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5 Ways to Get More Stuff Done During the Day

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

8 thoughts on “5 Ways to Get More Stuff Done During the Day”

  1. Marvelous!and Miraculous!!! Simply Delicious and very much appreciated! I am 39 returning to do an academic U-turn for a pre-med post -bach and am super psyched- and/…tired right now because I just decided that Med school was definitely the goal and have been up reading your magnificent work and blog since two am this morning!!!! Thank you Cal for the Inspiration for reminding me of the “Straight A’s I once knew how to achieve and you have given me so much confidence in reminding me what I knew that was hidden in the depth of my experience and adulterated and now un-earthed! With much gratitude and looking forward to knowing we all are support for each other… Thank you . Gary the Enthused!!!!

  2. Um, no, refusing to check your e-mail is a terrible idea. Professors often send out important messages like changed deadlines, canceled classes, etc. as little as 10 minutes before a class is supposed to start. It takes about 5 seconds to check your e-mail to make sure nothing important is in your inbox, and then go about your day. It would be irresponsible not to check my e-mail throughout the day.

  3. Um, no, refusing to check your e-mail is a terrible idea. Professors often send out important messages like changed deadlines, canceled classes, etc. as little as 10 minutes before a class is supposed to start

    Your argument for checking your e-mail throughout the day (and thus tanking your productivity and focus) is that it’s possible that a professor might e-mail you 10 minutes before class to cancel the class or change a deadline.

    Okay, let’s assume you miss such an e-mail. If the professor canceled class 10 minutes before you might show up at class and find out that it’s canceled. If he moved a deadline you’ll find out about it during class. What difference does 10 minutes advanced notice make? I’m not seeing an issue here.

    I check my e-mail in around lunch and at the end of the workday and have never had a problem. Instead of trying to justify your current behavior why not give this a try for a week?

  4. It takes less time to check your e-mail than to walk to your class. Many of my classes are easily a 20-minute walk on my huge campus. I would rather “waste” five seconds than the 40 minutes it would take to walk to class and back for no reason. Also, I am a research assistant for one of my professors and sometimes he e-mails me, for instance, at 1 in the afternoon (after lunch) to ask if I can come in to the lab at 3:30 to run subjects. He knows he can rely on me because I check me e-mail several times throughout the day.

    Really, even if I checked my e-mail 10 times a day, considering it only takes about 5 seconds unless there is an important e-mail that I can’t wait until later to open, it wastes less than one minute a day.

  5. How about having him send a text message to your phone instead of checking your email. This can be done from the internet easily. Also, if you go to a decent school the chances class will be canceled on a frequent basis should be slim. I personally try to avoid the internet/email when studying because it breaks my concentration and is probably the greatest time suck known to man.


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