Last year, one of my main goals was increasing productivity, and managing my time better. Between working online and living in an age of endless information at your fingertips, this was a challenge for me. Nevertheless, I am pretty proud of my progress this year. Here are my top 10 productivity tips for students. (and adults!)
1. Create daily lists.
I work as a freelance graphic designer. While balancing various clients, other work, school, other commitments, and family; it can be a severe challenge trying to keep up with everything. To conquer this, I write myself out a to-do list before I go to bed. Mostly this is on my phone or a sticky note. (There is something satisfying about physically crossing out something on my to-do list.) At the end of the day, anything uncompleted gets bumped over to the top of the next day’s list.
When creating your lists, try to have specific objectives in mind. Instead of “study biology,” write “study vocabulary words in chapter 16 of biology.” This makes your objectives more tangible and easier to complete and focus on.
2. Treat yourself.
Rewards are always great incentives. At the end of a long day; treat yourself to something simple, such as a favorite piece of candy, a favorite TV show, or some extra minutes of sleep.
3. Practice productive procrastination.
Let’s say you have a really long essay that needs to be done ASAP, but you are dreading writing it. Oftentimes, I used to end up laying on my bed wasting time on social media and games, denying the fact that I have other priorities.
Instead, I’ve learned to tackle the not-as-important but still productive projects in that time – working on a graphic design project, exercising, going through my e-mails. After that, I often feel less stressed, and can then start the “most important” project.
4. Download Self Control (Mac) or Cold Turkey (Windows).
The most obvious productivity tip is getting rid of social media while you’re focusing on the task at hand. “Turn off social media” is too bland, when oftentimes you need Internet for research, and it can be easy to waste what seems like a few minutes on social media.
Self Control and Cold Turkey blocks sites of your choosing for 15 minutes up to 24 hours. The best part is after you have blocked yourself from said sites, there is no way to undo it, until the timer runs out. I used to typically visit social media all day in short bursts of 20 seconds or less. It was interesting to see how many times a day I thoughtlessly visited Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter out of pure boredom of my task at hand.
5. Chrome users: if you need something more flexible, download Kill News Feed or StayFocusd.
Although I occasionally use Self Control, I communicate with clients via Facebook messenger, which is of course a problem if you block the entire site. For me, the perfect solution is the Chrome extension Kill News Feed, which is basically Facebook without the timeline.
I can do everything I need to do on Facebook without getting distracted by my newsfeed. Replacing it is a banner that reads, “Don’t get distracted by Facebook!” Although you have to go to settings to turn it off, it hasn’t bothered me. If I want to view my news feed, I can do it with my phone.
If you’re trying to cut back on social media usage altogether, try StayFocusd. This app lets you set a daily limit on certain sites. Once that time is up for the day, you cannot get back on it until the next day.
If you want to know how much you’re spending on social media, try Rescue Time.
6. Put together a motivating playlist, and then get off your music/YouTube.
I love music, and have a playlist I can listen to on repeat every day. When lyrics are getting too distracting, I often listen to this collection of top Hans Zimmer songs, which are inspiring and intended to motivate.
You can also try listening to instrumental covers of your favorite pop songs. (I enjoy listening to this soothing 20-minute Coldplay piano medley.) Both are more energetic than classical music, and yet they don’t have the distracting lyrics of pop music.
7. Try the Pomodoro Timer.
The Pomodoro technique is great if you have a lot of lengthy projects – 25 minutes working on a solid project at hand; 5 minute break. Here’s an online Pomodoro timer.
8. Dress nicer.
Looking nice has been proven to boost self-confidence. And at least for me, it helps keep me motivated. Dressing nicely can make you feel like you’re on top of the world.
9. Work smarter. Learn from others.
In the past four years, I have been self-taught in both Blogger and WordPress. I have quickly learned my way around Facebook and Pinterest marketing. Using those same techniques, I am quickly learning Photoshop, HTML code, and CSS code.
My secret? If I don’t know something, I don’t waste time struggling with it on my own. I either Google it, or ask on Facebook WordPress help groups. Normally someone smarter than me can give me an answer to my problem within about 5 minutes. If I really can’t get something, I realize time is money and I will pay someone else to do it for me. Don’t be too afraid to ask for help if you’re stuck with something.
10. Work with the end goal in mind.
Financial guru Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else, so one day you can live like no one else!” In order to experience the extraordinary, we sometimes may have to forfeit the little things. When working on a project, think “Will this matter in a year from now? 10 years from now? This method has really helped me prioritize tasks.
Right now, as a freelancer, even small tasks will contribute to my overall objectives of being a graphic designer and/or marketer, as I gain a reputation and experience. Studying results in better grades, and often better relationships with my teachers, which can lead to future employers and opportunities. This may seem crazy, but it’s an interesting perspective to look from, and a great way to maximize your time and potential.
What are your favorite productivity tips?
Fantastic list. Thank you for taking the time to compile it! You have lots of good ideas here that I NEED to try out!!!! As a home-schooled student, I’ve found that time management and self-discipline are two of the hardest things to learn, but also among the most rewarding. Keep up this awesome blogging. <3
Hi Samantha, I heard about your web site from Rosilind at “a little R&R” and I’m very impressed to say the least! I have 2 nieces, ages 12 and 14 who are also being home schooled, and I think it’s great that you taught yourself so many useful skills. But I have one question – did you teach yourself graphic design and if so, how did you learn it? Thanks so much and best wishes! 🙂
Hi! Thank you very much! Yes, I am self-taught in both code and Photoshop. I started out with a free program called Picmonkey (picmonkey.com), and “graduated” to Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator (both professional design tools). Adobe offers some very nice homeschool-friendly discounts. Through my blog, I’ve made a lot of blogging connections and built a stable reputation, and got my first clients from that. The most practical way I’ve learned is through real clients/projects. Every time I get a task I don’t know how to do, I Google it, and can normally find a tutorial. From there, I typically have a pretty good memory for the next time. 🙂
Thanks Samantha! I’ve heard good things about Picmonkey and I appreciate your comments. 🙂
Fantastic advice. You must have had some good parental guidance. I wood love to here more about your mom and dad and the vital roll they had in some of your success. Seriously we your parents are extremely proud of you. I enjoy reading your comments and learn from your advice and love the many story’s. Love dad.
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