Whether you are a newly minted freshman or a stressed out junior, our nine tips for increasing productivity in college will help you organize your life for optimal performance and satisfaction.
1. Get a Full Night’s Sleep
Getting a full night’s sleep is the key to increasing productivity in college. I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “Tell me something I don’t know,” or, “Who has time to sleep?” With full course loads, and busy social calendars, 24 hours doesn’t feel like enough. To get everything done, most students resort to all-nighters (I’ll admit, I had my fair share of them in college). Studies show, however, that “‘poor sleep is associated with lower productivity.’” Meaning, if you aren’t sleeping well, it’s going to take you longer to get those assignments done.
Working smarter, not harder, is the name of the game here. A 2019 study of college students found that “longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, and greater sleep consistency were associated with better academic performance.” This is because students who sleep enough, consistently, are more productive!
So how do you get enough sleep in college so you can be productive?
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Turn off the lights (bonus points for a sleep mask! I used this one throughout college).
- Shut off your devices for at least an hour before bed.
Though it’s easy to fall into bad sleep habits in college, getting enough sleep is the best way to improve your productivity, and get more done, in college!
2. Hit the Library
When you’re living in the dorms, or in an off-campus apartment, it can be hard to find a quiet space to study. Take advantage of your campus’ libraries! Libraries offer a quiet, distraction-free place to study, improving your productivity and focus. You’ll be able to concentrate on your work, without worry of being derailed by your friends or roommates.
To make your library session even more productive, plan ahead! Make a list of all of the assignments you need to complete and areas you plan to study, so you can stay on track during your study session. You should also ensure you have all of the supplies you need, such as textbooks, notebooks, and pens.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget a water bottle! Staying hydrated increases brain cognition and focus, helping you study more effectively.
Many libraries also offer study rooms, which you can reserve in advance. If you need a little extra quiet to get your work done, or you’re studying in a group, take advantage of this resource.
3. Track Your Deadlines
One of the best ways to stay on track during college is to put all of your deadlines in your calendar at the beginning of the semester. When juggling multiple classes, it can be difficult to keep on top of every due date. Take some time at the beginning of the semester to go through your syllabi and add every due date, paper, and exam to your calendar. This will allow you to keep track of assignments in one place, making it easier to remember what you need to work on each week!
4. Break Up Your Study Session
Taking breaks while you study allows you to work more efficiently, so you can get your work done faster. Next time you hit the library, try studying for short periods of time and taking purposeful breaks in between each session. During these breaks, allow yourself to rest. Take a short walk outside, listen to music, stretch, or call a friend (or your parents!). Try to avoid scrolling on your phone! Research shows that checking social media or using your phone doesn’t actually give us a mental break, so it’s best to do something else to recharge instead.
One of the most popular methods to break up your study session is the Pomodoro Technique. To use the Pomodoro Technique, select a single task to focus on for your session and set a timer for 25 minutes. Work on that task until your timer goes off, and mark your place. Then, take a five minute break to rest and recharge. After repeating the 25 minutes on / 5 minutes off cycle 3-4 times, you should take a longer break to recharge. 20-30 minutes is generally a good length for your long break.
If you try it out, let us know how it goes in the comments below!
5. Create an Intentional To-Do List
As the semester gets busier, we often find ourselves overwhelmed with homework, meetings, applications, and chores. During these times, one thing I am guilty of is creating an endless list of all the major and minor tasks I want to get done (knowing that I will not get to most of them). While it may be helpful to keep track of all the tasks you would like to get done, when it comes to creating your to-do list make sure it is intentional.
Making a list of tasks you need to accomplish can be a step in the right direction for getting things done. However, if your list is too long it might make you feel more swamped. Instead of creating a to-do list of everything you want to get done, jot down the top three or five things you know must get done that day. If you are not able to get to all the things on your list, do not fret, they can be first on your list the next day. Creating an intentional list of a few tasks is more inviting and manageable. It can also help you feel more accomplished after completing each task and motivate you to keep going!
6. Find a Study Buddy
Studying with a buddy can keep you on track and increase motivation. Research by the University of Washington shows that students learn more when studying in a group. Not only can you share information with one another, but it is also a lot easier to stay motivated when you have someone keeping you accountable. If you need to get work done, invite a friend to hit the library with you. You can form a game plan while you walk over, and check in with one another periodically to see where you’re at. When someone else is working alongside you, you’ll be less likely to slack off and actually get your work done! Studying with a buddy also gives you someone to take breaks with, helping you recharge throughout your work session.
7. Figure out when you work best
Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you find yourself feeling more productive during specific times throughout the day? Our circadian rhythms have an effect on our bodies’ functions, such as our sleep schedules. Whether you consider yourself a night owl, early bird, or somewhere in between, create a study schedule that works for you. Figure out what time you work best. If you work better in the morning, consider doing the tasks that take the most energy in the morning and completing the easier ones later in the day when you do not feel as productive. On the other hand, if staying up late to get your work done and sleeping-in works better for you, that’s okay! Working with your biological clock rather than against it can help you save time and avoid stress.
8. Know your limits
During the beginning of the semester it is easy to overextend yourself by taking on several extracurriculars in addition to your course load and work. As the semester progresses, you might find yourself sacrificing your free time or even sleep to get everything done. It is important to know your limits. To avoid burn out, make sure you schedule time to decompress and recover. After a while of maintaining a busy schedule, it may feel like the norm. Burn out is hard to spot, especially when you routinely disregard your needs. Set time aside to spend time with friends, exercise, make art, read, or get in touch with your inner child. By meeting your mind and body’s needs you can continue to feel good and motivated.
9. You’ve got this!
Procrastination can often get the best of us. I often find myself putting off work because I do not know how to approach it or fear that my first attempt will turn out bad. I find G.K Chesterson’s quote, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first!” to help motivate me to take the first step.
I have found comfort in this quote and use it as a reminder that getting started is the first step.
We’d love to know your tips for increasing productivity in college. Let us know down in the comments!
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This post was written by Samantha Scheinfeld, who is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California, and Priscilla Abrego, who is a junior at Scripps College. Samantha graduated magna cum laude with a double major and Pisci is rockin’ the Dean’s List at Scripps – it’s great advice! – Julie Farrell