Let’s face it – we live in a world full of incessant distractions. We’re constantly bombarded with social media notifications and lured by the temptations of video games or Netflix. In such a world, productivity is harmed as we find ourselves unable to properly manage our time. However, it’s completely possible to accomplish all of our major goals while still having time to have fun, relax, and enjoy life. Once we are able to identify how the majority of our unproductive time is spent, we can address the issue and ultimately start becoming more efficient with our time.
1. Getting Organized
The first step to maximizing our time and achieving our goals is getting organized. Weekly planners and calendars are great tools to help you focus on daily activities while also reminding us of our long term goals. Whether you choose to use a physical planner or a digital planner is completely up to you. However, keep in mind that in order for a planner to be useful, it must be easily accessible, and easy to read. By mapping out future events, we can effectively divide large or intimidating tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. Maintaining a detailed calendar will assure that you never forget to complete a task – a daily checklist will make certain that all of your to-do items are completed in a timely manner. By doing so, we can avoid the unnecessary stress that results from procrastination, while also producing higher quality work.
2. Understanding and Limiting the Source of Your Distractions
After establishing an effective schedule in our planners, the next step is identifying major sources of distractions. Take time to monitor your daily activities, and be critical of the distractions that are affecting your productivity. Once you have done so, you can establish various methods to limit these distractions.
Computer Distractions: As technology becomes a more integral part of our lives, computer usage while studying has become almost unavoidable. And although computers can be great resources, they also provide easy access to various internet distractions. That’s where programs such as Cold Turkey (PC) or Self Control (Mac) come into play. These computer programs allow you to block specific websites for set amounts of time. In doing so, you can take advantage of the benefits of your computer without suffering from the potential distractions.
Hotline Bling: Apart from computers, our phones are another major source of distractions. If you find yourself checking your phone multiple times throughout a study session, consider leaving your phone somewhere out of arm’s reach. This could mean putting your phone in another room or in your backpack, where your phone will still be accessible for emergencies but annoyingly far enough away to prevent constant usage. If your phone acts as one of your study tools, apps such as AppBlock will allow you to block distracting apps and notifications for set periods of time.
Environment: Your work environment heavily influences your ability to focus, so it is important to find an area that suits your needs best. Test out various locations to see if you prefer the quiet setting of a library or the ambient, white-noise chatter of a coffee shop. In doing so, you will understand which locations have distracting atmospheres, and which locations allow you to focus.
3. Working Efficiently
Now that we have created a practical schedule and eliminated major external distractions, we can focus on getting the most out of our work sessions. There is a common misconception that working continuously for multiple hours is representative of being studious and hardworking. We assume that the more time you put into a task, the better the outcome. While this may be true to a certain extent, more often than not we find ourselves working endless hours while unfortunately achieving very little. In order to make the most out of every work session, it is critical to compartmentalize our tasks.
Methods such as the Pomodoro Technique split long work sessions into 25-minute chunks. After this period, allow your mind to rest for 3-5 minutes and then continue on to another 25-minute session. Once you have completed four 25-minute work sessions, take a longer break for 15-30 minutes. By giving our brains short breaks, we keep our minds attentive and focused and are ultimately optimize our efficiency.
4. Eat, Hydrate, and Sleep
After establishing all these methods to work efficiently, is would seem foolish to neglect our bodies’ most basic needs. By keeping ourselves hydrated and well-nourished, we provide our bodies with enough energy to power through our daily tasks. Always keep a bottle of water close by and bring study snacks (nuts, fruits, etc.) to keep the hunger pangs at bay.
Most importantly, be sure to get enough sleep. Ideally, teens should aim for 8-10 hours, and anyone older should get at least 7 (National Sleep Foundation). This may seem impossible, but once you start working more efficiently, you’ll find that you actually have more free time than you thought. On top of allowing your body to rest and be prepared for the next day, sleep also helps in transferring short term memories to long term memories. Thus, you’ll ensure that the material that you’ve studied today will still be accessible in the future.
5. Have Fun!
If you’ve been keeping up with everything, then give yourself a big ol’ pat on the back. It may be difficult to maintain a rigorous schedule, but before you know it, your good habits will start replacing your bad ones. You’ll be accomplishing more work than ever before and find yourself with an hour or two of free time at the end of the day. So go out and have some fun. You deserve it!