Productivity is something we struggle a lot as a student, whether you are in college, high school, or grad school. Often, we are faced with the question “why do you we have to study anyway?”. This thought deters us from working productively, let alone achieving more.
When it comes to productivity, there is more than just having one productive tactic. Yes, the Pomodoro technique is awesome (see how I rave about it and use it here), but ultimately productivity is all about a framework of mindsets, habits, and rules you set for yourself to get yourself to be a productive person all the time.
Needless to say, productivity is also the key to studying well or just making any achievements in general.
In this article, we are doing something different. Instead of going into one specific tip in great depth, I am putting together a master list of productivity tips that range from mindset, actions, habits, and more. Ultimately, this forms a productivity system for high school and college students.
I have also made you a free 15-page Productivity Workbook for Students, which outlined the tips I mentioned below. It guides you to develop your own system in 7 days with detailed guidelines and questions to help you reflect on your working habits. Click the image below to download it! (Or you can click here to download it.)
Why Do Students Need a Productivity System?
Do you feel like everything is just out of control, and you don’t know where to start with?
Do you find yourself constantly procrastinating without getting the most important things done?
Have you ever had the feeling of hopelessness, feeling like you can never achieve anything anyway?
What if I tell you that all of these can be solved with a system?
Yes, that’s right. By having a system and an organized process that guide your workflow, working effectively doesn’t seem that difficult. Once you can get into the habit of following this system, you shouldn’t feel that sense of hopelessness anymore. You won’t have to work relentlessly on the day before your essay deadline just because you didn’t have the motivation to study or work on it the past few weeks.
The System to Help You be a Productive Student
There are 8 things that affect your productivity for every student. These 8 steps are closely related, and the lack of one of the steps may result in a decrease in productivity.
You can always adjust the system below according to your needs. Remember, a productivity system should smoothen your work process, not obstruct it. You should feel comfortable with using the system, and the system shall ultimately make you more productive and efficient in general.
What I am listing here is a comprehensive workflow that guides you from the very beginning. If you are struggling with working effectively and finding difficulty in getting things done, this one is for you.
The productivity system is constituted of eight steps. These eight steps aim at helping you to develop a good mindset, get organized, work effectively, and improve your next work process.
Here, we are not just aiming at getting things done for once. We are targeting towards helping you to become a productive person in general so that you can work effectively not just for one assignment, but for all future tasks.
The 8 steps are:
- Develop a good mindset;
- Set your goals;
- Plan and prioritize your tasks;
- Work under the best conditions that work for you;
- Focus and remove distractions;
- Develop routines and habits;
- Constant evaluation.
Mindset is very important when you work. Your attitude determines how well you are going to do. With a positive and confident mindset, you are more likely to achieve more. According to the book The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, people who were told that they performed well in the previous test tend to outperform others. Why is that the case? Becuase these people feel affirmed and confident of their performance, that’s the reason why they can better perform (and are more willing to put effort) in the next test.
This is a clear example how your mindset, attitude, and thoughts determine your performance.
That’s the reason why the very first thing I want you to do is to envision your success and to believe in your ability. If you are not believing in yourself, who else is going to? By affirming yourself, you are giving yourself an opportunity to put your best effort into your work.
If you are thinking that “you can’t work well anyway”, or “what’s the point of doing this?”, you will instinctively put less effort into the task thinking that it won’t be worth it.
On the contrary, if you see studying is very important to you, you will naturally try your very best to study.
The same logic works for subjects you like (which you will put more effort in) and subjects you hate (which you don’t care so much about and hence won’t work hard on it, which then result in poorer grades).
Now here are a few mindsets and thoughts that you should bear in mind when working.
Live and work intentionally
No matter what you do, think about one question – how can the thing I am working on right now serve my life purpose? This can help you to live your life with intention and purpose. Having an aim in your mind frames the way you work.
By being mindful of your goals and intention, it helps you to connect what you do with your life purpose. This helps you to work productively and also consciously so that you won’t waste time on things that generate no good in your life.
You should always ask yourself this when you tend to procrastinate and get distracted so that you can once again be reminded of your goals.
Believe in yourself and that you are in control of your actions
Many tend to procrastinate because they feel like they won’t be able to make a difference anyway.
