Quick and Easy Steps to Improve Your Personal Productivity
Every student has the same amount of time – 24 hours per day and 168 hours per week. Yet the amount of hours available for school work can vary widely amount students because of professional responsibilities and personal commitments. Students are required to complete their assignments on time regardless of their personal schedules – there isn’t a sliding scale for your classwork.
So what do you do when you feel that you are always behind and not performing at your best? There is a saying about “working smarter, not harder,” and that is at the heart of peak performance – increasing your personal productivity. It’s much more than allocating time, it means maximizing your efforts to stay focused on the tasks that must be accomplished. There are six steps you can follow right now to assess how you work and make certain you stay on track.
Create a Productive Working Environment
Where you work is just as important as how you work. Many students grab their books and materials, and find a place to study without considering how that environment affects their productivity. You will likely do your best in an area that supports your focused attention and physical comfort. You’ll need a comfortable chair but not one that is so comfortable you’ll fall asleep. The working area should be free of clutter to keep your focus on the task. You should also consider anything else that will compete for your attention, and this includes everything from a noisy television to phone calls or conversations that may interrupt you. If you are working online, you may want to close any websites that can cause a distraction, especially social networking websites. Once you are in an environment that allows you to be productive, you are ready to begin working.
Develop a Plan for Your Study Time
There’s no way around it. As a student you must allocate time to study and complete your work. You will likely not have a lot of time available and that means you must maximize your efforts to increase productivity. The key to success for many students has been the inclusion of prep time at the start of each week. This provides an opportunity to gather resources, preview the materials, begin brainstorming, review expectations (and instructors’ expectations) for the assignment or task, and mentally prepare for the task at hand. As you look at the required reading, decide on a note-taking strategy to increase your comprehension of the materials. As you review the assignment criteria, develop an outline so that you can add your thoughts, ideas, and research notes throughout the week.
When it is your study time, you will find that focused reading and analysis is required. As you work with the assignment instructions and begin to search for information, consider these questions to spark your critical thinking skills: What is it that I want to say as I develop my thesis? What are my thoughts about the topic after I have read more about it? Why is this topic important to me, this assignment, and my course? What are the strengths and weaknesses associated with this topic? Everything you do as a student should be done with a specific purpose in mind and all of your efforts need to help you work towards completion of the required weekly tasks.
Avoid Productivity Pitfalls
One of the suggestions provided in 7 Simple Steps to Extreme Personal Productivity is to keep your momentum going. During your study time you don’t want to stop for a rest if it means watching television or checking for Facebook status updates. That’s a common pitfall. Learning to become highly productive means that you know when to work and when to stop. If you are working on a project and have a feeling that you are close to getting an answer, that’s the time to keep concentrating. However, if you feel stuck and need new insight, that’s the time to take a break. When you feel a need for a break that’s an indication you are ready for an alternate perspective or require additional information. Research shows you are likely to gain insight or an “aha” moment once you step away from the project for a short while.
Another common pitfall is busy work. Being busy does not equate to being productive. When you have limited time available it is important to keep in mind that multitasking does not equate to productivity. If you are working with several assignments at a time it may become necessary to multi-task. However, if this begins to affect your ability to focus and you are not able to fully comprehend what you’re reading, then it’s time to consider another strategy. When multi-tasking becomes a distraction, rather than being a tool for increased productivity, it can prevent you from doing your best in class.
Have Important Resources Available
When time is of the essence, you don’t want to be looking around for the resources you need. Here are the essentials that you should have available when you are ready to begin working:
• Important contacts. Do you have contact information for your instructor? If you are taking an online course, do you have a contact number for tech support?
• School resources. Are you familiar with the writing resources available through your school? Do you have access to online library databases and are familiar with the resources available?
• Course materials. Do you have all of the required materials? If not, do you know where to find them?
• Support system. Who can you contact if you need moral support? Do you have friends or classmates you can contact when needed?
Don’t Ignore Your Health
Maximum personal productivity also depends upon your well-being. If you are not getting adequate sleep or rest, it will make coping with the demands of school work much more difficult and eventually affect your state of mind, leading to burnout and stress. You may consider adding physical activities into your weekly schedule as it will result in improved cognition because your brain will be better able to process information. As physical activity is incorporated into a daily routine, the outcome will include improved thought processing, memory, and memory-related tasks. This can provide you with the extra boost needed to perform well in your classes.
Link Everything to a Goal
Another step to maximizing your productivity is to link everything you do each week to a specific goal. As you focus on your time management plan and consider what you want to accomplish each week, develop a clearly defined goal to help you stay motivated. For example, if your goal is to complete all of the required assignments and earn the maximum points possible, schedule blocks of time throughout the week to accomplish it. An effective goal setting method is the use of SMART goals, which stands for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. For example, instead of stating that you want to finish your degree, transform it into a SMART goal and replace that statement with: I will complete all required coursework in two years, devoting 10 hours per week to my studies, earning a 3.5 overall GPA.
Become Productive Now
No matter how efficient you may be in creating a time management plan, an aspect to review on a regular basis is the effectiveness of what you are doing within the allocated time. You know there are required tasks each week and at times, some items on your to-do list have to be rearranged or rescheduled. What you can do right now, instead of discarding your present schedule, is to take the steps necessary to use what time you have available in the most productive manner possible. Students have found that the key to productivity is being prepared, mentally focused, and aligned with a goal.
You can follow Dr. Bruce A. Johnson on Twitter @DrBruceJ and Google+.
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