When there’s so much to do, it’s easy to throw up our hands in defeat. The feeling of “I can’t possibly finish everything” hinders our motivation to even try. Plus, there’s always something to distract us: a new message, an event invite, a Wikipedia article about the salmon run you weren’t looking for but somehow landed on as you made your way down the internet rabbit hole.
While we deserve (and need) breaks from our college studies, we have to put in the work to achieve our short-term academic and long-term career goals. If you’ve been struggling with procrastination, don’t wait for the new year — implement this reachable resolution today with the following 10 tried-and-true steps.
1) Create a weekly to-do list.
Read chapters 4–7, complete the 20-question comprehension quiz, post three responses in the online discussion … plus call Mom, do your laundry, and it’s your turn to clean the dorm room. Responsibilities can pile up in your mind and overwhelm you if you don’t get them out on paper. Organize your thoughts and assign each chore, appointment, or assignment to a specific day and time.
2) Choose one planner that works for you.
Decide where you want to keep that weekly to-do list. Do you prefer a paper planner or a planner app? Many college students like to use Panda Planner to keep track of both schoolwork and social appointments. Egenda, Home Work Planner, and Student Planner are fast and simple homework management apps.
Planner pro tips: Use just one planner, and always keep it with you. Multiple planners defeat the purpose. It’s too easy to record an assignment deadline on one and forget to log it on the other. Leaving it in your dorm room instead of carrying it with you means you might forget to add an important appointment you make while out and about.
3) Stick to a consistent schedule.
You’ll probably find you’re a lot more productive if you keep a fairly rigid daily and weekly schedule. Wake up at the same time every day. Exercise and go to bed at the same time as much as possible. Part of this involves figuring out when your energy is best for tackling schoolwork. Are you a morning person who thinks best after the second cup of coffee? Maybe you’re a night owl who comes alive after midnight. Determine when you get the most work done and build the rest of your daily schedule around that time period to maximize your efficiency.
4) Spend less time on social media.
If you fall into the average, you spend almost two hours per day on social media. Just think of what you could accomplish with those minutes back. When it’s time to study or do homework, unplug from your social network. Try a free tool such as SelfControl to prevent you from accessing websites including Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. It’s highly customizable, so you can block any website you like.
5) Put your phone on “do not disturb.”
From the second you wake up to the moment you surrender to sleep, you’re checking email, searching and scrolling, and messaging friends from your phone. As a society, we’re addicted to our technology. We touch our devices 2,617 times a day on average. Reduce that number by putting your phone on “do not disturb” while you’re focusing on your studies. Or better yet, turn it off and put it in a drawer.
6) Use the days-before-it’s-due system.
Sara Laughed shares a trick that works great for her: “In your planner, use red pen to mark the day an assignment is due. Write it out in blue pen in the two days ahead, black for three to five days ahead, and green for six to nine days ahead. That way, you will always see assignments coming up on the horizon and won’t ever be surprised by an essay that’s due tomorrow.”
7) Banish clutter.
It’s hard to think clearly if you’re surrounded by out-of-place stuff. Make it a policy to clear your desk of everything but your books and computer at the end of your day. Stash things like staplers and Post-it Note pads in drawers to minimize visual clutter on your desktop. Keep the floor around your work area free of clutter as well. Invest in some inexpensive shelving so that everything you need for coursework has a designated place for quick retrieval.
8) Use the 2-Minute Rule if you feel overwhelmed.
“If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then, because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would to actually finish it the first time you notice it.” This tip comes from David Allen, a time management consultant and author of “Getting Things Done.” If your to-do list for a day seems unbearably long, see which items can be completed in the least amount of time, and then knock those out first. The sense of accomplishment will help you build momentum to tackle the more challenging, time-consuming tasks.
9) Use a timer when working on assignments or reading.
Work for a predetermined period of time, perhaps an hour, and then take a break. While you might think this decreases your productivity, the opposite is true. A study from DeskTime, a productivity app that tracks employees’ computer use, found the highest-performing 10 percent tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break.
10) Unplug from the internet for a few hours a day.
Disconnecting from the World Wide Web is a good way to lower stress and stop wasting time surfing around mindlessly. Consider using author Cal Newport’s shutdown ritual when you’re done working for the day: Perform one last email inbox check, prepare your to-do list for tomorrow, and say aloud, “shutdown complete.”
If you need another good reason to unplug, consider these statistics shared by Jessie List on Medium:
A survey of 117 American students found that higher internet usage was negatively correlated with work drive, consequently resulting in lower grades. Additionally, a study of 219 American university students found that Facebook use in particular was associated with lower GPAs.