You stare at a pile of notes and your list of to-dos continues to increase every day. The number of impending deadlines is overwhelming so you attempt to sit down and work. However, your brain would rather inspect that random mark on your wall than be productive. You get a notification, open it, and suddenly you are riding the procrastination train again. Sounds familiar? You are not alone.
Truth is, it can be very easy to fall prey to the traps of procrastination, and even if you are not procrastinating, you may still struggle to find the time to get through all of your assignments. I wrestled with the latter while not realizing how much time I was spending staring at my computer screen, telling myself I was studying, without getting any work done. I would finish my day exhausted and yet have very little to show for my efforts.
Here I share a five-step plan to conquer the day that worked for me while juggling a personal life, a part-time job, and my graduate schoolwork.
Step 1: Designate and organize your workspace
The way our minds function is funny. We must first train our brains to know when and where to do work. Having an organized workspace will not only save you time in the long run but also raise your spirits and get you in the mood.
Every morning, after I get through my routine, I grab a cup of coffee and I bring it to my home office. I then neatly put away any leftover papers from the day before, remove any empty cups, open the windows to allow natural light in, and sit down to work.
I find that minimalistic designs and simple workspaces are best for me as there are fewer distractions to steal my attention. You do not need to have a fancy setup, private office, or expensive equipment. Just find a quiet and comfortable area you can call your own.
Step 2: Start small
There is nothing worse than staring at a pile of papers or a list of to-dos that requires scrolling through. Picking one small task to start with and successfully completing that task will set the mood for the rest of the day. You will find that completing one task gives you the energy to complete another small task and, before you know it, you have checked off several items on your list. It is key that you choose something that you can easily accomplish in a few minutes. That way you avoid staring at a huge item without having the energy to start. For me, this is making my bed in the mornings but don’t take my word for it, let Admiral McRaven tell you all about it!
If you want to change the world, make your bed — William H. McRaven
I have also learned to incorporate other small activities into my larger projects to help me get through the slumps where I do not want to work. Are you having trouble getting to write that paper? Pick up that coffee mug from this morning, fluff your pillows, start your laundry machine, take your pet on a potty break. Avoid going down the rabbit hole of social media as much as you can. What you tell yourself will be two minutes often turns into an hour or more of unproductive scrolling.
Step 3: Divide large projects into tasks and assign tasks to each day
Oftentimes we stare at projects, papers, assignments and think “it is just too much 😩”. This paralyzing feeling can set you back a few hours which could otherwise be employed productively. A great way to avoid this is to set up small goals. Do you have to write a paper? Don’t sit down to “write a paper”. Sit down to write one paragraph. Breaking down projects into manageable chunks is a great way to stay on track and make sure you are meeting deadlines without burning the midnight oil. Reward yourself after each completed task!
As an online student, I find that it can be so easy to just procrastinate, sleep in late, and wait until the impending doom of missing a deadline. Every week, on Mondays, I compile a list of all things that need to get done that week. I then use the weekly planner feature within OpusOne to divide the work into manageable portions and assign a few to each day. This practice saves me from scheduling two heavy assignments for the same day and allows me to determine how busy a certain day will be. Additionally, when life happens, and I find myself having to deal with an unforeseeable circumstance, I have the freedom to change the daily tasks for lighter ones.
Step 4: Employ time management techniques
So you set up your workspace, broke down the to-dos, and started your day off right but you are still scrolling through social media instead of actually working.
Assign yourself study blocks and respect them. Put away your phone, turn off your notifications, and pick one task. I have raved about the benefits of the Pomodoro Technique to literally everyone I know, but the truth is that you do not need to follow in my steps because any other block method will work. The reason why this particular technique is perfect for me is that the 25-minutes blocks are long enough for me to finish tasks and goals while also being short enough for me to feel like I can easily insert other actions into my day. This is particularly helpful when I have to return work calls, answer emails, or just plainly want to socialize. I will usually set my status on chats as “Riding the 🍅 train” so people know that I will only check my inbox every 25 minutes.
Step 5: Find support and hold yourself accountable
The last step to this productivity plan calls for socialization. There is absolutely no point in setting a timer if you will not respect it. Let your friends know you are studying and share your current projects with those around you. This will help you get excited to complete the tasks. Also, knowing that there is someone out there expecting to see your results will help you remain accountable for your time management. As an online student, I found that feelings of isolation were often detrimental to my performance. Find your groove within the online community and engage them to keep you accountable!
Did you enjoy this article and want to read more student tips? Check out The online student’s guide to making friends and finding peers in the age of COVID.