15 Productivity Hacks to Survive the Holidays
The holidays can be a stressful time, especially if you are a student ready to get on with the break but mindful of the academic obligations that still lay in front of you.
To help you survive the holidays and stay ahead of the curve, here are 15 productivity hacks that will help you make the most of the season.
1. Distinguish between focus tasks and ancillary tasks and keep your mind active through both.
We live in an age of distraction. It is so easy to get lost jumping down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. The Internet has a billion-or-so websites. Our phone has millions of shiny apps. Social media compels us to post pictures of what we’re having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
All that is to say, you can very easily break away from something you’re doing that matters in order to focus on something that shouldn’t matter in the least.
To help overcome this obstacle, you should first identify your focus tasks and separate them from your ancillary tasks. My best method for clarification is to use an example.
If I’m writing an article for 4Tests, that’s a focus task. It may not seem like it from reading my work, but stringing sentences together requires intense focus, thus “focus task.”
When I’m done with said post, I need to find an image that complements it. This part of the process is important, but it does not require the same level of scrutiny as creating, formulating, and communicating ideas. Thus, “ancillary task.”
Focus tasks are tempting to break away from because they are so intense. Problem is, breaking away for a quick Facebook trip or some other mindless distraction can greatly expand the amount of time a task takes you.
My rule: save any distractions for the ancillary tasks. The things that you can do without having to think too much about them. When I’m posting an image, for example, I allow myself to listen to a podcast. When it’s time to reengage with a focus task, I hit pause.
By using my distraction as a reward and confining it to one less intense mental moment, I’m able to work through the areas of intense focus in a much more productive manner.
2. Use recordings to remember difficult information.
I’m a person, who loves words. Unfortunately, in another job as a business reporter, I have to write about my kryptonite — numbers.
When trying to clearly describe complex concepts, I sometimes have to hear the explanations five or 10 times. How do you take notes on the fly when you don’t even understand the proverbial language?
Needless to say, if it wasn’t for my recordings, I wouldn’t have a job. Nowadays, every single phone has a voice recorder built into it. Consider using it, or, better yet, buy a good one from your app store — preferably one that allows you to time-stamp important information for easier playback.
This is particularly helpful as finals approach and you find yourself zoning out more and more.
3. Play YouTube videos.
YouTube has a lot of crap on it. I’ll concede that. But it is also a wealth of audiovisual information, and it allows you to engage with difficult materials when your teacher isn’t around to hold your hand.
Again, this is another of our productivity hacks that will come in handy before finals. I recommend grouping helpful (or potentially helpful) videos into playlists that are clearly labeled for whatever topic you are about to tackle.
One caveat: be careful where you view these videos, particularly if you do not have the data plan to support it. That can put you into overcharges in a hurry if you do a lot of media consumption on the go.
4. Curate a daily list of articles for later reading.
This does not necessarily have anything to do with school — it can, but it doesn’t have to. It’s more a matter of keeping your brain active. Plan to do a lot of reading over the break and stay in touch with your world.
Go to so-called “neutral” sources and stay in the categories other than Opinion. If you must read an op-ed, limit the number and try to get viewpoints from both liberal and conservative sources no matter what you think to see what the other side is saying.
Go through all your news sources at one time and curate a list ahead of time. Don’t do any reading at this point. By batch-processing, you will do less time browsing and more time reading, and reading more closely will make you naturally more productive because you’ll know more stuff.
Make it a rule not to get your news from friends on social media. While they may have the best of intentions, people who share news on social media tend to be less reliable in the curation (i.e. they share a lot of fake crap). Also, the simple act of being on Facebook or SnapChat will make you way less productive.
5. Keep a book in the bathroom.
Again, productivity hacks become easier to implement if your brain is active, fresh, and always learning. Reading is the best way to do that, and anything that encourages you to read more words in a day is not a bad thing.
Keeping a book in the bathroom will up the amount of words you read in a day, gross as it may sound. Just make sure you don’t take that book out of the bathroom unless you plan to get rid of it.
Don’t be a George Costanza. (Anyone remember that episode?)
6. Don’t sleep more — sleep smarter.
The holidays are a time when it is easy to roll over and shut off the alarm clock. After all, you have worked hard all semester and deserve the opportunity to catch a few extra hours of sleep.
While that may be true, you will do your body and mind more favors by “hacking” your sleep instead of simply getting more of it. And best of all, technology has made it super simple to do this.
There are websites online as well as phone apps that will allow you to plug in the time you wish to go to bed in return for an optimum wakeup time. Likewise, you can tell these same programs what time you want to wake up, and they will tell you when to fall asleep.
When dealing with matters of sleep, make sure you allow enough time for the actual drifting off. Most people take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to enter the sleep phase, so if the app/site is telling you to fall asleep at 10:20 p.m., be in bed by 10 or 10:10.
