A new year means new goals for everyone, right? I know as a college student, having better time management and increasing productivity are goals I constantly strive for. While I am a real person who does have days with zero motivation, I have to say that in general, I have succeeded with my time management and productivity, so much so that my friends look to me as a model for how they should be structuring their days. So today, I’d like to share with you my top time management and productivity tips so that 2017 can be a productive year with as much happiness and as little stress as possible.
The key to time management and productivity is realizing that all of your time should not be spent on work. For me personally, I think your day should be split into quiet time, work time, and you time. Quiet time is a time to think, read, reflect, and to just be still. Work time is to obviously work. Finally you time is time to relax, hang out with friends, and do the activities that you enjoy doing. I truly believe that part of your day needs to be spent not working. Some people say they can camp out in the library all day and study, but that is false. People need breaks to refresh their minds. I find that if you create this balance, you can work more effectively during your study time and therefore, get more accomplished in a shorter period of time.
Prepare the Night Before
Before I go to bed, I prep for the following day. That is, I gather all the materials that I will need for the next day and I will make a to do list. For instance, if I know that I won’t have time to come back to the dorm at all the next day, I might pack a lunch/snacks, put together a workout bag, and gather any books or homework that I need. That way, I will have everything I need with me, and I don’t have to waste time walking back to my dorm to go get something I forgot.
To-Do Lists/ Planners
There is no right or wrong way to have a to-do list or a planner. There are so many options out there, you just have to find what works for you. For me, I like to have a planner specifically to write down my homework for each day. In addition, I like to have to-do lists on my phone or on post-it notes. When I make to-do lists, I like to have an “immediate” to-do list, as in the items that I need to accomplish today, and then have an “extras” list of things that need to get done in the future, but aren’t pressing. This allows me to really prioritize the key items that need to get done today, and then if I have extra time, I can check off items off of the “extras” list. Also, I sometimes fill my “extras” list with productive procrastination tasks– tasks that don’t really help me accomplish homework, but still need to be done. A lot of times I add random errands or chores to this list. That way, if I need to take a break, I can check off one of these chores. It’s a rest from doing homework, but you still do something that is productive in a different way. Win, win.
Another tip I have is to structure your to do list almost as if it is a schedule of your day. For example, my “immediate” to-do list might look like this:
Go to Genetics
Read for O.Chem
Do O. Chem Worksheet
Go to Office Hour…
So on this to-do list, you will see that I have really easy items on the list to check off like waking up and going to class. In between these scheduled events I have to go to, I add in the homework or tasks that I think I can accomplish during that gap of time. I structure my list like this for a few reasons. One, it is really nice to check off easy items on the list. It feels like your are accomplishing something just by doing simple things like eating or going to work. Then, outlining my list as if it were a schedule of my day allows me to not only see what I have to do, but when I think I will do those tasks. If you only know what you need to accomplish, but not when you plan on accomplishing those tasks, you will not be as productive as possible.
Start Your Mornings Peacefully
I cannot stress this enough. Wake up early so that you do not have to rush around in the morning. It is so important to have time to be still, and for me that works best if I start my days with time just for myself. In the mornings, I usually wake up, eat breakfast, and take time to read the news and my bible. This time in the morning sets the tone for my day. Instead of waking up frazzled and rushing to make it to class, I have the opportunity to begin my day peacefully, which allows me to be less stressed out as the day goes on.
This one is pretty self explanatory, yet people forget to do it if they feel to “busy”. I don’t care how busy you are, you still need to fuel your body. Eat. Seriously. And don’t eat crap either. Eat food to nourish your bodies so that you can have energy to get through the day. If you are particularly busy like me, make sure you pack snacks so that if you can’t get to the cafeteria right away, at least you have food to hold you over. My favorite snacks currently are any of the Kind granola bars or cocoa dusted almonds. Delicious.
I am a huge proponent of working out because it clears your mind, reduces stress, gives you energy, and countless other benefits. A workout does not have to be long– maybe it’s just a quick 10 minute walk or bike ride. The point is, a workout is that “you” time I mentioned earlier. It is a chance to give your mind and eyes a break from reading and studying. Without a doubt, when I work out, I am more productive because of the energy it gives me. In fact, the times when I am busiest during the semester are the times where I workout the most because it helps me focus afterwards on the tasks that I still need to accomplish.
Again this is obvious, but sleep is so important. I don’t care how much you feel like you need to study for an exam. Without proper sleep, you are going to be tired during the day, which makes you less focused, therefore, less productive. I consciously make an effort to try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night because for me, lack of sleep just leads to poor performance on my part. I would rather sacrifice doing more homework/studying for sleep any day. If you are honest with yourself, you will realize that the amount of material that you cram in by staying up late is so insignificant that it’s not worth staying up for. I personally think it is best to have a time where you consistently go to bed because your body really does thrive on a set routine.
Find a Schedule that Works for You
Lastly, it is important to note that everyone’s bodies work differently. So while I personally like to be up by 6am and go to bed at 11pm, that may not work for everyone. What is important is to create a schedule that allows you to have your work time when you are most alert. For me, I am very productive late mornings and early evenings. I always hit a slump in the afternoon, so I know not to do any intense homework during that time. If you don’t know when you are most alert, just spend a few days journalling how you feel energy-wise every hour that you are awake. You will soon find recurring patterns where you feel energized or fatigued.
I hope these tips are helpful for making 2017 your most productive and balanced year yet.
Lots of love,