I hear all the time about college students pulling all-nighters for their classes, and I’ve always wondered, “Why?”
See, I’ve never had to stay up past my normal bed-time to get work done, because since moving to school I’ve always gotten it done during the day (for the most part, at least).
The few times I’ve had to work past 6 PM have been because I didn’t follow my own timeline for studying and got distracted, or had lunch with a friend last minute and got 2 hours behind. If you’re stressed about how much work you have to do, and don’t know how you’re going to get it all done, know this: it is possible to get everything done with time to spare. You don’t need to stay up until 3 in the morning finishing that paper if you just get into good habits from early on in the semester. Trust me! I’m in 4th year psychology. I’m doing my Honours Thesis and all my other courses are at the 4th year level, which means a lot of reading and a lot of research. I have more work now than I ever had in my academic life–I was so overwhelmed my first three weeks! But I also have more free time than I did last year, and I am a lot less stressed because I have really managed to learn how to get my work done during the day.
Now, this might not be applicable for all majors, I understand. My best friend is studying biochemistry, and she definitely has to work from 8-9 every day (I’m not even joking–she’s amazing). So keep in mind that this is my own experience, and this is what has worked to help me be finished everything school-related by 7:00 every night.
I give rest priority status
This is something that took me a very long time to understand. I thought that if I work for longer, then that would work better. Actually, though, that’s not always true. Some personalities are able to work for longer than others, and others need to take breaks. I have a relatively short attention span, and find that I quickly become unproductive if I don’t take frequent, short breaks!
When I was working at a writing help center at my university, I often found that when students came in with work that they had done during an all-nighter it was sub-par to their normal standard of writing. Listen to me carefully: your brain does not work at its full potential unless you give it time to rest.
The first step to productivity is making sure you give yourself time to recharge. Studying is much harder when you’re frazzled or stressed or tired and running off of 4 coffees and a redbull. I find that when I’m well-rested, one hour of work is worth 3 hours of tired/stressed out work.
Rest doesn’t just mean sleep, though–you need spiritual and psychological rest, as well. Take time to read your Bible or just go for a walk in the park to clear your head. It does wonders for your productivity, trust me.
I get errands done first
This is tricky to figure out, because you don’t want to procrastinate. I give myself about 45 minutes in the morning where I complete my morning routine and organize what needs to get done for the day. This includes getting dressed, making breakfast for Connor and myself, packing our lunches, cleaning the kitchen, and packing my supplies for school. I also make a list of everything that I need to get done that is abnormal, like take my computer in if it’s broken or run to the dry cleaner’s. This way it’s out of the way and I don’t need to think about it later, so it doesn’t distract me when I’m studying.
Here’s the thing, though: you need to know what’s necessary, and what’s procrastination. Yes, it might be helpful for you to go grocery shopping and make cookies for the girls in your study group because it would just be a nice thing to do, but is it worth the hour and a half that it would take overall? No. It’s not. Stop procrastinating–if you get your work done today, you can do that afterwards.
I get started early
I generally wake up at 7 or 7:30 if I’m up late the night before and aim to be studying by 9:00 every day. My earliest classes this semester are at 11:30 and 1:00 this semester, so that guarantees that I get a good chunk of work done before my school day even starts! Getting into a routine teaches your brain what it needs to be doing, too. If you’re used to always studying at 9:00 in the morning, when 9:00 comes around you’re more focused than if your study schedule is a bit erratic. The time becomes like a trigger for your brain to switch into productive-mode! Trust me, it works!
Think about it this way, too–if you wake up at 10:00, drag yourself out of bed by 10:20, you’re realistically not going to be on campus until almost lunch time, at which point you need to get something to eat, so you don’t get any work done until around 12:30. If you’re up at 7, though, you could have gotten 3 hours done by the same time! Take advantage of your peak hours of work–nothing is happening that you’re missing in the morning, so study then and have fun later!
I use the pomodoro method
I first heard about this method from Catherine at The Blissful Muse, and I absolutely love it. It has made me 10x more productive–especially since I have a short attention span. The way it works is you have 25 minutes of work, then 5 minutes of a break. Then you repeat. You can search “Pomodoro method timer” online and there are tons of free ones.
I know exactly what I need to get done
I find that just sitting down to study doesn’t help me–I have to have a plan. Otherwise I get distracted way too easily. So in the morning, part of my routine is writing out exactly what I need to get done, what I want to get done, and what would be ideal to get done. What I need consists of assignments due within 4 days, chapters that I’ve fallen behind on, and Honours Thesis tasks with a deadline. What I want to get done is chapters I’m still ahead for or assignments I want to start early. Ideal is getting enough done that I’m one week ahead. Then I work in that order–need, then want, then ideal. I tend to work on the courses I like the most first, and then fail to get the not-so-fun stuff done, but this way helps me get the necessary stuff done first.
This helps me not have to work at night because I don’t ever need to cram last minute. If you get what you absolutely need to finish by 6:00 PM, then you don’t have to do anything after dinner and you have free time. It’s about prioritizing and organizing–nothing more.
I work until it’s done
That means no checking facebook until you’re done what you need to finish. It may be hard, but it’s a good habit to get into. Think about it: when you’re working someday, you’re not going to be able to just take breaks to go hang out with friends. You work from 8-5, then you’re free. Why don’t we have the same mentality with school?
Honestly, this was a tough one for me to learn, especially since Psychology had a pretty easy courseload up until last year. Back then, I was able to study for 3-4 hours a day and get everything done. Now I need to be working a good 8-9 hours a day to keep on top of things, and I’m very grateful I’ve gotten this habit under control.
I give myself grace
This was one that took a long time for me to learn. I’m a perfectionist, and for me, second-place was not acceptable. If I wasn’t on top of things or getting the best marks I possibly could, I would beat myself down. I’m doing a much better job this year of being gracious towards myself.
If I don’t get everything I need to done, I’m OK with that. I just work harder the next day, or I work longer on Saturday than I normally would. School is all about balance and priorities, and in order to make your health a priority you need to be realistic about what you can get done and give grace when the demands simply outweigh your capabilities in that moment. It’s OK, you’ll catch up, you always do.
So that’s how I get all of my work done during the day and no longer have to study at night! I’m actually really proud of being able to pull this off, despite having 5x as much school as I ever have.
What are some of your best productivity tips? Do you work best at night, or during the day?