That is totally not true. Your effort matters.
You may have some bad experiences before like spending effort on something without having any returns. But if you want to make an improvement and see yourself getting better results next time, you have to first believe in yourself and give it one more try.
Believing in yourself is the first step you can do to make any change. If you have a good attitude and confidence in yourself, you are more likely to put more effort into what you are working. As a result, you are likely to be more productive and generate a better outcome.
Give yourself a reason why you want (or need) to do this
Sometimes, you don’t have a chance to choose to study or select what you want to study. You just have to do it.
And it is also this feeling that you didn’t get to choose what to do and perhaps you don’t like doing it that makes you want to push the task off as much as possible.
But you have to do it anyway.
So why not try to motivate yourself to do it? The way to do so is by telling yourself the reason why you have to do this in the first place, and how it will affect it. Let yourself understand the importance of the task.
By giving yourself a reason to work on something, it becomes your purpose and possibly motivation. You won’t feel like you are working on that task aimlessly ever again.
2. Setting Goals
I know that I have just taught about aims and goals in the above, but this step is all about setting concrete and actionable goals specifically for your tasks.
I have talked about setting goals detailedly in How to Set Goals and Achieve Them. If you haven’t read the article already, you can go through it first. It sets out some basic principles for setting goals, and how you can set a goal that you can actually achieve it.
Give yourself a concrete and specific goal for your action
When you are studying, give yourself a concrete goal. That may be finishing reading two chapters or writing three pages of your study guides. These concrete goals motivate you far better than just telling yourself “I will study this so I can get good grades”.
Because of that, it’s best to set goals with:
- Specific outcome (e.g. write three pages of notes, create a mind map, or read 2 chapters); and
- Fixed time (e.g. 3 hours or 5 pomodoros).
Your organization is likely to be a key factor if you want to be a productive student. Perhaps getting your files and desk organized wouldn’t immediately make you productive, but without an organized area and an organized mind, it’s very difficult to be a productive student.
That’s why you need to spend some time on organizing the following.
- Study area (both physically and digitally);
- Schedule; and
Organizing your study area and digital files
By organizing your desk and your digital files, it helps you to easily access the materials you need for studying.
This is crucial as it helps reduce the time you spend on finding things you need.
If you want a detailed guide on organizing your digital files, you can read Create the Perfect School Organization System with Google Drive + Printable Guide. You can also take a look at How to Create and Organize Your Study Space.
Organize your schedule
One main difficulty for every student is that we have way too many commitments. We are all so busy that it’s so easy to forget about studying.
That’s why you need a system to get all your appointments in one place.
You can either use a planner, or you can opt for Google Calendar or iCal. The main idea here is that you will need to put everything together, so make sure that it is a system you can use all the time and you can readily access to it. When you are told to meet your professor at 1pm, you can immediately note the time and details of the appointment in your system.
Organize your tasks (i.e. what you have to study)
Having organized your study area and your schedule, you will need to understand what you need to study.
If you are studying for a test, you will need to take a look at your syllabus to find out what you need to study. You can put them together in a list so that you can know clearly about your study tasks.
You will also need to gather your study materials together so that you have everything relevant to you.
4. Plan and Prioritize Your Tasks
Planning and prioritizing your tasks can help you identify the most important things you must do. I have given you a list of factors you need to consider when prioritizing your study task in How to Make an Exam Study Schedule You’ll Actually Stick To + Exam Planner.
Prioritize your tasks
Prioritizing is the first thing you will need to do when thinking about what you need to do. If you don’t prioritize, you will end up with a very long to-do list and you won’t know where to start with.
Or, you will spend a lot of time on things that are not important at all.
That’s why the urgent/important matrix is very crucial when it comes to prioritizing. It helps you to find out what are the most urgent and important tasks that you will need on so that you can spend the rest of the time to work on other tasks. I have introduced the matrix and other tips on prioritizing here (you’ll also be able to get a task planner that incorporates with the matrix strategy there).
Plan what you are going to do the night before.
Planning the night before helps you to start the next day knowing what you need to do. The night before, you can:
- Identify the appointments you have the next day;
- Decide on the top 3 priorities you will need to work on; and
- Schedule your tasks in your free time.
