Knowing how to be more productive as a student can be a real challenge. The work appears mountainous, the distractions infinite, and it seems there’s such little time in the day to get all your work done. On top of this, there’s the struggle of maintaining something vaguely resembling a social life to contend with.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like this. This guide offers a variety of tips and tricks to help you be more productive with your time and stay in control of your workload. Integrating these ideas into your routine will leave you with a greater amount of time to enjoy a more well-rounded and enjoyable university life.
What Does it Mean to be More Productive as a Student?
What exactly does ‘being productive’ mean? Fortunately, it certainly does not involve waking up at the crack of dawn, working solidly for 12 hours, and pausing only to enjoy a diet of energy drinks and meal replacement shakes.
For the vast majority of people, that kind of punishing approach is unenjoyable, unsustainable and counter-productive.
Ultimately, becoming a more productive student is about making the most of the time you have; cultivating your ability to focus on and even enjoy your work; and living a varied, enjoyable, and healthy lifestyle.
This guide will offer a variety of productivity-boosting tips and tricks, and will explain how you can:
- Plan and organise your workload using a diary and calendar
- Create a manageable schedule that includes hobbies and social activities
- ‘Work smarter not harder’ by taking breaks and following other key tips
- Discover your optimal working environment to improve your concentration
- Cut out distractions such as notifications from your phone and social media
- Look after your physical and mental health amidst the stress of university
- Make studying more enjoyable to encourage productivity
Read on to discover how you can implement these tips in order to make your life at university more successful, fulfilling and productive.
#1: Practise Effective Time Management
Every student hears that joke at some point – at university, you are given three options: getting enough sleep, maintaining a social life, and keeping up with your studies; but you must choose only two.
Whilst this rather bleak aphorism can sometimes seem all too true, practising time management in a disciplined and structured way will show you it doesn’t have to be.
Effective time management will allow you plenty of time to complete all your studies and explore extra-curricular activities to your heart’s content – without having to lurch around erratically like a caffeine-saturated zombie.
Read on below for a few productivity tips to help you to better organise your study habits and save time for all the other things you’d rather be doing. Alternatively, check out our more in-depth guide for managing your time as a student.
The first step is to take a couple of weeks at the beginning of each semester to familiarise yourself with what your routine and your modules look like. Then once you have your bearings, it’s a good idea to write down a list of all the various bits of work and reading that you need to do to succeed at your course.
If you have never tried this approach, it may at first seem silly or performative. However, getting all your tasks down on paper will focus your mind, reduce anxiety, and may show you that your workload is not as overwhelming as you first feared.
The next step to take once you have made your list of tasks is to set out a schedule built around your academic calendar and deadlines.
Formalising your study habits by clearly setting a certain amount of time each day aside for completing various tasks will make you much more likely to remain disciplined and up-to-date with your work. Trying to simply make up a schedule in your head as you go along is not likely to prove fruitful at university level.
This project management approach will also allow you to delegate time for social plans, extra-curricular activities, and rewards for good work. This careful planning therefore enables you to live a much more rounded, enjoyable and fulfilling life whilst at university.
It’s useful to try to follow the mantra ‘work smarter, not harder’ to help you save time and increase productivity as a student.
One of the simplest ways you can do this is by taking regular breaks. It’s no good punishing yourself with eight-hour non-stop study marathons, as your concentration will suffer and you will work less efficiently.
Taking regular breaks to eat, hydrate and exercise will replenish your mental faculties and ensure that the time you do spend working will be far more productive.
#2: Be More Productive by Cutting Out Distractions
In order to get the most out of your study time, it’s absolutely key to get rid of all the little distractions that can pull your attention away from the task at hand. Your ultimate goal is to avoid wasting precious time with the kind of aimless, unenjoyable procrastination that it’s all too easy to be sucked into.
The first step is to discover what kind of working environment suits you best. Some students may prefer to work in a quiet study space on campus, others may find they concentrate better working from home. Others still will find they are most productive sitting in a café with their laptop, ordering flat whites at intervals just short enough to justify their presence, and enjoying being amidst the ambience and bustle of the world.
It’s a good idea to experiment and find what works best for you – the key is to find an environment that is comfortable and allows you to concentrate on your work. This is a very personal thing, and therefore tends to mean something slightly different for everybody.
One of the most pervasive distractions modern society presents us with is the irresistible pull of social media.
Everybody’s been there – you’re about to crack on with your studies, but you tell yourself that you’ll check out what your friends are up to on Facebook or Instagram, just for five minutes.
The next thing you know, two hours have gone by and you’ve done no work. What you have done is discovered what that guy from your primary school who you haven’t seen for years got up to for his birthday.
Social media can so easily eat into your time if you allow it to, and using it too frequently can negatively affect your mental health.
Everything is OK in moderation, of course, and social media can be a useful tool. Nevertheless, it’s important to compartmentalise your study time as a period insulated from unhelpful social media procrastination and to remain disciplined about using it productively.
Even if you are able to resist the urge to browse social media of your own accord, those pesky notifications popping up on your phone can steer you off course while you’re trying to pay attention to your studies.
