Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Do you want to learn better and faster so that you can achieve your goals without putting in as much effort? Well, stay tuned because this blog post is for you! As a student who’s actively pursuing a PhD and founded a tutoring company, I’m here provide you with my personal tips and strategies for boosting your productivity.
Spoiler alert: We’re not saying that you won’t have to put in effort to achieve your goals. What we will teach you is how to be as effective as possible with your time and efforts. The good news is, if you put in the effort and you’re effective, then the sky's the limit.
There are three major areas to focus on: (1) your environment and its influence on you; (2) your habits and their compounding, long-term effects; and (3) methods and strategies to boost productivity right now.
#1 - Control your environment, because your environment controls you!
Our brains are always processing sensory information from our surroundings. Most of this occurs subconsciously, yet we feel the effects both physically and mentally. That’s why it’s important to recognize the impact that our surroundings have on our wellness and well-being, which affects our overall productivity. When it comes to hacking your brain for maximizing productivity, you’ll want to create an environment that minimizes distraction and stress while promoting focus and a sense of urgency.
Create Your Work Space
Since many of us are working or studying from home much more than we’re accustomed to, it’s important that we establish a “work space”. This is your personal designated area for being productive. Set up your work space such that you have everything you need to be productive. It’s important that your work space be separate from your comfort space. However, if your work space is in your room, avoid facing or working in your bed. If you’re studying or working from bed, rest assured (pun intended) that you’re operating below maximal capacity by reducing your productivity in the moment and reducing the quality of sleep you’ll get at night.
Don't Be Super Comfortable
Think about it, are you more likely to take a nap while studying near your bed or at the library? Considering that it’s generally not acceptable to nap at the library and it’s not the reason why you’re there in the first place, going there to work will create a sense of urgency that will help you be more productive. If you’re working from home, we strongly emphasize creating a work space that is separate from your comfort space.
Declutter Your Surroundings & Minimize Distractions
Keeping your work space tidy can boost productivity because it minimizes the opportunities for distractions. In turn, this leads to a less cluttered mind and allows you to focus better on your studies. We also recommend that you put your phone on silent or airplane mode and away from sight (check out our tip below for minimizing distractions using the “Pomodoro Technique”).
#2 - How you do anything is how you do everything!
Your daily routine and habits will shape how you feel, how you behave, and ultimately, who you are. That’s why it’s important to recognize what you’re usually doing, saying, and thinking because habits have compounding, long-term effects! For example, if you consume a single scoop of ice cream (average 250 calories per scoop) every day for a month, then you would have consumed 7500 calories by the end of the month, which is the recommended daily calorie intake for an adult for 3-4 days. Quite a substantial impact for a single scoop of ice cream! Similarly, any practice you do regularly, such as exercising, will have a significant effect in just a matter of weeks.
You should also recognize and take advantage of the fact that your habits in one context will spill over to other aspects of your life. So, if you’re constantly deferring something that you have to get done because “you’ll do it later”, then it’s very likely that you’re deferring other important tasks too. We list several recommendations below to help you establish good habits for boosting your productivity, both now and in the long run.
Make Your Bed in the Morning
This ties in closely with the earlier point about controlling your environment. It’s mentioned here because this a habit that can have a butterfly-like effect in other aspects of your life. Not only does making your bed leave you with a tidier room (and consequently a tidier, more productive mind), it’s an easy task that can get you in the habit of completing tasks RIGHT NOW even when you don’t feel like it. After all, how you do anything, is how you do everything!
Win the Morning, Win the Day!
Does it ever feel difficult getting out of bed? Well maybe it’s because we’re reluctant to face all the things we have lined up for the day. But why start the day with a daunting task when you can do something you enjoy?
That’s why we recommend you dedicate some time in the morning doing something personal and that you enjoy. This could be a quick workout, reading a book, painting, or something that you’ve been meaning to do but “never found the time”. Obviously, this might mean that you have to wake up earlier. However, the trade-off is that you start the day with a “win” that creates a feeling of success and momentum, which is carried on throughout the day. This will make the rest of your day and the daunting tasks that you need to face later on much more approachable.
Get Organized & Create a Weekly Schedule
If you’re going to apply one strategy from this article, this is the most important. Organization is a key skill for any high-performer. Why else do secretaries exist, except to make the lives of other professionals (doctors, lawyers, etc.) more organized, and consequently, much more productive? The most effective way to organize your time is by using a calendar because it allows you to visualize your daily, weekly, and monthly commitments and plan for the long-term.
