How to Be Productive and Organized in a Tech-Driven World
Every student knows that keeping up with assignments and classes can be challenging. In a tech-driven world full of distractions it becomes even more difficult at times to stay focused on the task at hand. This demands students develop a method of becoming highly organized to be productive. While articles and discussions about organizational skills often address the tools that are needed, students also need to develop an underlying purpose to their strategy and daily routine.
Productivity expert and author David Allen addressed the subject of organizational skills in his recent New York Times article, When Office Technology Overwhelms, Get Organized. Allen believes that “most professionals are still using their subjective, internal mental worlds to try to keep it all together, but that’s a poor way to navigate the new work environment as it results in unclear, distracted and disorganized thinking, and leaves frustration, stress and undermined self-confidence in its wake.” In other words, people who are surrounded by technology often move from one competing demand to another without ever having a strategy or plan. This applies to employees as well as students because both groups can become frustrated and discouraged if they don’t accomplish their goals and instead, spend their time addressing whatever gets their attention first.
Allen advocates the use of a plan that includes:
• “Capture everything that has your attention in writing.
• Clarify what each item means to you. Decide what results you want and what actions — if any — are required.
• Organize reminders of your resulting to-do lists — for the e-mails you need to send, the phone calls you need to make, the meetings you need to arrange, and the at-home tasks you need to complete.
• Regularly review and reflect on the whole inventory of your commitments and interests, and bring it up to date.
• Finally, deploy your attention and resources appropriately.”
This is a strategy that students can also use to organize all aspects of their academic work. By having a clearly defined plan or an organized approach to managing your day, you will likely feel a sense of accomplishment as you are able to complete more than your tasks – you will also be able to work towards completing the goals you have established.
Write It Down, Become Organized
The first step that Allen recommends is to write everything down. At first that may seem counterintuitive for students that have grown accustomed to using technology to facilitate most aspects of their life. However, a low tech method such as a written to-do list can help you organize what you want to (and need to) accomplish every day. This is a method that will allow you to develop clarity about your day through a visual overview, which can lead to an improved time management plan as you refer back to it throughout the day. You can also use this to-do checklist to establish priorities for the use of your time and completion of your projects. If you know there is an upcoming assignment or project that is going to require a significant investment of time, you can plan ahead and be ready to start working on it now.
Link Action Items to Goals
David Allen also addresses the need for purposeful action. Often students’ responsibilities and daily duties dictate how they approach each day. They may find that their overall guiding purpose becomes a matter of just getting through the day. What I recommend students do is to create clearly defined goals as a means of establishing their purpose. Students know that they are working towards completion of a degree; however, that is a long term goal. Each class presents an opportunity to complete a short term goal, whether it is to gain new knowledge or complete the course with a satisfactory grade. Those goals can provide a source of motivation, especially when linked to the daily checklist. It also helps students focus on development of an effective time management plan because they can refer to it when they have to make choices about the use of their time. Instead of just taking action every day, they can take steps towards completion of a goal.
Frequently Revise and Update
The use of a to-do checklist, or any other form of written organizational tool, should be monitored for effectiveness on a regular basis. As you review the previous week, consider if you were able to accomplish each of the daily tasks listed. Also determine if you made progress towards the goals you’ve established. This will allow you to take corrective action right away, especially if you discover that there are ineffective routines or habits that need to be corrected. You can also look for time traps or situations that take up your time unnecessarily. For example, if you find that checking email or social media websites is consuming too much of your time, you can allocate a specific amount of time to do this on a periodic basis throughout the day.
Be Dedicated to the Task
Becoming organized and productive means that you are focused on the tasks or goals that you have determined are most important to you. In the blog post, Organization Tips and Skills to Help College Students Make the Grade, a suggestion is made to “maintain a standard study time every day where you typically find yourself being the most productive.” I recommend students create a personal productivity profile and monitor the times during the day that they find they have the most energy and can accomplish the most challenging work. This is an adjustment for students who are used to putting off completion of their school work until the end of the day, which for many of them is the least productive time of day.
As you develop dedication to your academic work, you’ll also find it is important to your success to be disciplined. Your involvement in the learning process must be proactively planned and that means you have to diligently watch out for procrastination. Becoming disciplined also means being able to address the required task listed on your to-do checklist and manage potential distractions. If you have several projects that need your attention, be careful about multi-tasking. When multi-tasking involves managing distractions rather than tasks, a loss of focus can prevent you from doing your best. Consider how you use your time and assess your ability to stay dedicated to one task at a time as a means of being highly productive.
Every aspect of your work as a student requires careful planning because of the amount of time you will be required to invest. Most students are balancing school work, along with other responsibilities, and that means you can’t afford to get off track because of technological distractions and ineffective routines or habits. As you consider how you organize your academic work, develop a productive strategy that is linked to your goals and that will help you stay motivated and focused on what’s most important every day. Don’t just be organized, be purposefully productive.
You can follow Dr. Bruce A. Johnson on Twitter @DrBruceJ and Google+.
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