20 Best Productivity Tips To Start The School Year
Staying productive during the summer time — particularly with regard to future school responsibilities (i.e. studying for the ACT or a professional exam) — can be challenging. You’ve got all this freedom from homework and class time, and it only makes sense to use it for sleep and television, right? Or, for the less lazy, maybe picking up some extra hours of work? If you feel caught in that trap of sluggishness, it’s never too soon to start getting productive once again. Here are 20 of the best productivity tips for the start of your new school year. Best of luck!
Stopping in the middle of progress
Ernest Hemingway had a rule that he would always stop writing in the middle of a sentence and call it a day. The thinking was that it was easier to finish the thought and pick right back up where he left off the next day. If you feel like you’re on a roll and you’ve already put in the time, just cut things off in the middle of what you’re doing and leave it where it is so it’s easier to get going tomorrow.
Meditating before you start
As a business owner my workload tends to be insane because I’ve got to offer the service that gets me paid — writing — and also handle billing, follow-up, taxes, and yes, even taking care of my kid during the day until the wife gets home from work. If I didn’t take 20 minutes to meditate before the start of my work bloc, I would go insane, or at least wander around aimlessly on social media for an hour or two before ever attempting to start. Sitting in a comfy chair for 20 minutes, removed from all sounds and distractions, I close my eyes and force them to stay that way until the timer goes off. First, I’m focused on keeping the eyes shut and drowning out sounds. Next, I follow the sounds and the cadence of my breathing until I feel my mind start to relax. Can’t tell you how long that takes, but it always gets me to a point where I can start thinking about all the specific actions that need to be done for the day. When they’re all lined out in my head, I repeat them over and over to myself until they’re ingrained. If there’s still time, it’s back to breathing.
Working in time intervals
Time intervals are an amazing way to speed your brain up and focus on specific actions with the best parts of it. I recommend setting a timer for no longer than 30 minutes. This is your “work timer.” When that goes off, reset it to five minutes and take a walk. This is your “break timer.” When that goes off, repeat the same action a few times until you can justify a longer break for lunch or dinner.
Walking around at the end of each interval
Yes, we touched on this above, but it deserves its own space because we didn’t get into the dynamics of why it’s a good idea. For starters, it doesn’t keep you sitting in one spot all day, and it ensures your body is more active and healthy. Secondly, it allows you to take your productivity cap away from the computer and all its distractions and focus on the “thought part” of what needs to happen next when you’re back to your workstation. I often cram research work that would take me 20 minutes or more in front of a computer into the space of those five minutes. You can do the same.
Dictating instead of writing
Ever ask yourself why doctors do this one? It’s because they have such busy lives that they can’t afford the time it takes to sit and write everything they need out in plain terms. In other words, it’s a more productive method of reviewing facts and taking notes. Now you won’t want to do this around people, as it will probably disturb them, but you should find a place to get the job done. You’ll be shocked at how much time it shaves off your workload.
Working in a quiet place free from distraction
People who say they work best in loud locations are probably pulling your leg. I used to think I was like that, then I actually tried it the quiet way, and the payoff has been tremendous. If you must have sound, make sure it’s ambient. You don’t want anything that tears your mind away, even for a split second, from the task at hand. At least, not if you’re trying to be productive.
Giving yourself mental rewards…
Rewarding yourself for a job well done may seem like it’s not being productive. After all, how is an episode of Game of Thrones going to get you to pass that upcoming exam, right? Actually, your brain gets bogged down when things are all work and no play. Your gray matter is not unlike a smartphone battery. When you start work, you have plenty of juice and you feel like you can do so many things without a break. As the day goes on, however, the battery runs low. Before long, you’re getting the 20 and 10 percent pop-ups. Giving yourself a mental reward is like plugging your phone back in when it gets to that dire moment.
…And doing the same with physical rewards
Yes, buying an app that you really want, picking up a new outfit, having a meal out, or even taking a trip to the movies with full popcorn-and-coke experience, are all ways of being productive. The act of spending money on yourself for a job well done makes you feel good about what you’ve just accomplished, and it will make you want to accomplish more. Don’t get too carried away, though. Money is a finite resource for most.
