For many students, 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week are simply not enough!
I’m currently in my second year of grad school, so I definitely understand the craziness of student life. During my undergrad I tried all sorts of unsustainable ways to balance my time between three part-time jobs, classes, and a school sports team.
One day I caught myself waterproofing my notes so that I could study in the shower, and realized that there had to be a better way to use my time. Thankfully, there is (which is good news because shower studying isn’t effective)!
The strategies in this article may not add hours to your day, but you’ll be able to use the time you have more efficiently. Seriously, it’s been years since my last all-nighter, I’ve kept both a high GPA and my job at MakeUseOf, and I’ve had lots of time for fun (and sleep).
Finding more time for school isn’t impossible, it just takes a little bit of work.
Start Your Morning Off Right
Whether or not you’re a morning person, it’s important to start your day off on the right foot!
Listen to Your Alarm
Getting a couple tasks done first thing in the morning sets the rest of your day up for success. You don’t need to become a morning person, but try to avoid hitting snooze or forgetting to set an alarm entirely. If you struggle to listen to your normal alarm clock, there are great alarm apps out there that might be a better fit.
Don’t Get Stuck on Social Media
Once you wake up, it’s easy to stay in bed aimlessly switching between Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter on your phone. This can eat up tons of your time in the morning, and is a huge drain on your productivity.
Try one of these options to break this habit:
- Put your phone or computer across the room from your bed. And once you’re up, don’t go back under the covers!
- Set a second alarm for when you need to stop checking social media.
- Only check your notifications before getting out of bed, and don’t scroll through any newsfeeds.
- Set limits on your phone use through an app like Moment, (OffTime), or AppDetox.
Know What’s Going On
Okay, you’re out of bed. Now what? Take five minutes to look at your calendar and to figure out your plan for the day. Staying on top of your assignments and having a semester-based plan for how you will tackle them is key for productivity. Many people like to set this up individually using their existing calendar client or a paper-based planner.
However, there are also great apps specifically designed for students like StudyCal and iStudiez. In addition to normal calendar functions you can also track your grades, set assignment reminders, and organize key course information.
Make Your Time at School Count
If you’re like most students, you spend a lot of time on campus! Take advantage of breaks between or during classes to get some work done instead of wasting time on social media or Netflix.
While you’re in class, these tips and tools can help you use your time effectively:
- Go to class. I know that sometimes professors are boring, or that you think you can learn more on your own. The fact of the matter is that if you go to class and focus while you’re there, you’ll save a lot of time when you’re studying for exams.
- Take good notes. If you’re sitting in lecture absently staring at a slideshow, of course you aren’t going to absorb any information! Use a multi-purpose note-taking app like Notability, Microsoft OneNote, or Evernote to capture detailed notes on any device.
- Distract yourself productively. Sometimes it’s truly impossible to focus in class. But, instead of doing some online shopping or going on Facebook, try to do something productive instead. This could mean doing research for a paper in the course, reviewing project outlines, or doing course readings.
No matter how perfect your schedule is, you likely have a few awkward breaks throughout your day. It’s important to take some time to eat, go for a walk, and clear your head. However, you can also get a lot of small tasks out of the way without increasing your stress level!
Keep a running to-do list of five-minute tasks that you can work on throughout your day. This list can be on paper, on your phone’s native note app, or on a specific to-do list app like Wunderlist. Tasks could be sending an email, editing a page of an assignment, or completing three homework problems.
In addition, your options increase if you use a cloud-based program like Google Drive for your ongoing projects and assignments. If you save documents and slideshows to the cloud, you can access them from any device — meaning that you can make changes from a campus computer or your phone in a pinch!
If you have longer breaks during your school days, do you have time to accomplish a larger task? You could use this time for a trip to the campus gym, a meeting with a professor, or a coffee date with a friend.
Avoid the After School Slump
It’s so easy to come home from class and fall into a food and Netflix haze until it’s time for bed. A few quick techniques can keep you focused and working hard (after a quick snack, of course).
