Being productive is something I struggle with too.
There are days when watching "Stranger Things" on Netflix seems like a way better option than doing my literature homework. Or, there are nights I plan to watch just one YouTube video after dinner but then the next thing I know it's two hours later and all I've done is watch clips of Ellen DeGeneres scaring people.
We're surrounded by distractions. The internet is a click away and a friend may be summoned with a text or a shout down the hall. However, in college, we often don't have hours at our disposal to do whatever we please (although sometimes that happens anyway). Time management, while hard to master, is also crucial to succeeding in college because, on top of classes and homework there are also extracurricular activities, lunches with friends, extra lessons, meetings, internships, jobs, etc. Point being, getting distracted often takes a big chunk out of necessary time.
But the school year is young! We still have time to build productive habits. Often I find the biggest hurdle is just getting started on homework and then it is easier to focus. So here are some of the things that have helped me shut down Netflix and pick up the books.
Buy a planner and make lists.
If you don't know what you need to get done, it's a lot harder to be productive. When I get assignments, I like to write them down in a planner. That way, I know exactly what I need to do and when it needs to be done. Then, after everything is written out in front of me, I will make a list of everything I'd like to accomplish for a specific day. For example, if I have a paper due on a Friday, I will write out goals for each night so I make sure I am able to make the deadline.
When I have everything I need to accomplish for a day in a list, it sometimes makes it easier to avoid distractions. I know I have to get certain things done if I don’t want to be crazy stressed the next day.
Set a timer or use an app.
Set aside a half hour (or whatever length of time you'd like) that you dedicate only to studying. No Facebook, Netflix, Snapping, texting or talking to friends. Make a rule that during that time there will be no internet that is not necessary for homework. When your half hour study session is up, reward yourself with a 5- or 10-minute break before getting back to it.
If you need a little extra nudge when it comes to self-control and staying away from time-sucking sites, there are also apps like SelfControl or Cold Turkey that will block you from using certain websites (or the entire internet) for a period of time.
Have a friend hold you accountable.
Study buddies can be a real asset. If you sit across from a friend who is diligently doing their homework, it'll likely be easier to focus on your own. Peer pressure, get-your-homework-done style. Sure, sometimes it is easy to start chatting with your buddy about something other than academics, but if you really try to be as focused as possible, having a partner in crime can be helpful. Even if you don't like studying in the company of others, you and a friend could still make a pact to both be productive and then check in at the end of the day to see how you did.
There comes a time when it's more productive to take a break than it is to keep trudging along. Most brains can't function well 24/7. So, instead of plowing into hour 8 of writing that paper and realizing later that none of what you wrote was actually comprehensible, take a short Netflix break. Take a catnap (or a hibernating bear nap). Stare out your window at the sunset while you make tea or coffee. Go for a run. Whatever floats your boat and gives your brain a break.
Give yourself an incentive.
An hour of studying for a half hour of free time to read whatever you want. Two hours in the library and you can have dessert for dinner. Little rewards like these are a great way to help get motivated and stay away from distractions that might prevent cookie dough consumption.
Maybe I'll take my own advice this year. I’m still trying to figure productivity out. I’ve also learned that some days are going to be more productive than others; it’s just what happens. However, it doesn’t do any good to dwell on lost time; better to pick myself back up and try again tomorrow.
Ali Froslie '18 is an English major at Concordia.