Let’s face it—procrastination, lack of time management and structure is a problem for most students.
Getting distracted, postponing assignments, scouring Reddit, and endless scrolling through Instagram—only to end up panicked and stressed 24 hours before a deadline, where you actually do all the work. It’s mentally exhausting and the quality of your assignment will most likely suffer. You’re left with a feeling that the whole process could have been managed so much better.
So why don’t you do something about it?
Well, because procrastination IS an actual problem for most people—and trust us, you are not the only one experiencing this. Before you proceed, please do yourself a favor and watch this hilarious TED talk by the Wait But Why-guy, Tim Urban, about what actually happens in the mind of a procrastinator.
We’ve outlined four steps towards more productivity and less procrastination. We also collected a few more videos that you can procrastinate with (sorry) to learn more about improving your time management.
1. Set deadlines – divide and conquer
Did you watch the TED video above? Then you know that time management is important and deadlines actually help keep your procrastination impulse (the monkey) in check. By setting specific deadlines, you force yourself to get started with the project. Believe it or not, the hardest thing about starting a project is starting the project. By dividing your project into smaller goals, you can set up deadlines for each section, making them much more manageable.
Two important pointers about setting deadlines:
1. Make them specific – it must be clear to your future self exactly when the deadline is achieved.
2. Don’t be unrealistic about what you will be able to achieve – you’ll only end up disappointing yourself.
An example of an awesome, specific deadline could be “Write the introduction, at least 10 lines, by Thursday at 10AM”. Write deadlines in your preferred calendar, so it is clear that this task is time-sensitive. If you write it on your to-do list, there is a chance that you will forget to look at it.
When you finish a task, remember to reward yourself by taking a small break to do something you like.
For more tips on improving your time management with different deadlines, watch this brilliant video by Thomas Frank where he shares his entire planning and task management process.
2. Plan your day. Every day.
Planning and scheduling your day makes a huge difference. It simply makes everything easier for your brain. Just one minute spent planning saves ten minutes on execution. US President Eisenhower once said “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything” which basically refers to the act of planning being much more important than the actual plan. Write down a schedule and to-do at the beginning of your day. Do not’ start your day until you have a schedule.
The tricky part about writing the to-do list is to write more than just pointers. “Call mom” is not specific enough. You need to define the point. It forces the brain to think at a higher level. “Call mom at 2 pm to talk about holiday plans” could be an example. Also, the steps have to be actionable. Try to think of the immediate next action you have to take, rather than the goal you would eventually like to achieve. An example of a less actionable to-do list item is “Finish assignment for biochem2”. To make this item more actionable, you could instead write “Open text document and write five words”. Trust us, your brain loves bite-sized.
Another important thing is to prioritize your tasks of the day. What is the most important thing to get done today? Start by completing this task. Why? This video will lay it out for you.
3. Monotasking is the new black
We’ll admit that multitasking is a nice idea in some situations (like playing PUBG while cooking your ramen). When it comes to studying… not so much. Jumping from task to task and switching focus all the time makes you way less productive and will often take you even longer to complete a task. Every time you switch tasks, your brain uses up valuable resources of that delicious glucose which is its fuel.
Fact is, despite the volumes of evidence that prove we are not good at multitasking, we simply can’t let it go, and this is taking its toll on our attention spans. Author and TED podcaster and Manoush Zomorodi highlights just how often we do this:
“A decade ago, we shifted our attention at work every three minutes. Now we do it every 45 seconds, and we do it all day long. The average person checks email 74 times a day, and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day”.
566 times a day!!! No wonder so many students suffer from stress.
If we may suggest an actionable step to avoid multitasking, why don’t you try and schedule some time for monotasking in your day? It may lead to your best work yet.
4. Improve your work environment
Everybody is different and no two processes are exactly the same. Some of us thrive with quiet, some of us with noise. Some of us find ourselves to be most productive at a café, where we feel just a little more guilty checking Facebook every two minutes. We’ve even heard from a guy who wrote most of his Master’s thesis on a train going back and forth between two cities. He found out that’s where he did his best writing. We’ve collected a couple of science-verified productivity boosters for your workstation here:
- Light: Find a bright and quiet space to study. Studies have shown that light actually improves your productivity. If you are trying to improve your workspace at home, turn on the lights.
- Colors: If it’s time to redecorate, you could implement these 4 specific colors to get a productivity boost.
- Cute animals: A new study from Japan (of course made by Hello Kitty) has actually shown that watching cute animals makes you more productive at work. No further explanation needed – bring out the cute kitten videos!
- Stand up: Movement is just a great service to do to your body. But even standing up actually boosts your cognitive capacity. A study of workers using standing desks regularly in their office configurations found that “those with stand-capable workstations–those in which the worker could raise or lower the desk to stand or sit as they wished throughout the day–were about 46 percent more productive than those with traditional, seated desk configurations”.
When thinking about your work environment, try to think back to where you’ve felt most productive. Where have you honestly gotten more work done? Try to either spend as much time in that environment as possible or emulate that environment at your usual workspace.
Whether you came for the cute kitty or the promise of sweet, sweet procrastination, we hope you found some useful tips for being productive here. What are your favorite ways of increasing productivity? Share them in the comments below!