Create the right working environment
It’s difficult to be productive if you’re physically uncomfortable and can’t find anything when you need it. Let’s start with some tips for creating a comfortable working environment so that you can get your year off to a good start.
1. Invest in good furniture
An uncomfortable chair not only makes it harder to concentrate on your studies, but it can also do long-term damage to your back. If you can, buy a comfortable one with lumbar support so that your posture doesn’t cause problems. If you have the room (and the money), don’t make do with a tiny desk – you need enough space to spread out your study materials.
2. Declutter and tidy
Mess creates stress, and a disorganized study area does not make for a productive student. Get rid of unnecessary clutter and tidy up what’s left, as you’ll be better able to order your thoughts if your surroundings are neat and orderly as well.
3. Buy nice stationery
Invest in some nice stationery that you enjoy using – pens, pencils, notepads, folders, paper, even things like coloured paper clips or Post-It notes. You’re more likely to want to study if you have the materials you like, and there’s nothing so satisfying as a good set of stationery.
4. Find some peace and quiet
You’re not going to be able to study productively if your little sister is screeching away on her violin in the room next door, or if various family members (or friends, if you’re at university) are constantly distracting you with chatter, arguing or trying to get you to help with the household chores. So lock yourself away with the door shut and put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door. Let your family or friends know whenever you’re studying so that they can try to keep the noise down. Alternatively, go and study in the library at school or university.
5. Music might help
Not everyone can concentrate with background music on, but many people find that listening to music can help increase their productivity and concentration levels. What’s more, music can also be effective at drowning out the background noise of family members or friends elsewhere in the house. Some kinds of music are admittedly more appropriate than others; heavy metal may be less conducive to concentration than some relaxing orchestral music! If you’re really serious about boosting your productivity, you could always try listening to some Mozart, which, it is claimed by some, makes you smarter…
6. Make your phone off limits
There are few things more distracting than the constant receiving of text messages or phone calls from your friends, so for the duration of each study period, your phone should be off limits. Switch it off and put it somewhere where you can’t see it. If you’re at home, you could even give it to your parents to look after for you so that you don’t succumb to the temptation of switching it on every few minutes just to check whether anyone’s tried to contact you.
7. Switch the TV off
No matter how well you might think you can work with the television on, the fact of the matter is that you will be far less productive if you try to get some homework done in front of it.
8. Stay away from Facebook
If you’re doing some work on your computer, or worse, the internet, the lure of Facebook can be irresistible. One solution is to deactivate your Facebook account for periods of intense study, but a less drastic answer to this problem is to install some software on your computer to create a distraction-free digital environment. Dark Room is one such programme, which fills the computer screen with your text document so that you can’t wander off to Facebook every five minutes. Another option is to use the Facebook Limiter to block your access to Facebook between certain times, allowing you to study.
Being organised is immensely important if you want to study effectively and increase your productivity. You need to know where to find notes quickly on a particular subject and you need a sensible way of storing all your study materials – your textbooks, notes, essays and anything else you may need when it comes to revision time. What’s more, you’ll need to be organised in how you plan your study time. Here are some ideas that will help.
9. Intelligent filing
Keep your notes organised by having a folder for each of the subjects you’re studying. Within each folder, use dividers to segregate your notes and essays for each of the topics you cover. For instance, an English literature folder might contain dividers for World War I poetry, William Blake’s poetry, the Shakespeare play you’re learning about and a novel you’re studying. Organising everything in this way means that you’ll always know where everything is, and all your notes and essays on each topic are kept in the same place. You’ll be very grateful for this organisation when it comes to revising!
10. Mirror your filing system on your computer
If you do a lot of your work on the computer, it’s just as important to file things intelligently so that you can find them quickly. Mirror your offline filing system on your computer, with a folder for each subject, and within that a folder for each topic. You could even divide topic folders up further, with a folder for essays and a folder for notes, for example. Alternatively, you could use Evernote
to help you organise your computer-based notes. We’ve covered Evernote in a previous article, and using it from the word go will make it even easier to revise from.
11. To Do Lists
Stay on top of your various homework assignments by maintaining a To Do list that includes deadlines. Nothing increases productivity like the motivation of being able to tick things off a list, and it’ll mean you never miss another deadline.
12. Try a Trello board
Trello is a project management tool used extensively by businesses, but it could just as easily be used to help you manage your day-to-day studies. The way it works is that you have several columns representing different stages or areas of the project – so for example, you could have a board with columns for each of your subjects – and within each column you have cards representing tasks that need doing.