5. Work in Conditions that Suit You the Most
Students tend to focus a lot on where and when to study. This is indeed one very important key to productivity.
You will need to find the condition that best suits your needs.
There are people who work best at cafes, others work best at home. Similarly, some students study best in the morning, others find the silence at night help them to be productive.
Some may also prefer plugging in their headphones and listen to music or sounds.
If you are not sure where or when you study the best, think about these questions:
- Do you prefer working in silence or with background noise?
- Does a stressful environment (like a library) motivate you, or you will feel more comfortable with working in a relaxed area (like a cafe)?
- What’s the time that you are most productive?
6. Start Working and Remove Distractions
When it comes to removing distractions and focusing, the Pomodoro technique is an awesome tool to help you do so.
Turn on airplane mode
Phones and the internet are the biggest enemies for students. Most of us find ourself scrolling our phones when we procrastinate, and time past so fastly when we do so.
The solution? Say goodbye to all notifications and focus on your work.
In 3 Powerful Brain Hacks to Help You Focus in Class, it mentions that we humans cannot multitask at all.
That doesn’t just mean you are not able to scroll your social media while reading. It means that once you get distracted by a notification and read it, your mind is disrupted and the connection you have with your original task will be interrupted. Then you will have to re-establish the connection again after reading the notification.
Imagine the extra amount of time you will need to work on that task if you repeat this set of actions again and again.
Not appealing, right? That’s why turning on the airplane mode and block off all distractions is vital to your productivity.
You can also set a specific time to check your email or phone (e.g. at the 5-minute break after a Pomodoro work session).
Set a Timer or use the Pomodoro technique
Using a timer when you study helps you to focus better since you will have a specific time limit and you will know how long you will need to focus 100%.
This is also why the Pomodoro technique is recommended.
For more details on how you can maximize the technique (+ a daily task planner), you can read the tutorial on Boost Your Productivity with the Pomodoro Technique + Daily Task Planner.
7. Develop Good Productivity Routines and Habits
After you get to know how you can work effectively for one task, it’s time to make this as a habit. The goal we want to achieve is to develop productive routines and habits so that you can get used to being productive, and enjoy being so.
Start with developing a morning routine
How you feel in the morning determines how productive you are going to be that day. If you start off your day feeling good, fresh and energetic, you are more likely to be motivated and get more things done.
Here are some things you can do recommended in the book The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life.
- Meditation: spend some time in silence
- Affirmations: remind yourself of your potential
- Visualization: think about how you reach your goals
- Scribing: write down your thoughts, ideas, and what you are grateful for
- Reading: spend some time to learn about new things
- Exercise: move your body can help increase your ability to focus
You can also take a look at my morning routine here.
Make planning and organizing a regular habit
As mentioned, planning and organizing are vital to enhancing your productivity. If you want to continuously plan your task and be organized, you will need to make it as a habit.
To do so, set a specific time each day to do these things. For example, you can set around 10 minutes after you completed your morning routine to tidy your desk. Before you sleep, take 5 minutes to plan the next day.
8. Evaluate What Works for You (and What Doesn’t)
Not all productivity hacks work for you. Some find the Pomodoro technique awesome, other students find that 25-minute work session is just too short for them.
The solution? Find out what works best for you.
This involves journaling what helps you and what doesn’t, and also tracking your time and measuring your how efficient you are each day.
Tracking your time and productivity can help you know about:
- What time you work best;
- The work condition that suits you the most;
- What distracts you;
- The time management tactics that are helpful for you;
- Motivate you to work more effectively since you know that you are tracking your time.
Enhance your Productivity in 7 Days Using our FREE Productivity Workbook for Students!
In order to make it easier to follow the steps I illustrated above, I have created a free productivity workbook for you! You can download it by clicking the image here. (Or you can click here to download it.)
In this workbook, I have included:
- An action plan for you to develop your productivity system in a week;
- A detailed guide on each step of the productivity system I introduced above;
- Checklists to guide you to complete the steps; and
- Questions to help you reflect on your working habits.
Like this tutorial on being a productive student? Share it and let others know!
When and where do you work best? Do you prefer studying in the library, cafe, or at home? Tell us in the comment!