College finals are here and with finals week can come a serious breakdown in your productivity.
It's so easy to become overwhelmed by all the time you have to spend studying finishing projects, and writing papers. To stave off failure, here are some of my quickest tips to boost your productivity and ace your finals with ease.
Hint: You can also use these tips to keep your productivity and motivation strong all semester long.
10 Quick Tips for Better Productivity When College gets Tough
#1 Eat several light meals throughout the day
Yale Medical School found studying on a partially empty stomach may help you learn information more quickly and retain it better too.
Basically, hunger makes you smarter.
If you’re studying at a café order a large salad vs. a sandwich -- enough to make it so you’re not hungry, but not so much you’ll get full either. A vinaigrette dressing is better than something heavy and creamy (yes, I’m telling you how to focus and study better by what kind of salad dressing to eat!)
Food can play a major role in your success as a student, since food fuels our body and mind.
Blueberries, green tea, avocados, leafy greens, salmon, and dark chocolate are some of the foods that help boost your focus and can increase your productivity. If you find yourself reaching for ramen or pizza, you’re undermining your success in college!
Pro-tip: Keep nuts on hand (high in brain-enriching omega-3’s and power-boosting fatty acids) as a snack to crunch on as you work.
#2 Study in Snatches
Don’t wait to get all your studying done in night long binge-sessions, you’ll remember less and waste time.
Instead, study in 20 min to 1 hour intervals, then take a walk or eat your crunchy salad and then resume.
Your brain reaches max capacity for deep, focused work around 4 hours - so those study binges end up costing you as brain fatigue sets in. You could spend twice the time trying to learn information that would normally take you an hour if you try and push past this point.
That’s why studying early and often (with breaks) is the best method for preparing for finals, or any big test or presentation.
Under NO circumstances should you check your phone or email during your breaks!
Pro-tip: Find a quiet place to study where you won’t be disturbed. If your room ends up being too quiet to study, listening to a good study mix or putting on library sounds can be relaxing and helpful.
# 3 Early to bed, early to rise
Getting adequate sleep is paramount. And sleep quality plays a role in how well you’re able to perform during the day. You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s the #1 recommendation for good sleep by sleep professionals, and most college students (I’m guilty too sometimes) ignore it:
Stay off your devices at least 1 hour before bedtime.
If you have to be on the computer right up until you go to bed, think to yourself: Is it worth ruining my sleep?
Because if you get better sleep, you can wake up 1 hour earlier and tackle whatever it was you needed to do in the morning.
Waking up earlier is a great idea for college students, but often we choose to stay up late (because waking up early ssssuuuccckkkss).
Or does it?
If you go to bed earlier, waking up earlier isn’t as hard. If you’d like to think that waking up early doesn’t have to suck, I suggest setting a morning routine that nourishes you and inspires you to haul your ass out of bed without a fuss.
Start your early morning with lemon and water, or tea, and a 10 minute stretching or yoga routine to get your blood moving and your stiff body loosened up and feeling good. If you have an early class, give yourself time to run out for a morning cup of coffee & oatmeal (it’s winter...I’m dreaming up comfort food!). If you have the luxury of time, do some reading for class.
Keep your work light in the morning -- don’t jump into writing a paper or solving hard problems. You want to like waking up, remember?
Lastly, keep in mind, everyone is different. Sometimes waking up early just won’t be for you. Don’t stress! Just make sure you get enough sleep.
Pro-tip: Find your sweet spot (7-8 hours is typical) and strive to reach that goal at all costs, even if it means leaving a party early. Sleeping for less than 7 hours can have a dramatic effect on your performance (and makes you 25% more likely to get in a car accident -- go figure!)
# 4 Take naps
Studies show that high-performing students tend to take naps.
And Thomas Edison was a big napper -- and he invented like a kazillion things, so it has to be good, right?
There are many different kinds of naps, and they’ve been studied extensively. I list the two best naps for college students here, but you can do research and find more nap styles and their benefits!
Just beware: stay away from the 30 minute nap, or the “bad nap,” which is just long enough to give you a “sleep hangover” without adding any benefits.
What are the best naps for college students?
The 10-20 min Power Nap
Settle in a somewhat elevated position, so you maintain a lighter sleep (you don’t want to fall into a deep sleep). You can snatch these in a quiet chair in the library, or in your room. Remember to set your alarm so you wake up in time!
