Well, as someone who has been in college for almost four years, and is still studying two universities, I’ve had my fair share of going through dozens of webpages promising to make me a better, and a more productive student. Some have worked for only a few days, some weeks. After those periods of amazing productivity, I usually found myself yet again going through tears and breakdowns because I had to (yet again) use the one-night-policy to finish a 2000 word essay due tomorrow morning. And I’m not even exaggerating.
So here is my general tips to be a better, more productive student, (and part time worker).
- Do you care? Before you commit yourself to doing anything, ask yourself, do you care about it? Does it contribute to your growth, either professional or personal? I know college is the time you do crazy shit to “ discover who you are”. By all means, try something new. You don’t have to care deeply about it, but the point is, you should have a concrete reason before you attempt to put anything on your to-do list even if the reason is just to know how it feels. A note for the overachievers though. Don’t try to bite off so much more than you can chew. Spend some time, days even to meditate and find out what you want to focus on and plan accordingly.
- Have a plan.Time management is a very diverse technique. There’s simply no one-size-fits-all method that miraculously helps you become the master of your time. You can seriously find a dozen different strategies, and I highly encourage you to conduct your own search. Here is just how I’ve tailored it to suit my personal preferences. It’s been working for me, by far. I follow “ bullet journal” style of journaling. It’s basically a combination between a journal and a to-do list. Here is a video tutorial on how you can make your own. My bullet journal consists of three main sections.
- First, it’s the Future Log.Basically, you write down any task that comes into your mind, but you do not have the time to plan or think about it yet. For example, just a few days ago, I had the thought of wanting to learn Khom, a type of khmer martial art. Obviously, there needs to research and some asking around as to where it can be practiced. Therefore, “to learn martial art” is put into the future log. I normally review the future log once a day or once every a couple of days based on the business of the day which leads us to the second section:
- The Monthly Log: here is where I put all the deadlines and tasks in their respective day. I guess you guys have probably heard of the big and small stone approach to your time management. Basically, you put the most important tasks in your to-do first. For example, if you are a student, your goal is to have grade As. That can’t happen if you don’t invest your time in studying. Therefore, you might want to block out specific time of everyday of the week that are exclusively used for your studying. You might have a morning class starting from 8am to 11am. Then you might want to block out 30 minutes before each class for a quick review of the material, and 1 hour after each class to review and organize your lecture notes. Now, after you have blocked out all the important tasks, you have some spare time blocks. Those are for your smaller stones. Maybe you might use them for laundry, hanging out with friends, or read. It’s your choice. Anyway, when you have a temporary task from your future log and you wanna start it. Here’s how I go about it because god knows I’ve so many temporary projects in my future logs.
To use the example for the first point, say, I now have enough time to seriously consider learning martial art. To do it, I would have to do a few tasks: (1) ask for information from a friend who’s learning it; (2) check out or go try it first and (3) allocate the money for the training payment. After dividing the goal into smaller tasks like this, I would look at my monthly log and see where I can squeeze them in. Say, I would message my friend on Monday tomorrow, and based on her information, I would go check the place out on Wednesday evening. Then I would check my bank account and make sure I have enough for the class on Friday afternoon. After planning this, you should write it down on the monthly logs.
- Everyday, you should have a daily to-do list to keep your at the top of your game, and it is the last section of my bullet journal. You just simply go over to your monthly log, see what date it is, and then write down all the tasks that you plan to do that day. I like to check the task after I finish it. That’s instant gratification right there! However, we are only humans, and god knows how much we are prone to procrastination. Most of the time, you can’t finish what you have set out to do. Your house might get on fire during the day, or you might “ accidentally” nap the afternoon away, leaving two or three things undone. Don’t you worry. Just put a little forward arrow near the task to indicate that it’s been moved to the next day, or any day that is appropriate. Give yourself some room for mistake. Now here’s what I love about bullet journals, after setting up your daily to-do, you can basically write anything you want. I write phrases that catch my fancy, new project ideas, sketches, and reflections as they come, and it has helped my immensely!
Here are some tips for bullet journaling. Get yourself some colorful pens. Seriously, it makes your journal so much prettier. Another tip is to get an aesthetically pleasing journal that just beckons you to touch it. I got my journals of all sizes from IBC Monivong Blvd. The brand is SHANG MO and they have those little ornaments on the edges of the cover that just satisfies my soul! Also, here’s another tip, some people prefer to plan their days out in the early morning. That doesn’t work for me because just by thinking of deciding what to do right after waking makes me NOT want to wake up. I now plan the day the night before, so that I can sleep knowing full well of what tasks I need to do as soon as I wake up.
- JUST DO IT!No, that doesn’t really work. No matter how many times you repeat Shia LaBeouf’s legendary video, you still end up getting distracted and off course. As someone who has long battled with distraction, and procrastination, here are some tips that I can offer you, along with my sympathy.
- INTERNET: Yup. The internet is the number one distraction among all the other evils of the human kind. You think you are just going to spend one minute finding a relevant data. Then before you know it, you find yourself stalking your ex’s ex’s new boyfriend, and finding out that he’s your grade 12 classmate. If it’s possible, you can switch the wi-fi off if your work does not demand it. I usually do my translation work off the net because that would boost the productivity to the roof! However, if the nature of your work demands that you stay connected, you can try Momentum. (click here to get it). It’s basically an app that provides a very sleek homepage, to-do list, and your focus for the day. The reminder is enough to guilt-trip me and urge me to close all those irrelevant taps and focus on my task at hand. Look at how beautiful this majestic app is.
- TIME CHUNKS: now, you guys all know we cannot possibly expect ourselves to be doing work on hours on end without a break. I guess you guys have already heard of the Pomodoro technique. It’s pretty simple. You work for say 25-30 minutes because that’s the average time a person can focus at a time, and take a break for 5-10 minutes. After three of four consecutive sessions, you can reward yourself a big break of say, 15-20 minutes. It plays on the fact that we need momentum and a certain amount of time to “ get in the zone” as they say. You can do it manually, or you can do it the awesome way by using the app TIDE (search for Tide: Pomodoro Technique Timer & White Noise on App Store). I just discovered it recently, and it’s my appsolute (hah!) favorite. First of all, it’s free. You can choose a certain background noise; my favorite is tide. Then you can set to work. It will count down the minutes for you, and remind you when the break time is. Bonus point for its beautifully serene wallpapers, too. You can customize your own period of focus and break time. Mine is 30 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break. Seriously, look at how beautiful this is.
- Neutralization: after you’re done with something, get it off! Remove all the taps that you’re done with and all the books after your research from your desk. Seeing a clear desk, and a new homepage cuts your brain the frustration and trauma from the past projects. If you can’t remove the taps just yet, but have to start another project, you can use a new window and pretend the old one is not even there.
- Water bottle: I’ve written on my Facebook post about the benefits of a reusable water bottle and it’s come to play yet again. More often than not, we become so absorbed in the work that we don’t hydrate ourselves enough. Keep a mug, glass of water, or a bottle of water close by. During every break, or while you’re waiting for something to load, sip some water. Research has also shown that you shouldn’t sit for a prolong period of time due to health problems. By sipping some water every now and then, you will want to pee regularly; therefore, you will have to leave your work station and pee. Good skin, and health. Two birds, one stone.
Some general tips for better productivity: keep a plant on your desk. It just makes your desk a better place to be. I like to keep my desk relatively stuff-free to give me a clearer frame of mind. Now, the last tip is, explore and try new techniques. Find what feels good for you. 😉