We all know the feeling, student or 9-5-er, you have an essay is due at the end of the week, a major presentation to do tomorrow and probably a mega to-do list which is just staring you in the face and all you can think is ‘where has my motivation gone?’, ‘how am I going to get this all done?’. So, I am by no means an expert in the field of productivity, right now alone I am writing a blog post when I should be planning an essay, and my Instagram feed gets more attention in a day than my emails do. However, I am getting better, and it’s all thanks to a few life hacks I have discovered along the way.
- Pomodoro technique
A more recent discovery, the Pomodoro technique is perfect for anyone who can’t leave their phone alone, or struggles to stay focused for long periods of time. In essence, it works as a ‘work for a bit, break for a bit’ system, I have an app that times 25 minutes, after 25 minutes it alarms and times 5 minutes. The idea being you work solidly for those 25, and then take 5 minutes to get up and walk, look at your phone or go to the loo. After 4, solid, 25 minute sessions, it then gives you a 25-minute break to properly stretch your legs and refresh. This technique really made me learn just how much time I spend on my phone, and how easy it is to work if you are just giving yourself small manageable chunks.
- Prioritise your to-do list
Dad taught me this one a while ago. It’s really easy to make a long list of things to do, stare at it and the freak out and try and frantically tick things off as soon as possible. But, as hard as it is to accept, it isn’t effective and means all the big important things or things you don’t want to do, get shoved to the bottom of the list until its almost too late. The aim instead, should be to make a list of what you need to get done, and then rank them first by importance and then by urgency. Then order your to-do list by placing the most urgent and most important tasks at the top of your list, and the things you have more time for or aren’t as important further down. This forces you to be more effective and stops you from ignoring the things you don’t want to do.
- Break it up with achievable goals
Along with your to-do list, make sure you set yourself achievable goals for the day. Rather than setting yourself broad tasks to ‘write an entire essay’, or ‘research for a presentation’ in just one day, break up whatever you have to do into manageable goals. Having unrealistic goals will stress you out and drain your motivation if you don’t get it done. If you have an essay due, each day set a minimum amount of words you need to have written by the time you go home, if you meet it, you are on track, if you exceed it then not only do you feel great, but it takes the pressure off tomorrow. The same with anything else you do, instead of ‘researching for a presentation’ tell yourself that by the end of the day you need to read 15 articles, or by 2pm you need a plan for a meeting, or 10am you need to reply to 10 emails; that way you have a tangible goal which gives yourself a sense of achievement.
- Eat away from your desk
I can’t stress enough how much better it is for your mental wellbeing and productivity to take regular breaks away from your computer screen. As I have already explained, the Pomodoro technique really helps you stick to taking regular moments away from your desk to stretch your legs or check your phone. The same should be said for lunch time. It’s so easy when you have so much to do to just eat your lunch as you read emails or proof an essay but in the long run it just tires you out. Set a time with a friend to grab lunch and go somewhere else to eat it, even if you just take 30 minutes, you can even plan it so it fits with your 25 minute Pomodoro break. That 25/30 minutes away from the screen, mixed with some human interaction, calms your mind, brings you back to work refreshed so you focus better and means you enjoy your food rather than shovelling it down as an after-thought.
Extra top tip – Bring a packed/ prepped lunch to campus or work – that way you don’t waste time waiting in queues, and bonus, you’ll probably eat something healthier.
- Know when to move on
So, you have set yourself a task, but you’ve been working on it for hours, you feel tired, everything you do is taking much longer, and you aren’t really focusing properly anymore. Know when to stop what you’re doing and move on. So many times, I have sat and proof-read an essay over and over again, changing things left, right and centre to the point where I just don’t read it through properly and miss obvious mistakes. Once I notice it is taking me what seems like hours to read one document, I know I need to switch it up. So, I might be proofing at 5pm and I’ve lost the will to keep reading but, I still want to be productive, this is the time I close down the essay and do something mindless like write up my bibliography, reply to some emails, or write tomorrow’s to-do list. There is no shame in leaving a task till later that day or the next morning so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes and produce something better. Doing something quick and easy in the last hour or half hour of your day instead of packing it in, means you’re still productive and you save yourself a job for tomorrow by prepping your to-do’s the day before or replying to one or two emails.
So these tips might not be revolutionary, but I hope at least they serve as a reminder to some of you who are stuck in a rut of deadlines and to-do lists!