By Madison Gillespie
Making the most of your time is an important practice year-round, but it becomes especially important during winter. As college students can attest, December marks the last few weeks of the semester and the start of finals. With presentations to rehearse, reports to write, and study guides to make, the weeks get busy fast. Knowing how to juggle all of this work in a short period of time will be key to finishing the semester strong. Here are some tips on maximizing your productivity each day to help with both finals and beyond.
Tip #1: Set your alarms 5-10 minutes earlier than usual.
This may seem like a small amount of time to set back your alarm, but it makes a huge difference. Trying to set your alarm 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour early will likely result in hitting snooze several more times before actually getting up. You will feel sluggish from fighting your alarm, and you might not be up much earlier than you would have been normally. But a change as small as 5-10 minutes allows you to get up earlier without as much disruption to your regular sleep schedule. Just focus on getting up right away and not hitting that snooze – it’s only a few minutes earlier, and you may be surprised how much you can get done with the extra time.
Tip #2: Start the day by planning out your tasks.
Before you get started on any work, you must know what needs to get done. That is why I highly recommend you put all of your tasks into a to-do list before you start anything. If you jump into your work without completing this step, you run the risk of forgetting other things you need to do. By writing out your tasks to start with your mind still fresh, you will have a better sense of your workload. In addition, make sure to rank, number, or highlight your to-do list in order of importance. We don’t always get to everything on our lists, so make sure to complete what matters most.
Tip #3: Keep Post-its handy for additional work that comes up.
This is a practice I have developed in college, and it has been very beneficial in staying on top of my work. In addition to a planner or journal, keep a stack of Post-It notes with you at all times. Whenever a thought comes to you about anything extra you may need to do or consider, quickly scribble it down on a Post-It and stick it somewhere prominent, like in a page of a notebook, the surface of your desk, or a corner of your laptop. Writing these thoughts out separately versus into existing notes will allow them to stand out, so that you do not easily forget. Tossing out old sticky notes when you have finished tasks is also a satisfying feeling, which may motivate you to get even more done!
Tip #4: Give yourself time deadlines for each task.
When you have lots of important things to do, such as study for finals that are all worth significant portions of your grade, you need to manage your time well. It is easy to spend hours on any one assignment, but you simply cannot afford to when there are many other, equally important things that need to get done. Instead, allot yourself blocks of time for each item on your list and pace yourself by setting timers. You will be able to maximize the quality of work within the time constraints you give yourself, as well as move back and forth between different projects more easily.
Tip #5: Minimize your distractions. Shut off notifications.
It is easy to become caught up in the enticing screens of our laptops or phones. Doing so, however, always results in spiraling down the rabbit hole of social media or the Internet, neither of which are helpful for getting work done. So if there are apps you know you’ll be tempted to look at while working, turn off their notifications. If you’re on your laptop, try completing your work with desktop apps instead of an equivalent online program (think Word versus Google Docs), which already puts you online and in more of a position to roam the Web. Of course, you should always leave notifications on for certain apps or chats in case of emergencies, but do your best to keep the pull of outside media from reaching you.
Tip #6: Give yourself enough breaks.
In addition to allotting yourself blocks of time to do work, you also need to map out enough time for breaks between tasks. While it is important to stick to a working schedule and minimize distractions, it is unrealistic to assume that someone can work nonstop throughout the day – it just isn’t possible. Give yourself time here and there to stretch, get a meal or snack, watch a short video as a reward, or unwind and listen to music for a bit. Do whatever is most relaxing for you, while still knowing when to get back to work.
Tip #7: Work somewhere with lots of natural light.
Lastly, one of the most important considerations when working is your surroundings. If you are not in a well-lit space or find yourself in an area without windows or any visual stimuli, this will counteract your productivity. Research has shown that being in a space with natural light, comfortable furniture, and/or an inviting atmosphere helps people become more comfortable in their surroundings and get more work done. Try sitting in a space in your dorm or apartment with window access, or head to a library or coffee shop for a change of scenery. Without background distractions, you will be able to focus more clearly and succinctly on the work at hand.