Logging your progress
When you’re dealing with a lot of information, it can be difficult to keep it all straight in your head. That’s why we suggest pausing every few work sessions and writing out the information you’ve just learned or gone over. By writing it out, you’re further internalizing the info by calling it up in your head and then working out the details with the relationship between pen-and-paper (or tablet-and-stylus, Penultimate users).
Spending an hour each day organizing a to do list before you begin
Before cutting in to your work time, you should take about an hour of organizational time to relax and work out the plan for reaching your goals for the day/week. Start with the most important thing that you need to get done for the day and finish it out with the things you’d like to get done if there is still time.
Listening to podcasts instead of music on your daily drive
Podcasts can be a quick way to consume information in the downtime between home and school, school and work, and then work back to home. Apps like Downcast make it simple to subscribe to your favorite feeds and get new episodes automatically. With numerous shows out there, it’s pretty easy to find a good one in your area of knowledge. And the more you listen, the more you learn.
Working in a group
Groupthinks can be so beneficial to improving your understanding of a difficult subject quickly and effectively. During the summer, try to get in touch with someone in your field of major. Perhaps the two or three of you can organize a group where you plan for PRAXIS, GRE, or whatever major exam lurks in your future. By putting your heads together, it becomes much easier to consume vital knowledge quickly.
Devoting the core of your day to the most important item on your to do list
Each day you should begin with one thing and one thing only. If you can’t do anything else for the day, make sure that you get that one thing accomplished. Now in order for this to help, that one thing will have to be something big. Something that requires your most time and attention. Something where the stakes are at their highest. Even if it’s too big of a deal to accomplish in a 24-hour period, make sure that it receives the best of your efforts before moving on to something else, and then revisit it tomorrow with the same fire and passion.
Watching YouTube instead of reading
Reading will always be one of the best ways to consume information and become a smarter person, but sometimes you’re on a time crunch, and there is simply too much ground to cover. When this happens, head over to a site like YouTube or Vimeo or a more niche-specific site, and watch some how-to videos on what you’re trying to accomplish. A good video production can cut your research time in half.
Taking a power nap when you are running on empty
If you decide to do this, we recommend going no longer than 30 minutes with a preference for shorter. Just sit in a chair, close your eyes, and let yourself nod off. If you can’t self-wake, then make sure a timer is set.
Body and mind share an important connection, and if one suffers, they generally both do. A good way to de-stagnate your brain is to get away from the material you’re studying or the project you’re working on, and instead put your body through the rigors. You may be sore at the end of the day, but you’ll get a lot of that mental frustration out of your system and it will allow you to re-focus when you come back to the task at hand.
Cleaning house or at least your work area
A cluttered house can and will lead to a cluttered mind. But if you don’t have enough time to get the entire house clean from top to bottom, focus on the most important part — the area where you plan to be working/studying. There is something very symbolic about taking out the trash and tidying up the desk. The act of doing it is almost like you’re doing it to your brain as well. With the unhelpful things “out of the way,” you can focus on what’s really important.
Setting a timer and forcing yourself to write for the whole time can help get unhelpful thoughts out of the brain while building rudimentary connections between the material that you hope to learn or the to-do items that you wish to accomplish. Even if you’re a horrible speller and can’t diagram a sentence to save your life, force yourself to utilize this addition to our list of productivity tips, and you won’t be sorry.
Recreating the conditions for performance
Got a major exam coming up and need to do some practice tests? Recreate the exact conditions of performance that you will face on test day. Let that be the only way that you allow yourself to do a practice exam, and do it often. Follow these instructions, and you won’t be intimidated when the real deal finally arrives.
Building a relevant RSS feed
The web is a fantastic portal of information in a wide variety of fields, but it’s almost too expansive. That’s why we suggest learning to love the RSS feed. Use Digg or Feedly or another comparable service to find websites in your field that offer helpful and current information. Simply culling these resources together is bound to make you smarter, but then checking it each day and staying on top of the latest developments will add a needed layer of engagement to your future studies.
Productivity tips can help you overcome the challenges of a major exam or a new school year, but it’s tough to get them working for you out of the blue. When the first day of school arrives, you’re not going to have as much time as you would like, so why not make habits out of them now? What are some of the most helpful productivity tips that you’ve ever seen in action?
[Image via Pete Matthew Blog]