From your brain’s perspective, creating a weekly schedule creates less stress because you have less to think and worry about. This, in turn, allows your brain to direct more attention towards the task at hand, thereby improving your ability to focus and be productive. In our previous blog and newsletter article, we provide in-depth guidance and tips for creating your weekly schedule, so check that out for how-tos.
Avoid Putting Things Off for Later
The biggest productivity killers are the words “I’ll do it later”. Why? Because it’s easy to make a habit of applying this excuse to every aspect of our lives. If you catch yourself saying “I’ll do it later”, push yourself to do it NOW. This is a skill, also called discipline, that you build with experience and will get better at with time. Making your bed each morning is a great place to hone your personal discipline skills.
Get Proper Sleep
You spend one third of your life sleeping so that your brain can function for the remaining two thirds. Any disruption in your sleep will have you functioning at less than your prime, and continuous disruptions will lead to compounding negative effects such as impaired memory, reduced ability to focus, and increased irritability. We discuss this in greater detail in the first blog of this series , but basically, the key to optimizing your brain through sleep involves getting quality (deep) sleep and having consistency in your sleep schedule.
#3 - Methods and strategies while actively working on a task
So far, we’ve discussed strategies for controlling your environment and daily habits for boosting productivity. Next, we’ll provide some strategies to boost your productivity in the moment while you’re actively working or studying.
Write a To-Do List
Writing a daily to-do list can go a long way for boosting motivation and reducing stress. This is because having a clear list can help you visualize your tasks and remain focused on what’s important. It also generates a sense of accomplishment when you scratch an item off your to-do list and that momentum carries on through the day. Finally, it allows you to visualize how much you’ve accomplished that day and to reflect on what went well and what didn’t.
This is the most useful strategy that you can apply to boost your productivity instantaneously. Why? Because your brain gears into top shape when it senses urgency, and urgency is felt most when there is an approaching deadline! Timing yourself also helps you to focus and be less distracted by forcing you to pay attention to the task at hand.
To apply this strategy, we recommend following the famous “Pomodoro Technique”. Basically, for any given task, spend 25 minutes doing uninterrupted work and follow this with a 5-minute break. During those 25 minutes, you should promise yourself that you will not be distracted by anything else and focus on the task at hand. You can use your phone to set a timer, but it’s crucial that you set your phone to airplane or silent mode so that you’re not distracted. During your break, try to stretch and drink some water instead of getting caught in one of the internet’s many rabbit holes.
If you write a daily to-do list and apply the Pomodoro Technique to each task, you’re guaranteed to boost your productivity almost immediately.
Fix Your Posture
Yes, posture is important. Sitting in a chair (or standing) with your back straight and feet on the ground will raise your alertness and increase your ability to pay attention. Sitting upright not only signals to your brain that you’re awake, but it allows for better blood flow (if you remember from our first blog post of this series , blood flow is crucial for your brain to function at its best!). On the contrary, lying down or leaning back will signal to your brain that it’s time to rest. So, don’t fool your brain into slowing down when it’s time to be productive!
Fuel Your Brain
That big brain of yours needs to be properly fueled for you to be the best student that you can be. That means having a water bottle next to you and staying hydrated throughout the day. Water is essential for many brain mechanisms and helps to improve blood flow to the brain. But sugar and fats are just as important! Your brain’s main source of fuel is sugar; however, not all sugars are created equal. The best sources of sugar are ones that release slowly (e.g. fruits, oats, whole wheat) instead of immediately (e.g. juice, processed foods, desserts). Fats keep your brain cells working properly and boost mental function. For a list of “brain foods” and more information about their effects, check out our first blog of this series and our newsletter article.
For the same reason that we sleep, you should rest periodically throughout the day and ensure that you leave time for leisure and extra-curricular activities. This helps you recuperate your physical and mental energy, which keeps your productivity levels high and sustainable over time.
Although there are actions you can take right now to boost your productivity, the key is to establish daily practices and routines that will kick your brain into top shape and keep your productivity levels high and sustainable. Productivity ties closely with your overall wellness and well-being, so it’s no surprise that taking care of your physical and mental health will maximize your performance as a student.