Have you ever caught yourself saying “If only I had more time”?
I know I have.
Everyone wishes they had more time to do all the things they want to do. But is time really the cause of our problems?
Most students complain about having too much work and not enough time, but they spend half their day stalking people on Facebook and reading articles on BuzzFeed. They might look like they’re always “busy,” but how much work are they actually getting done?
There’s a difference between being busy and being productive.
Which category you fall under is determined by your ability to separate your work from your life. How easily are you distracted when you’re trying to get work done? How much time do you waste on social media? How often do you focus on one single task at a time?
Everyone only has 24 hours in a day, the difference is that productive people use these 24 hours more efficiently. They are masters at focusing on one single task at a time. They don’t constantly their Facebook, or email, or BuzzFeed when they’re suppose to be working. They actually work when they’re working, which allows them to get more things done in a shorter amount of time than most people. And when they’re done with their work, then they have time to play–without having to worry about all the work that they know they should’ve done but didn’t.
The trouble starts when you begin to blur the line between work and play. The more you can separate your work and your life, the less stress you’ll have, and the more productive you’ll be.
We can’t change how many hours we have in a day–what we can change, is how we use those hours.
I’ve called them student productivity hacks in the title, but really these are productivity hacks for anyone who wants to get more done in less time.
1. Create weekly/daily to-do lists.
First of all, if you’re not writing down the things you want to get done, chances are they’re not going to get done. How can you possibly remember everything you want to do?
You should start every week and every day knowing exactly what you want to achieve. A week should be long enough to keep you looking ahead while not overwhelming you with things that are too far in the future.
After creating a to-do list for the week, distribute those tasks to each day of the week and write them down. Use a planner, a whiteboard, sticky notes, your phone, or whatever else works for you. Just make sure it’s somewhere visible to you throughout the day.
2. Avoid ambiguity.
Ambiguity kills productivity.
Always try to be as clear and specific as possible when writing tasks on your to-do lists. “Homework” is not an acceptable task. No single word tasks. Instead, write tasks using the following formula: verb + noun + object. For example, “Read chapters 4-5 for Econ,” or “Call Dad about health center fee.”
The more specific you can be, the better. Our brains are wired to steer away from ambiguity, so if there’s any ambiguity in your task, the less likely you are going to do it.
Also, tasks should be between 2 minutes-2 hours. If it takes less than 2 minutes, it’s not even worth writing down. Just do it right now. If it takes more than two hours, it needs to be broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
3. Do weekly reviews and prune ruthlessly.
At the end of every week, review your lists and pull out any weeds. If there’s a task that’s been on your to-do list for more than a week or two, and it’s not going anywhere, what is it even doing on there in the first place? Are you going to do it or not?
Be realistic with yourself. If you’re not going to do it, take it off. You don’t want a cluttered to-do list.
Think of anything that you put on your to-do list as a personal contract with yourself. Your goal is to clear that list by the end of every day.
4. Close unnecessary tabs.
Your email should not be open all day long. Neither should Facebook, or Twitter, or any other social media. Close all unnecessary tabs and keep open only the tabs that you need.
Instead of obsessively checking your email and social media accounts every 5 minutes, set a few times during the day to check all email/social media. If you check your email every time you get a new email, or your Facebook every time you get a new Facebook notification, you are pretty much saying that any email or Facebook notification is more important than whatever you’re working on, which I doubt is the case.
If you really struggle with online distractions, I highly recommend you install the Strict Workflow Google Chrome extension, which blocks you from accessing distracting sites for a given period of time. (For more awesome extensions, check out my post on 5 Must-Have Google Chrome Extensions.)
5. Give yourself a time limit.
The more time you have, the more time you waste.
Instead of working on a task for an indefinite period of time, set yourself a time limit. This will force you to stay focused and actually get things done, instead of just being busy.
Sometimes things may turn out to take longer than you had anticipated, which is fine. With practice you get better at estimating how long things will realistically take you. But when you do go over your initial time limit, make sure you set a new time limit; don’t just blow it off.
“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” – Tweet This
Being productive simply comes down to defining your goals, eliminating distractions, and tracking your progress.
The next time you catch yourself complaining about not having enough time, ask yourself how effectively you’ve been using your time.
If you have been using your time effectively and still feel overwhelmed, you may need to re-evaluate what’s actually important to you and drop what’s not. While it’s good to push yourself, you don’t want to stretch yourself too thin. It’s better to focus your attention on a few commitments and do them well than to have many commitments and do them poorly.
Chances are you’ve probably been wasting at least some of your time being busy instead of being productive.
Pick one of these 5 productivity hacks to try out the next time you need to get some work done and then let me know how it goes in the comments below.
- The Ultimate Anti-Procrastinator: The Pomodoro Technique
- 21 College Tips I Wish I Knew Freshman Year. Especially #10.
- 5 Essential Apps for Staying Organized in College
- How to Become a Morning Person and Never Hit the Snooze Button Again