Turning off notifications on your phone or setting it to airplane mode is a good start at tackling this potential distraction. Taking this step will mean that your concentration won’t be broken by your friends popping up on Whatsapp or liking your latest Instagram post.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve the whole issue. Studies have shown that simply having your phone within sight or easy reach while you work can significantly reduce your ability to concentrate – even if it’s turned off!
The best solution then, is to turn off your phone and tuck it away out of sight and out of mind. If you prefer to work in public spaces, you could try an alternative like burying it at the bottom of your bag, or swapping phones with a trusted friend during a joint study session.
#3: Look After Your Physical and Mental Health
It’s vitally important to make sure you’re looking after all aspects of your health whilst at University. We know it can be difficult to give yourself license to get eight hours of sleep, or take a couple of hours here and there to go for that run or sneak in a gym session when you’re feeling anxious and stressed about impending deadlines.
Ultimately, however, setting time aside for getting enough sleep, eating well, and staying active will pay dividends. This routine of self-care will allow you not only to maintain your physical health, but your mental health too.
Exercising regularly can really help to alleviate the symptoms of low mood and anxiety whilst also boosting your confidence and self-esteem. This means that when it is time to settle down to some work, your mind will be in the right place to concentrate and be productive.
Some of you may feel that the often solitary endeavours of pavement-pounding and iron-pumping. For those to which this applies, the good news is that University is a great opportunity to explore all kinds of sporting pursuits, ranging from the popular to the positively obscure.
Joining a sports club or team is a great way of staying active whilst also enabling you to meet new people outside of the bubble of your course and your accommodation, enabling you to expand your social circle as well as boosting your physical and mental health.
Signing up is usually a very simple process – don’t worry if you missed putting your name down for the dodgeball society at the freshers’ fair, simply look up your student union’s list of clubs and societies online.
For more information on how exercise can improve your mental health, check out the NHS page on exercise and depression.
Whilst maintaining a good diet, sleep schedule and exercise routine is never a bad idea, it would be disingenuous to suggest that all mental health struggles can be solved purely by looking after yourself physically.
University can be as challenging as it is rewarding, to which our guide to the many ups and downs to navigating student life can attest.
Whether it’s a struggle caused by one of these challenges presented by university life, a pre-existing problem, or an external problem such as the loss of a loved one or the end of a relationship, it’s vital not to suffer in silence.
The most in-depth study into the mental health of UK students carried out to date concluded that as many as 1 in 5 students suffer from a mental health condition, and that 1 in 3 have to seek professional help for some sort of problem encountered whilst at university.
While seeking help can feel daunting, it’s important to remember just how common these issues are, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with availing yourself of the wealth of resources for student mental health support at your disposal, or simply reaching out and making phone calls to friends and family.
It can be a slow and difficult process, but beginning the journey towards better self-care and improved mental and physical wellbeing will, in time, reap great rewards in terms of your ability to concentrate on work and be more productive as a student.
If you’d like to read more from us on this topic, check out our post on how to stay healthy whilst at university.
#4: Make Studying More Enjoyable
Not everybody will find their ideal studying environment to be a deathly-quiet, wood-paneled, slightly-too-cold room tucked away at the back of the Scandinavian Literature section of their University Library.
Some students may find a less spartan approach helps to boost productivity and reduce the amount of time spent procrastinating by mentally reframing study time as something to be looked forward to rather than dreaded.
Read on for a couple of ideas you could try implementing in order to make getting started with that all-important essay or coursework a less bleak prospect.
Whilst there are differing opinions on the virtues of listening to music while working, there’s little doubt that accompanying your study with some good tunes can greatly increase how enjoyable your study time is, and that this factor alone can help you to boost productivity.
It’s important to point out that the type of music you play is likely to affect how well it helps you concentrate.
Songs featuring prominent, narrative-driven lyrics or a high degree of compositional complexity, as well as tracks that you are already familiar with, are all said to be potentially distracting for your brain, so hold off on reviewing your last lecture to that favourite jazz or math rock LP.
One good tip is to set up a playlist before you study, so that you don’t constantly distract yourself browsing for the next track to play. Spotify has a useful ‘focus’ section full of playlists that serve as ideal soundtracks to your study time.
Whilst some students have something of a lone-wolf mentality and will groan at the very mention of group work, others may find it enjoyable to go over their study material with a few course friends.
Working as a group can help to make studying more fun by combining study time with a social element, whilst tackling tough assignments with the support and camaraderie of others can also make the process less daunting and anxiety-inducing.
Study-groups can be surprisingly productive too, provided that you take some steps to avoid the pitfalls of social study and encourage a positive working atmosphere. If this approach sounds like something you’d like to explore, check out this short guide for some more tips on how to form a successful study-group.
It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by work as a university student. Everybody struggles at some point or another, and it’s normal to feel a little stressed when things seem like they’re piling up.
However tough your workload, you can make it far more digestible by managing your time more effectively, getting rid of unhelpful distractions, looking after your health, and taking steps to make studying something to relish rather than dread.
Applying these practices diligently will help you not only to be more productive, but also leave more time for the pursuit of a more enriching university life.