A common complain I hear from students: “There just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done!”
It’s a sad story: The morning starts optimistic. You sketch out a large, ambitious to-do list. Then life intercedes. “Important” e-mails come in. Friends drop by. A surprise meeting. By the time midnight rolls around very little actually got done.
This can be incredibly frustrating! Fortunately, much of this frustration can be avoided with the right habits. Here are 5 simple ways to extract more productivity from your day:
- Exile E-mail
You are not a CEO. No disasters will occur if your incoming messages are not immediately read. Wait until lunch to check your e-mail for the first time in the day. Spend the morning in classes and working. After lunch, wait until dinner to check it again. Spend the afternoon in classes in working. After dinner, when you settle down to relax, go nuts. Check it as often as you want. Wire your blackberry directly to your frontal lobe. Whatever. You’ll be surprised how much more you get done during the day without this constant distraction.
- Disable Your Wireless Adapter When Studying
When you bring your laptop to the library to study, your first step should be to disable your wireless connection. (Go to the list of available wireless networks, select the school network you are connected to, click disconnect). Without the Internet connection, you can avoid the frequent impulse to jump online to see how your Facebook wall is doing. Again, you’ll be surprised by how quickly things get accomplished without frequent interruptions.
- Use Time Blocks Instead of a To-Do List
The problem with a to-do list is that it does not take into account how much time you have available during the day. Exasperating the problems is our innate bias to overestimate our free time. A quick solution is to replace a to-do list with time blocks. Actually describe when during the day you are going to do each action on your list. By blocking the time, you gain two advantages. One, a realistic understanding of how much you can actually fit into your day. Two, a schedule. You don’t have to decide, moment to moment, whether or not you should be working. This has already been figured out.
- Create a Morning Routine
Slow starts in the morning are a major source of wasted time. During the week, get up at the same time every day. Even if hung-over. You’re young: you’ll recover. Grab a quick breakfast from the same place and head to the same study location to get some pre-class work done. In addition to freeing up some extra time this habit builds up some productivity momentum that will serve you for the rest of the day.
- Consolidate Mosquito Tasks
Even college students can grow long lists of non-academic tasks. Laundry. Call home. Pay cell phone bill. Return library books. Request transcript from Registrar. Buy birthday gift for Mom. These can add up. This causes stress. They can also shred you concentration by forcing you to keep wasting time swatting the tasks as they pop up on your radar. A simple tactic: pick one half-hour block each day in which to tackle all of the small, non-academic tasks that need to get done. Right before or after dinner is a good time. By doing them all at once you minimize the time required. The habit also helps assure you that they will get done — reducing stress.