October 17th, 2014
Getting back to it after the Thanksgiving long-weekend can be tough. I find this time in mid-October is when I have a bit of a lull after some initial mid-terms and essay proposals, and it’s like the calm before the storm. All those big deadlines are approaching and I know I should get a head-start but like many people, I’ll always push the limits of each deadline, waiting until I absolutely have to start. Anyone else have this problem?
I have a love/hate relationship with the lack of structure that comes with being a student. I love being able to make my own schedule. I can spend a lot of time reading in coffee shops or decide that the middle of the day is when a nap would be an excellent idea. However, this also comes with the responsibility to set the goals, tasks, and pace of your work. It also means being accountable to yourself to meet your own mini-deadlines.
I’ve realized that for me, I struggle working ahead or handing assignments in before the last minute because I always think I can improve my work if I spend more time on it. I’ve learned that a great skill is learning to be satisfied with your work. Deciding that something is your best effort can be challenging- you have to tell that perfectionist devil on your shoulder that you’ve done your best, hit submit, and move on to the next task.
So, because you’re putting off your to-do list by taking a break and reading this blog, take some time and learn about some ways you can prioritize your workload, work ahead, and stay productive. I read somewhere once that taking one hour to plan saves you four hours. If you approach your work in a thoughtful, systematic way by breaking down large tasks into manageable smaller ones, it won’t seem so overwhelming. Here are 5 ways to get better at getting stuff done:
1. Figure out what works for you.
I’m most productive and creative first thing in the morning, and I’ve learned to plan to do most of my writing, research or studying in the morning, and to leave reading and other more passive activities for the late afternoon/ evening. It took me a while to figure out that late-night cramming really doesn’t work for me, I’m generally hopeless after 8pm. However, for some people- night time is when they feel most creative/alert and produce their best work. Figure out what time of day you feel most motivated and alert and plan to tackle your most challenging tasks or tasks which require the most focus at this time.
2. Change Settings
Sometimes a change of scenery can have a huge impact on my motivation. Working from home, while convenient, is a little too comfortable and quiet. Sometimes, I like the background noise of a bustling coffee shop, or the studious hush of a library- but either way, getting out of the house to do work gives it a bit more purpose. I also find it really rewarding to cross everything off my to-do list that day before I return home, and it helps create a balance between my work/home life. Checkout my previous post for my favourite study spots on campus.
3. Reward Yourself
Setting mini goals can make you feel like you’re getting tonnes done, and promising yourself rewards after completing a task can be really motivating to0- whether that’s another latte, or a break to spend some time with friends (or Netflix). There is a lot of evidence that shows taking breaks actually helps your productivity- in other words, cramming like a mad scientist isn’t the best way to get stuff done. Check out this Globe and Mail article which lists 10 ways taking a break will help you.
4. Attend a Grad Talks Workshop
It’s great to get together with others who are facing the same issues as you and learn together. An upcoming Grad Talk on Nov. 20th at Grad Room will help you learn how to manage time and manage conflict in grad studies. Visit the School of Graduate Studies Website to register.
Extra Credit: Here’s a list of engaging TED talks on productivity.
What are your top productivity tips?