Rethink your idea of ‘productivity’
Perhaps you have an image in your head of how you’re going to spend the entire weekend with your head in your books, no breaks, absorbing everything until you know it all perfectly, and this will be your productive weekend. The problem with this is that you’re basically setting yourself up for disappointment and a feeling of being ‘unproductive’. You need to begin by visualising your productive day in a manageable way, that way it’s much more likely to become a reality! Which leads me to my second point…
I cannot stress enough the importance of having a plan, however vague. For me, this takes the form of a to-do list – the satisfaction of ticking something off my list makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something in the day. Find a system that works for you because, as the saying goes, fail to plan, plan to fail! It could just be a scrap piece of paper with a messy list of your assignments for the week, that’s fine, or it could be a note on your phone – as long as it’s something physical that involves the action of showing when a task has been completed, you’ll be more organised and more productive! But…
I have always been guilty of this, and often still am. I’ll write 10 things on my to-do list, get through about 4 of them by the late afternoon, feel disheartened, lose motivation to carry on, then feel horribly ‘unproductive’ because I’ve done less than half of what I’d planned. Sound familiar? The absolute best solution to this is plan to plan far fewer things. If 4 tasks sounds manageable for you, write those down. Then when you’ve ticked them off, you’ll feel much better about how your day has gone because of your achievable goals! And if you get through your tasks more quickly than expected, you can always add to your list if you feel the need, or feel satisfied with your productivity and take that time off – you deserve it!
Don’t get complacent
For me, I find that lunchtime is make or break time for the productivity of my whole day. This is because if I’ve powered through several tasks in the morning, it can be easy to have a long lunch break and get into the wrong mindset for the afternoon’s work…suddenly it’s time for dinner, and after that I’ve lost it. Find the motivation to power on through the afternoon (if that’s in your plan), even if you have to be super strict with yourself after your lunch.
Think about time and task
What I mean by this is that I will plan my day based around when I’m free and what tasks I have to do, and the order is really important. I know that I’m most productive in the morning BUT I also know that my brain will probably not be ready to crack on with an essay about Italian Renaissance literature at 8.30am. This means that I’ll plan to do something more straight-forward first thing, such as learning vocabulary, before I move onto the more difficult stuff. If you’re at school, this plan is likely to be different, especially if the evening is your only free time during the week. In this case, think about whether it’s easier to crack on with a bigger task as soon as you get home, or if it might work better to get smaller things out of the way first before getting on with the tricky bit. Either way, it will definitely boost your productivity to have a think about what exactly you’re doing and when you’ll get it done most efficiently.
Mix things up
This applies mainly to revision, but is also good to consider when you have a lot to do in a short space of time. Sometimes a full day of essay-writing, for example, is necessary and you just have to push through it. However, when possible, it can be very effective to plan completely different tasks one after the other, for instance by switching subjects. This is helpful because I find it’s like I’m resetting my brain for a completely new task and I’m more likely to discover a new burst of energy, rather than sluggishly making my way through one piece of work for 4 hours.
The pomodoro technique is a system that is all to do with timing. Generally, it means you do 25 minutes of work and have a five minute break, then you do the same thing a few more times before having a longer break. You can alter these times as you wish, but it is largely the case that this timing is the most effective. A big piece of work or revision doesn’t seem as daunting when you know only have to do it in 25-minute bursts. You can get Pomodoro extensions on some browsers that do the timing for you! Similarly, there is an iPhone app called Forest, which I have found really helpful – you set a time between 10 minutes and 2 hours, and plant a little virtual tree, and the point of it is that if you go on any other apps during this time, your tree dies! Gradually you build up a little forest, and I actually really like this because I feel like I can visualise my productivity!
Phone off, away from social media
Unless you’re using the app I mentioned above, it really is key to put your phone away, preferably turned off. I cannot believe the difference this makes. The problem is that we hardly notice how much we look at our phones, and this isn’t a criticism! I’m as guilty as the next person for getting distracted by notifications and flicking through Instagram mindlessly. And once you’ve picked it up, you’ve got out of your work mindset which, even for 3 minutes, can have a massive effect on your productivity because it then takes a few minutes to get back into what you were doing. It’s difficult, but put it away – trust me, it really really helps. On a similar note, you can get browser extensions – such as freedom.to, pomodoro, SelfControl and StayFocused – that block certain websites, so if you have a habit of scrolling through Facebook (guilty again!), this will help you to fully focus.
Plan some nice things
When you have something planned, your productivity can be given a boost because a) you know you have a set amount of time to get something done, and b) you’ll get a treat at the end of it! This might mean planning to meet up with friends, planning a walk, or even just saying you’ll have a free evening to sit in front of the telly. Whatever it is, planning something you’ll enjoy can be a real motivator to get stuff done!
Get enough rest
Last, but certainly not least, get enough rest! This includes both down-time and sleep. I cannot stress enough how much this will alter your productivity levels. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re brain will not function properly, it’s a fact. Of course there will be days when deadlines are pressing and you have to stay up late, but making a habit of it certainly won’t help in the long run. For me, getting enough rest usually means turning my phone off around 11pm (the light really does keep your brain buzzing), reading for around half an hour (preferably something non-academic) so that I can properly turn off. By the time I’ve read, I’m usually dropping off, so i find it much easier to get to sleep at a decent time, ready to feel relatively refreshed the next morning. It doesn’t always work out like that, but productivity is definitely lower when you try to just push through your tiredness!