The basic construct is built on REM patterns, so rather than setting your alarm to wake you in the middle of a dream state, you can instead awake immediately after, feeling more rested and refreshed.
I’ve been using sleep-calculator.com for several months and have had the best sleep I’ve had in years despite only getting about five hours per night.
7. Keep your body active.
The holidays are all about overeating and over relaxing, or at least that’s the way it feels at my house. If you are the same way, you may have to be reminded of how much harder getting readjusted will be the further away from your school routines that you move.
What will help you maintain the most balance in your life is if you incorporate workout routines into both your semester and your holidays. You may not be going to the same classes or carrying the same mental workload every day, but by working out, you give your brain enough time to stay active instead of simply atrophying into a blob-like state.
8. Eat within reason.
Diet plays an ever more important role in your life as you get older and your metabolism starts to naturally slow down. While no one can begrudge you those Christmastime sweets, you do have to watch how much of it you take in.
Fortunately, there are monitoring apps like MyFitnessPal and LoseIt that work wonders in allowing you to quickly track and keep up with your progress (or lack thereof). I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to log as much about your eating habits as possible.
Even when you are grossly over your day’s calorie goals, the act of tracking will keep you accountable and ensure that you get back on the right path sooner rather than later.
9. Use timers for work.
There is still a little real estate between you and the holiday break, so do not check out just yet. Tackle the work you have to do with precision. Get on a regimen, and make use of timers to stay on track.
Usually the brain starts to check out after 25 to 30 minutes of intense focus, so meet this reality head-on by setting your timer for that length of time and then giving yourself breaks in between (no more than five to 10 minutes if you have a lot of work to do, and who doesn’t during finals week, right?).
By working in shorter bursts of intense focus, you will be in the best possible position for fitting in all the end-of-semester study/homework demands.
10. Create rewards for yourself.
Accomplishments need to be incentivized. Human beings just work better if they reward themselves for a job well done.
Now, as a college student who may be low on cash, you do have to select the appropriate types of rewards (i.e. affordable). In fact, your rewards may not even have to cost anything at all. For me, podcasts are fun to listen to, and most are absolutely free.
Listening to a little more of an episode that I find particularly appealing is often enough for me to get from one span of work to the next. For big accomplishments, though, you may want to pamper yourself somehow.
Buy a book, rent a video-on-demand, go to the movies, go shopping for clothes, or simply get the MVP treatment at SportClips. Whatever is appealing to you should be a part of the overall picture.
11. Listen to podcasts.
No desire to sound like a broken record here — and yes, I know I’ve mentioned them some already — but podcasts are absolutely the way to go if you are wanting to stay productive during the holidays.
Why? Because they feed your mind with information in much the same way as a good book, and you can listen to enough of them throughout the day to fill a book with information, viewpoints, or entertainment.
Since most are timely, they will also help you stay abreast of what is going on in the world, even if you are not much of a news reader. Since they do so in a lively and entertaining fashion, it only adds to the amount of information you are willing to take in.
12. Look at spring syllabi.
It may seem lame to phase in a little of the semester ahead when you’re trying to put the current one behind you, but it can be so hard to get your bearings each year that it never hurts to get the jump on everyone else.
By looking ahead to the spring — at least in the classes that are yearlong — you can develop a familiarity ahead of time that will take you through the choppy waters of early January. And it does not have to take much of your holiday time. Just set aside a few minutes to look at what lies ahead; then go back and attack the candied yams.
13. Don’t fall back into bad habits.
Breaks and vacations are double-edged swords. While they will cut through the malaise of more than three months of coursework, they also give you permission of sorts to behave badly. And “behaving badly” could refer to anything that knocks you off course for productivity and reaching your goals.
No one is saying you should not enjoy downtime, but many people have a tendency to go from one extreme to the next. They see time off as a reason to move 180 degrees away from good habits. Unfortunately, holiday breaks are just long enough to ditch the good and take up the bad.
To stop this from happening, it is vital to stay connected to your good habits throughout the break. You don’t have to take it to the point of not enjoying yourself or living exactly the way you would during the semester, but you should set aside time to do whatever it is that makes you a success on campus.
14. Make memories.
Holiday breaks are an excellent time to reconnect with old friends from high school or spend more time around beloved family members. Memories are an important part of the holidays, but they also have an energizing effect on the short term.
Making the most of your time off will boost drive and intensity for the new semester, while a blah break will have the opposite effect. It’s part of the mental battery recharging process.
15. Consider a social media prohibition.
Let’s face it. Social media has pretty much run its course. There are only so many cat videos, fake news stories, and ignorant political opinions that one can take before realizing there is a great big beautiful world out there beyond the Facebooks and Twitters of the world.
Social media too often steals our attention away from the things and people that matter. Make the most of the holidays, and stay away.
Each of the productivity hacks listed above can help you whether you are still in class or already home for the holidays. What are some things that help you stay on target before, during and after the holidays? Share your productivity hacks in the comments section below.