10 Simple Productivity Tips for Students
Your friendly editor asked us to put together a short article for Owl Eyes readers about some of our best productivity tips for students. We try to make the world a more productive place over at Asian Efficiency, and part of that is helping the next generation of up-and-comers get their time and schedules together.
Most of what I know about productivity has come from trial and error, through both university and life afterwards. This article is what I would tell my younger university-days self if I ever got the chance. You're about to get a collection of odd tips - some will give you a different perspective on how you study (tips #2, #3, #4, #10), some will take a bit of effort (tips #1, #5, #8) while others you can use right away (tips #6, #7 #10).
Let's get into it.
1. Get Organised.
The first tip is simple - make sure you're organised. Whether this means having one notebook per subject (old school!), or a separate folder for each subject on your computer, make sure it's done. You can take this further, having different folders for different parts of each course:
2. It's All About the Grades
I'm probably not supposed to tell you this - but the most important retrospective thing about university, is knowing that you only have to do so much to graduate. It really is all about the grades. As cool as it is to learn about consumer behaviour, or the history of the Roman Empire, or political history and whatnot, let's face it: you're there to pass your exams, get good grades and use them to land your first job.
This should help you focus in on what's important in university - getting good grades, which usually means passing exams and assessments. More on this in #3 and #4
Exception 1: science and technical majors will probably learn real world stuff, but remember that even they will be doing exams under "exam conditions" - artificial constraints that don't exist when you get out into the real world
Exception 2: practical classes and internships are where you will learn most of the skills and knowledge you need post-university
Note: Once you graduate, it's all about the goals.
3. Strategically Attend Classes.
Again, I shouldn't be telling you this. Keeping in mind #2, you'll start to recognise which lectures or tutorials you do or don't need to attend.
Work out if attendance is part of your grade, and how much value lectures really have. If it's just the lecturer reading out parts of the text, you can probably cover it yourself faster in your own time. If the lectures have nothing to do with the prescribed text and will end up forming parts of your final exams, then you most definitely should attend.
4. Know What to Study.
(Related to #2 and #3).
Most university-level textbooks are HUGE. I think for some reason writers of these texts feel that they need to cram in as much filler text and extraneous detail as possible to make the book look "suitable" for university use. With this in mind, find out what your assignments, exams and assessments will be based on. Are they going to be centred around lecture notes? The textbooks? Material covered in tutorials?
Knowing this will save you a LOT of time, as you'll be able to focus in on exactly what you need to know to pass assessments and thus the course.
5. Use Mindmaps.
Mindmaps look a bit like that. They're a fantastic way to organise your notes at a high level for rapid review before exams and tests.
They're also great for taking lecture notes. You've probably noticed that lecturers who present their own material usually jump around quite a bit, and if you're writing traditional linear notes, it can get really messy drawing arrows up and down the page to link up concepts. With mindmaps, you don't have this problem - simply go back to the a prior node, and add on the extra information there.
You can create mindmaps using a large sheet of paper or specialised software - we personally like Mindjet Mindmanager, and have lots of tutorials available on our Mindmapping page. A good free alternative to MindManager is Freemind.
6. Take a Break.
Most of you probably have this one down already - remember to take breaks when you're studying.
If you're on a 6-hour cram session before exams, remember to take 5-10 minutes out of every hour to walk around, grab some water or just go outside for some fresh air. If you want a more structured way to do this, check out the pomodoro technique. Also if you're not doing so, take at least one day a week off to just relax (no assignments, no coursework, no studying). Your body and mind will thank you for it!
7. Plan Ahead.
This is a tip that you learn when you get your first job - how to plan. Take your term papers, assignments, assigned reading and everything else to do with a course, and make it manageable. The way you do this is by cutting it up, creating a small project plan and then following through with it. For example:
- Week 1: Brainstorm initial ideas
- Week 2: Research papers and texts around initial ideas. Mindmap as you go
- Week 3: Reorganise mindmaps into a format suited for writing
- Week 4: Writing
- Week 5: Proofreading
- Week 6: Submit paper
8. Use Technology.
This one's simple: use technology. This means:
- Using an iPad or Kindle instead of carrying around Encyclopedia Britannica-size textbooks.
- Using your laptop/computer to write and research whenever possible.
- Use a calendar to schedule in lectures, tutorials and other appointments so you don't miss them. You can even make "appointments" with yourself for doing assignments or studying.
- Write a to-do list and keep it updated. Check out our article on Simple Task Management to get started.
- Use a digital camera (or phone camera) to take photos of lecture slides and diagrams drawn on chalkboards. Especially useful if you have a lecturer who doesn't like giving out lecture slides.
- Use an audio recorder (or phone recorder) to record important lectures.
9. Drink Water.
Drink water. Lot of it. Take a 1.5L bottle and carry it around with you everywhere, sipping from it all day.
Don't do the office worker thing and buy soft drinks and coffee all day - water is your friend here. Keeping hydrated keeps your mind clear and ready to learn - you'll retain more when studying, and you'll have more energy to get through those days with back-to-back classes.
10. Don't Stress.
University is an awesome experience... but it's not the real world. Very little that you do (or don't) there will matter once you graduate - so don't stress!