social media and emails throughout the day. You’re in the middle of a task, wondering what to write, when you suddenly wonder if anyone liked your most recent post.
These types of distractions impact our concentration. Your brain has to jump from focusing on work to thinking about social media. It takes you away from what you’re doing, meaning you then have to play catch-up.
To reduce these distractions, I suggest listening to productive music. Look for music without lyrics so you don’t get distracted by words. YouTube has many playlists designed for studying and relaxing — simply type in “Playlist for [studying, relaxing, working, etc.] to find suggestions.
Get Enough Hours of Sleep Every Night
Poor sleep can increase stress and poor concentration, as well as lower knowledge retention. A study published in the Journal of Sleep and Sleep Disorders Research found that sleeping less than five hours a night can cause a productivity loss of 29%.
Research suggests an ideal amount of sleep is between seven to nine hours per night.
If you’re someone who struggles to fall asleep fast, I understand your pain. As a writer, I have learned to switch off my laptop no later than 8:00 pm to help my brain unwind. Whenever I’m unable to sleep, I write down all the thoughts in my head. This helps me reduce my thinking so my brain switches off.
With at least seven hours of sleep, you’ll be better rested. This means you’ll be able to focus for longer, and retain more knowledge.
With a few simple techniques, you can increase your productivity and maximize your time. From incredible tools such as Wordtune Read, to writing down goals and prioritizing the most challenging tasks first, you’ll find scheduling much easier using these productivity hacks for students.