You can assign deadlines to each card and add additional information onto the card. For example, one of your columns might be Geography, with cards such as ‘Essay on rivers’ and ‘Notes on glaciers’, each with deadlines imposed by teachers and details on what exactly is required of you. Once you’ve finished each task, you can drag and drop the card into a new column marked ‘Complete’. After using Trello for a while, you’ll wonder how you managed without it!
We now move on to one of the most fundamental aspect of increasing productivity: time management. One of the secrets to productive study is to make maximum use of the time you have available, so our next set of tips covers how to manage your time effectively.
13. Set study times
Set aside certain periods of time each day during which you will focus exclusively on studying. For instance, you might decide to get up early and fit in an hour’s study before school, and then another hour when you get back from school, and another three in the evening. Draw up a daily timetable for yourself and stick rigidly to the prescribed study times, but don’t forget to schedule in breaks as well.
14. Stop procrastinating
We know it’s easier said than done, but in order to boost your productivity, you’re going to have to stop procrastinating. Don’t put off til tomorrow what could be done today; don’t think to yourself that you’ll just check Facebook one more time before you start studying. Grasp the bull by the horns, implement the Facebook Limiter we mentioned earlier, and force yourself to knuckle down to your work.
15. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Don’t try to tackle too much work at once – break work into small, manageable chunks that you can comfortably handle during a particular study session. It’s demoralising and overwhelming if you have a huge amount of work sitting in front of you, so break it down into stages – for example, rather than setting yourself an entire essay to research and write in one go, break down the work into the preliminary research and notes, then the actual essay.
16. Don’t leave everything until the last minute
Even if you work better under the pressure of a looming deadline, it’s never advisable to leave any work until the last minute. Plan to complete work with plenty of time to spare to allow for any unexpected delays, such as taking longer to read something than expected, or longer to understand it. Finishing in plenty of time also then frees up more time for working on other things.
17. Work while you’re commuting
If you have a commute to school or university, make the most of your travel time by listening to audiobooks, or reading while on the train or bus. Not only will this heighten your exposure to the things you’re studying, but it will also help you absorb more information that will be of use when you come to sit down for a proper study session.
Physiological ways to improve productivity
We’ve now covered organisation, time management and working environment. But there are two other important ways in which you can boost your productivity: physiological factors and psychological factors. Let’s look at biological considerations first.
18. Eat well
What you eat can have a huge impact on your productivity; for example, certain foods make you lethargic and not eating enough will affect your concentration. Start the day with a hearty breakfast, preferably something that releases its energy slowly, such as porridge. This will keep you going for the whole morning. Get your ‘five a day’ by drinking fruit juice, snacking on fresh or dried fruit and having at least one or two portions of vegetables with dinner. Try not to snack on unhealthy foods such as crisps and chocolate, and never underestimate the power of ‘brain food’ (particularly the so-called ‘super-foods’, such as fish or blueberries)!
19. Drink plenty of water
Nothing kills concentration like dehydration, which makes you sluggish and headachy. Have a bottle of water with you at all times (or take regular breaks for water if you’re in a library and can’t have a bottle with you), and sip throughout the day.
20. Get a good night’s sleep each night
Try to get at least eight hours’ sleep every night. That means not staying up too late each night studying! Sleep plays an important part in converting information from short-term to long-term memory, so it’s actually helping you to learn!
Exercise boosts your well-being and releases endorphins – known as ‘happy hormones’ – the same chemical we get from eating chocolate. Experts recommend at least 20 minutes of brisk exercise each day; that’s enough to get your heart pumping and break out a sweat.
Psychological ways to improve productivity
Every bit as important as the physiological factors we’ve just discussed is psychology. In this final section, we look at some methods for improving your productivity by harnessing the power of the mind.
22. Adopt a positive mental attitude
It’s difficult to overstate the power of a positive mental attitude. Adopt a positive outlook on your studies, try to see the interest in everything and envision a favourable outcome to each bit of work (for example, imagine how pleased your teacher will be with your essay after all the hard work you’ve put in).
23. The power of routine
Getting yourself into a routine of eliminating distractions and studying at set times of day will help high levels of productivity become habit, making it less effort. If your brain expects to be studying at a particular time of day, you’ll find it easier to get into the right frame of mind for working productively.
24. Strength in numbers
From time to time, organise study groups with your friends who are studying the same subjects as you. Not only will you learn from each other by comparing notes and interpretations, but it also eases your burden because you’re not always having to motivate yourself to study alone.
25. Reward yourself
Don’t forget to reward yourself for all that hard work at regular intervals during study periods; for instance, you can have a bite to eat at the end of a chapter. This gives you something to look forward to and helps strengthen your motivation to work productively.
Hopefully these tips will help transform you into a super-productive version of yourself this year, and to keep up the momentum throughout the year. If you have any productivity tips of your own, do feel free to share them in the comments section below!