- Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Schedule important assignments including writing papers or studying for exams at your best times of day. If you focus well in the morning, then do important work then, and push the more annoying and busy-work tasks for later in the day when you're burned out or feeling distracted.
- Force yourself to focus when it's time to work by eliminating other distractions. Turn off push notifications to your phone, lock it in a desk drawer, or put it on silent in the other room.
- Consider installing an app like Rescuetime on your phone or internet browser, which will allow you to recognize your productive and distracting activities.
- If you struggle with getting distracted on your computer, especially on the internet, install Chrome Nanny or Get Focused to limit your time on distracting websites.
- Make use of productivity strategies. You can use a Pomodoro timer to focus (actually, any timer will do, as long as it isn't on your cell phone). Read about the Pomodoro Technique here.
- You can also use the Forest app to grow trees while you work.
- Schedule 20-30 minutes of productive time first thing when you start working, before you check your email, twitter, or other social media. Doing this means that you KNOW you'll get at least something done every day.
In my previous blog post, I told you to work when you work and rest when you rest. But how can you best follow that advice?
As the semester starts, we can really weigh ourselves down with expectations without having a clear way to meet those expectations. Setting clear goals and engaging in proactive academic planning can make the difference between getting where you want to go, and barely keeping your head above water. Below are a few simple ways to get your semester off to an organized start and make sure you are keeping on top of your deadlines. Some of this advice is modified from Mirya Holman's academic mentorship newsletter, and other advice is based on my own experience.
1. Look at your whole semester. When are the major due dates and exams for each class? What other major plans do you have? Are there any times when you know you won't be working? When will you be traveling? Seeing family or friends? Mark major deadlines on your calendar or an everything notebook. Block out times when you have outside plans. Knowing what your major deadlines are, and getting ahead of them, will allow you to put work away and fully enjoy those times when you want to spend time with friends or family.
2. Figure out exactly what you HAVE TO get done by the end of the semester. Maybe you have a semester long project or you need to finish a resume or apply for law school.
3. Make a plan to get THOSE THINGS done. You will be very unhappy if you get bogged down in day to day assignments and let major things go untouched until the last minute. Break major projects and goals down in to pieces. What order do you need to do those pieces in? Make a deadline for each piece and put those deadlines on your calendar, paying attention to other deadlines that you have to meet. You can do this in a calendar, or on a spread sheet, or both.
4. Set rewards for yourself when you get important projects done or meet major deadlines. This might be something as small as a bowl of ice cream, but it helps to have something to look forward to.
5. Every single Sunday, look at those deadlines. What do you need to get done this week? How will you get it done? I organize my entire work week in advance (at least loosely).
As you begin the semester, it's important to keep your eyes on the prize and remember what your ultimate goals are for being where you are. Work advice aside, you also need to take care of yourself. Time without boundaries leads to less productive work in the long run. Don't be a "work martyr" at school or at work. Sleep deprivation affects your productivity and health. Anything less than 7 hours of sleep will affect your ability to concentrate and learn. Work when you work, and rest when you rest. Don't allow work and work stress to rule every waking moment. The way to avoid that is to be completely focused during work time, and put work completely away during rest / play time. More on how to do that soon.
Clare Brock is a professor of American Politics and Public Policy at TWU. She works primarily in the areas of food policy, lobbying, and money in politics.