Glancing at the clock and wondering where the day’s gone? Fretting over a mountain of work and imminent deadlines? Wish you had more time for hobbies and new activities?
We’d all love to have more hours in the day or a time-turner like Hermione’s, but sadly we can’t bend the laws of nature and magic apparently isn’t real 😦 . But there are many things we can do to improve our efficiency, make the work day more productive and ultimately achieve more.
As someone who’s juggled a social life, part-time jobs, society committee positions and a full-time degree, I’ve learnt a few tricks over the years to keep myself afloat and still get the grades I want.
Here are some of my top methods for maximising productivity and achieving as much as I can:
Buy a planner
It seems obvious, but having one place to note down the times and locations of your classes, meetings and other commitments really helps you stay on top of things and seeing opportunities to fit in other activities. Staying organised and managing your time well is definitely one of the best ways to make the most of your day. A two-hour gap mid-afternoon might be the perfect time to catch up on an assignment or hit the gym, or that class-free afternoon you have every week might be a great opportunity to squeeze in some volunteering.
Not only does a planner help you maximise the amount of work you can get out of your time, but it can also help you maximise the number of social activities and fun events you go to as well!
Make a to-do list
Another simple idea but still certainly one worth considering. Having a list of tasks that you want to accomplish (e.g. ‘email Dr Thingybob’, ‘look up blah blah for essay’, ‘buy hummus’) and splitting them into smaller, more achievable targets, will help you stay organised and motivated throughout the day. By keeping this close at hand, like on your phone or in your bag, you can easily check your list if you have some spare time and want to fill it with something useful. I send loads of emails whilst stood in lifts or in the queue at a shop!
Take breaks and observe your natural patterns
Taking regular breaks whilst working on a mentally demanding task is often the best way to fight off the fog of fatigue, keep the brain juices flowing and maintain productivity.
But don’t just spend 5 minutes surfing the web or texting your friends – getup, stretch your legs and have a change of scenery. This is a much better way of shaking off the cobwebs and refreshing your hard-working mind. Maybe go make a cup of tea with a friend or step outside to enjoy some fresh air?
Listen to your body
On top of taking regular breaks, try planning your work according to your natural rhythm. By that, I’m not talking about the magical New Age energy field governed by the movements of celestial bodies, but the typical change in your mental energy levels over the course of the day. For example, I find that my brain is usually at its best in the morning making this the best time to do my most mentally demanding work, like thinking about a project, writing a well-worded essay, or learning a new concept. By late-afternoon my mind starts getting tired, so I usually go for a run or a cycle to help re-energise and get some fresh air pumping through my lungs. I then save the easiest tasks for the evening or just go out and do something fun. By observing how you tend to feel over the day and planning your work accordingly, you can really help boost your efficiency and get more done!
Make your health and fitness a priority
A healthy body supports a healthy mind, so devote time to looking after your body and keeping fit. Not only does exercise invigorate your concentration, boost your productivity and help your mental well-being, but it can also be used as a refreshing break from your studies. Aerobic exercises are particularly good as they stimulate the release of endorphins into the body – natural painkillers and mood elevators that help reduce stress and revitalise the brain. One of my favourite breaks is to go for a run around one of Manchester’s parks – it feels wonderful to see some greenery and it provides a great excuse to blast some music or have some time to think to myself.
A good diet is also essential for a healthy brain, so support your concentration levels with lots of nutritious fruits and veggies, and remember to stay hydrated too! Omega-3 fatty acids are also needed for optimal brain health, so treat yourself to some oily fish like salmon now and again.
Get some sleep!
The amount of good-quality sleep you have also has a huge impact on your concentration. We’ve all heard people saying that we need 8 hours a night to be healthy, but this actually tends to range between 7 to 9 hours depending on your physiology and how mentally demanding your work is. Ensure you get a restful night by avoiding electronic screens close to bedtime, as these stimulate the brain and can make deep sleep more difficult. Steer clear of alcohol if you’re needing some good quality zzz’s to help you through a tricky assignment the next day. Despite its drowsy effects, alcohol can drastically reduce the quality of your sleep meaning that you’re not rested for the next day.
So there it is – my top tips for making the most of your time and increasing your productivity. Give them a try and achieve more!