There is no denying that we lead increasingly fast-paced lives in a society that is largely fixated on personal productivity. We buy books on how to get things done and dream about a future in which we can finally relax. All the while that nagging feeling in our stomachs keeps telling us to be more productive!
College students are under even more scrutiny, often being told that the key to productivity is better time management. Just plan your schedule better and you will get more done, they say. If you’re anything like me, despite meeting deadlines and completing tasks, I constantly feel like I’m not being productive enough. With classes, assignments, exams, and for some a job, how could you possibly be doing more? There simply isn’t time. So I asked, is time management the only key component to being more productive?
While time management is important, the other critical ingredient to productivity is attention management. All this means is prioritizing what matters, and then focusing on getting those things done. Might sound similar to time management, but it isn’t. The key difference is that time management can be daunting. There are only 24 hours in a day, of which we spend at least 12 hours on activities like eating, sleeping, using the bathroom, and commuting. So when we give yourselves two hours to finish an important task, we often get overwhelmed. In turn, not finishing within the time frame you desired makes you feel inadequate. Now we’re stuck in a cycle!
Our average life spans consist of around 4,000 weeks. Doesn’t sound like much when you put it in weeks does it? So it is inevitable to think that we need to use our time wisely. As a college student, the sense of feeling overwhelmed can engulf you. Relax, we’ve got your back! Here is a list of tips to help you remember that a combination of attention management and time management could help you be more productive. Because we know that everyone is different, you don’t have to follow all the tips. For instance, you might be a morning person, and therefore most productive during the first half of the day. Just chose the tips that suit you best, and try to incorporate them into your life!
- Strategize: Ask yourself why you think you are not being as productive as you would like. Maybe you’re burnt out, have too many distractions around, or you’re trying to multitask too much. Take your time with this step. Observe your daily routine, and how you feel throughout the day. When are you most anxious maybe? Getting to the root of your problem will help you think of solutions that will nip the issue at its core.
- It’s About the When: Figure out at what point in the day you feel most productive and focused. Save that time for the tasks you feel are important and will need your attention. This may mean doing a boring task that you were putting off for later. That’s okay, do a moderately interesting task before you start the boring one. Studies have found that doing a moderately interesting task before a boring task helps you power through! And then you can move onto the most exciting task as a reward. It’s all about the
- Set Realistic Goals: Now that you know when you work best, and the order of your tasks both priority and interest wise, you can get cracking. Setting realistic goals means using attention management to focus on the task at hand and not the tasks to come. If you need help planning this, here is a list of apps you can use.
- Don’t Multitask: Trying to do multiple things at once usually slows down progress, and could also diminish the quality of your work. In fact, recent neuroscience research shows that human beings cannot multitask in the way that we’d hoped. All we do is switch tasks quickly. So, finish one task and only then move onto the next. But don’t switch between tasks. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Ambition is good, but striking a balance between being ambitious and doing too much is what will help you to be more productive.
- Cut Distractions: Distractions come in many forms. For most of us, distraction equals social media. If you know that social media is a major source of procrastination but you can’t shake your addiction, get help! No, I’m not saying you need a doctor. I’m saying, maybe try using this app that actually tells you how much time you spend on social media platforms. And you can set time limits on your usage! I know, it’s hard, but we all need tough love sometimes. If you need some more help, here are some tips on how to break up with your phone.
- Be Mindful of Your Distractions: Here’s where attention management comes back into play. You may successfully cut out your distractions but it is likely that you will not be able to sustain this without mindfulness. For instance, actively think about how much you use social media, or even just pick up your phone when you have to work. Be thoughtful about the timing of those distractions.
“If you’re trying to be more productive don’t analyze how you spend your time. Analyze what consumes your attention.”
- Adam Grant, The New York Times
- Declutter: Your physical work environment, whether for college or a job, actually does affect your work. Research has found that not having to look for something you need under your clutter improves long term productivity. Plus, you’ll save time! So, if you’re the kind of person who thinks this will help, here are a few tips on decluttering.
- Take A Step Back To Reflect: Now that you’re not in as much of a hurry to cram everything into one day, take some to reflect on your day’s work. If you have multiple projects coming up, relax. Go oversteps one to three. Find your balance and start with one project at a time
- Take Enough Breaks: We often forget to stand up and stretch, drink water, and walk around when we’re “in the zone.” I still have to remind myself to do this but I cannot stress the importance of taking regular breaks. Breaks help you de-stress and re-charge. This, in turn, boosts your productivity. Studies show that short breaks drastically improve your ability to focus on the task at hand. It’s okay and healthy to take mini-breaks throughout the day.
- Exercise: I know there is no need to explain the importance of exercise. I also know that, for a lot of people, incorporating exercise into their lives can be extremely difficult. If you can find the time to fit in even 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week, do it. Exercising and productivity are shown to have a positive correlation. It certainly helped me be more productive through college and is now helping me through my adult life.
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