We’ve all had the kind of day where it feels like we were busy every minute, but the next morning, nothing actually seems to have been done. Students, with classes and jobs and more, are particularly prone to this. So how do you get less busy and more productive?
Learn the difference. That’s the first step, of course, and it’s a doozy. It’s easy to feel busy when you’ve spent all day at the computer, multitasking an essay, two assignments, research, and Facebook to boot.
Multitasking, while being one of those “skills” we all brag about in our resumes, isn’t really a skill. It’s a lack of focus, and it makes you less productive. Every time you switch attention tracks, your brain stores away what you were doing before, and when you switch back, details get lost and have to be brought forward again. That costs time.
To-do lists are a good way to help yourself focus. Set aside a few minutes early in the day to write one, put it in front of yourself, and actually visualize what you need to do and what kind of time you need for each task. Be specific about tasks. Break big to-dos into their component parts, if that helps you. Keep your lists. Checking off finished tasks is remarkably motivating.
Do a weekly review of your lists, and see what you keep putting off, what always gets done immediately, and what turned out not to need to be done at all. Be honest with yourself. You probably have something on your lists you’re not going to do at all. Get that out of there! You’ll feel better.
Now that you’ve looked at your responsibilities, look at your hobbies. They’re important to you and deserve a share of your time, but they need to stay in their lane. Email doesn’t need to be open in the background every minute. None of your social media does, either. Make an agreement with yourself to check it once after you’ve completed X tasks or at a few specific times of day, and close the tab. Don’t let it sit there and tempt you.
Finally, time limits. The more time you know you have, the more time you’re ready to waste. So give yourself deadlines. If you blow those off, give yourself new ones. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable.
Not all of these will work for every student. No one set of techniques ever will. Be realistic about your abilities, motivation, and wants, and if this seems like it might fit, give it a shot.