Pro-Tip: Drink coffee (if you do) right before your nap. The caffeine will kick in right when you wake up.
Slow Wave Sleep (Nap) 1 Hour
This one hour nap is perfect for before a big study session, test, or presentation. One hour gives you enough time to enter slow-wave sleep, which helps enhance cognitive function and allows you to remember names, dates, and facts more easily!
Get your coffee when you wake up after this one, and splash your face with water or take a cool shower to really wake you up.
# 5 Stay alert in class
If you’re not doing this already, you should be.
Not all teachers are engrossing as you may wish them to be, but fortunately you can hack your way to staying alert.
Sit in the front row so you’re forced to stay awake, and participate as much as you can, either by asking questions or giving answers, or simply by practicing active listening.
Don’t take notes -- notetaking can actually make you zone out. When you’re writing notes, you’re only half-listening, and therefore, only half-paying attention, and further, only half-engaged. You’ll end up remembering more if you actively listen and think critically.
Pro-tip: Focus on what the teacher is saying and try and link it with other things you’ve learned or simply let your brain run wild with a particular concept or idea
# 6 Write your papers faster
Use an essay framework or plug’n’chug outline for writing A+ papers quickly. No need to procrastinate when you have an essay formula to follow!
To create your essay framework find an essay that inspires you. Then analyze it for structure, tone, rhetoric, and content.
Look at the ways the author of the essay structures their argument. How do they use topic sentences? How do the sentences that follow build the argument?
When you write all this out, you’ll have a template that you can basically plug your own writing into.
Having a go-to framework is especially useful for writing a complex thesis or when brainstorming a paper topic, so you can still work on a paper even when you’re brain dead or unmotivated. Click the links to be taken to the post where you can get your free download of a plug 'n chug thesis template!
# 7 Time management tips
Keep all your due dates and activities organized in Google Calendar or iCal so you can see all of your engagements in one place.
Nothing kills productivity like not having all your to-do’s in one place. When you take it out of your head, you release all the stress from having to keep track of the million things making your life a constant game of catch-up.
Putting it down in one place means you have instant, easy access to what use to be cluttering up your mind.
The best part? You're freeing up space in your memory palace for better things than remembering to do laundry before you run out of socks.
# 8 Kill all distractions
Turn off your phone and put it in a “sleeping bag” for a designated period of time. (You can go 4 hours without checking your phone -- you can do it when you’re in class...you can do it at home too).
When you’re using the computer, write in full-screen mode to shut out possible distractions. There are apps you can use to make it so you can’t go on in the internet if you’re really struggling.
Distractions are the death of focus. (Why am I using such heavy vocabulary for getting rid of distractions and boosting focus? Geez.)
Going into deep focus allows you to really knock out problems and sink into whatever space you’re in, so you can get your best work done.
It’s not worth ruining your focus to check on the latest instagram update or to enter a wormhole of synonym searching. Don’t worry if whatever you’re writing is crap or if you’re struggling. Struggle through it. You’re building skill in both focus and critical thinking.
You can always go through your work later and fix what you need to with the help of ye old internet, or spend 20 minutes after you’ve finished your work to facebook binge and reconnect with your friends.
# 9 Procrastinate the right way
I have a whole post on how to procrastinate and still get awesome grades, so why don’t you head over there to get more info about it?
Teaser: You don’t have to totally overcome procrastination to be super productive. You just have to procrastinate better.
Instead of zoning on netflix, watch a cool youtube video about a subject you’re studying.
If you just can’t stand the thought of writing your paper, organize your notes instead.
Pro-tip: If you HAVE to go on social media use Pinterest to help you find info about a course topic or look at motivational quotes to inspire you to get back to work!
You may find when you’re able to work on a peripheral project instead of the main thing, you find inspiration and motivation again to get back to the main task at hand (and like it!)
# 10 Just do ONE thing
Set a timer and work on ONE thing for just 10 mins. Like folding your laundry, cleaning your room, or your desk, or writing the intro to your paper, or reviewing a problem set.
Accomplishing one small task whenever you feel in a slump, or when you only have a little free time, can really build up in terms of productivity, plus, it'll help improve your mood when you're feeling unmotivated.
I like to do one thing right before bed, since I know I can always make space for those 10 minutes.
Do you have some great tips for boosting productivity at the end of the semester? I'd love to add more to this list! Let me know in the comments below.