Have a Plan
Remember your calendar from earlier in the day? Time to check back in! Figure out exactly what you want to accomplish each day. Having a purpose (and an end point) is very important for prioritizing tasks, staying focused, and getting started.
It’s also a great idea to schedule in study time for specific events. For example, if you have a quiz every Wednesday, block off time every Tuesday to study specifically for that quiz.
Limit Your Distractions
It would be wonderful if all students had superhuman self control. Until that’s a reality, thankfully there are apps that can act as substitutes.
Programs like SelfControl, Focus, or StayFocused can help you to block or limit access to specific websites or the internet overall. Hardcore users may block the internet for a couple hours, but sometimes it’s enough to block sites for fifteen minutes while you write the first paragraph of an essay!
Try the Pomodoro Technique
One of the best ways to get work done effectively is to follow the Pomodoro technique. Basically, you stay focused for 25 minutes, and then receive a five-minute break. This cycle is repeated four times, after which you can take a longer break. If an idea pops into your head during one of your work sessions, you quickly jot it down on a piece of paper, and then return to your task at hand. Following this kind of time management strategy is a great way to stay focused, while still rewarding yourself for a job well done!
At the end of the day, you likely just want to crawl into bed and block out the world. But, taking ten minutes to set yourself up for tomorrow can make a world of difference.
Pack Your Bag
Make getting ready to head out the door in the morning part of your before-bed routine. Gather together everything you’ll need for tomorrow’s classes, your lunch, and your outfit. Having everything in a set location will make tomorrow morning much more streamlined and stress-free. As well, it makes it far less likely that you’ll forget to print out your paper or grab your bus pass on your way out the door!
Go to Bed on Time
It may seem counter-intuitive to get more sleep when you are stressed. After all, it’s our inclination as students to stay up late whenever possible in order to get work done! However, sleep is more important than most people realize and can have a huge influence on how well you function the next day.
By making sleep a priority you allow your brain to consolidate what it has learned throughout the day, which then cuts down on studying time! In addition, regularly getting a good night’s sleep helps your immune system, your concentration, your memory, and your attention span — all of which are pretty key for success at school.
Use Your Weekends Wisely
It’s so tempting to think of weekends as an escape from the realities of school. Unfortunately, ignoring the stressors of school during the weekend can just make everything worse on Monday morning. These simple tasks can make a world of difference in how much time you have to study during the week.
Do Some Meal Prep
If you live off-campus, you likely don’t realize how much time you spend in the kitchen each day! Many students can easily spend over an hour on meal preparation each day — an hour they could use for studying or other tasks.
Consider planning out your food for the week. Then, make two or three large meals over the weekend and portion them out into tupperware containers in your fridge. Throughout the week, you can just pop them in the microwave, meaning that meal prep suddenly only takes a few minutes! Crockpot meals are another great way to save time in the kitchen.
If you don’t enjoy cooking, you can still save some time by grocery shopping on the weekend, portioning out some pre-made snacks, or pre-planning where you will get each of your meals through the week.
Accomplish One Large Task
Each weekend, ask yourself which of your upcoming homework tasks “future you” will wish you accomplished over the weekend. Then, try and conquer that task (or a big part of it). By attacking one of your most dreaded to-do list items over the weekend (when you are less stressed), you’ll be a lot less apprehensive on Sunday night.
Take a Break
Seriously. No one is an effective student if they’re constantly stressed. Take some time off (whether it’s an evening, a few hours, or an entire day) and enjoy it, guilt-free. Life is so much bigger than just school, and it’s important to give your brain some time to recharge.
Finding More Hours in the Day
No matter what, school is going to be hard. There are a lot of people expecting a lot from you, and it’s a definite learning curve trying to figure out how to prioritize, organize, and complete all of the work that’s assigned!
What are your best strategies for finding time for schoolwork during the day? Let me know in the comments! I still have one semester left and lots of room for improvement.
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