Your time as a college student is likely a significant milestone in your life — it brings excitement, challenges, and growth opportunities for you in many areas. You’re learning to balance your studies, your family, your social life, a full-time or part-time job, among many others — while also making time to incorporate and prioritize self-care (while in college and beyond!) It’s not surprising that you might struggle to accomplish everything on your itinerary, no matter how committed and talented you are.
Commonly cited reasons for lack of peak productivity include fatigue, stress, burnout, inefficient time management, and distractions diverting your focus. Pair those factors with the struggles of dealing with the pandemic the last few years—especially those new to remote studying and online degree programs—and it’s impressive that students have maintained focus at all.
Take comfort that you’re not alone in trying to find and incorporate time management skills to boost your productivity and college success. According to Reliable Plant, “87 percent of students say better time management and organization skills would help them get better grades.”
Let’s look at 22 productivity hacks and tips that you can use as a college student to accomplish more, hit deadlines easily, boost overall productivity, gain confidence, reduce stress, and enjoy your life along the way.
1. MAKE A MANAGEABLE TO-DO LIST
While everyone’s schedule is different, yours is likely jam-packed, trying to accomplish high-value studies, completing projects, and tending to your work and personal life. Anyone who can do it all effectively is a rare specimen indeed. Without creating a list or adding items to your calendar, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of stress and even missed deadlines.
Without the ability to look at tasks at a glance, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and stressed out trying to remember everything. And once you miss a deadline, things can spiral quickly, causing problems and additional missed deadlines as you try to catch up. On the other end of the spectrum, having an excessively long to-do list is just as overwhelming. Find the right balance for you, striving for and limiting yourself to 3-5 tasks you can efficiently complete daily.
An additional consideration is distinguishing the difference between tasks and goals.
- Tasks are things you want to do in a day, such as finishing an outline for your thesis or dissertation or picking up printer toner on the way home from work.
- Goals are overarching, bigger-picture accomplishments, such as completing your thesis or dissertation or researching and buying new equipment specific to your studies or program. Goals are generally comprised of many tasks.
Once you understand these differences and commit to keeping a management to-do list, you’ll find it’s easier to stay on track.
2. DON’T TAKE ON TOO MUCH
The quickest path to stress and burnout as a college student is to take on more than you can handle. There is no shame in managing your life by eliminating or modifying certain activities to allow you to focus on tasks and goals that are most vital to your college success.
Remember not to put too much pressure on yourself to “do it all.” While everyone has a combination of responsibilities, create balance where you can, eliminating any unnecessary extracurricular activities that don’t add value to your life and studies.
3. TURN OFF DISTRACTIONS
Today’s distractions are numerous and varied and include:
- Browsing the internet
- Checking email
- Participating in social media
- Playing games
- Streaming music and movies
As an online student, it’s easy to blur the lines between studying and hopping over to browse your favorite social media platform or using a chat room. Monitor your behavior to turn off distractions that will impede productivity.
4. GO FOR WALKS
A good walk is a profoundly excellent college hack for many reasons, such as getting in essential movement, reducing stress, and helping you clarify your thoughts to reboot for your next study session.
As a bonus, you can also use that time to call your family or friends, listen to recorded class notes on your phone, respond to an email or two, or listen to your favorite podcast. Once you finish your walk, you’ll likely feel refreshed and ready for the next round of studies.
5. USE A CALENDAR
If you have an email account, such as Gmail, you probably have a built-in calendar in your life. Use it to your advantage by tracking important deadlines, personal events, family functions, and work schedules. You can also add notifications, alerts, and reminders at various intervals for crucial tasks and events to help avoid procrastination and ensure you don’t miss anything.
6. POMODORO TECHNIQUE
The Pomodoro Technique is one to consider if you need a proven time management system. It encourages students to work within the time available. You’ll be working within your allotted time frame rather than against it.
The technique works by breaking your workday into 25-minute chunks, separated by five-minute breaks. The combined work-break intervals are known as Pomodoros. There is a psychological component associated with the technique, building a manageable sense of urgency that helps you accomplish tasks on time.
7. DON’T MULTITASK
It might seem counterintuitive to avoid multitasking since so many people do it daily. That doesn’t mean it’s in your best interests. Some people are built for multitasking, but most people need more focus and structure to accomplish tasks and goals.
According to Grade Power Learning, “instead of effectively juggling the tasks, students’ minds become distracted and can reduce productivity by up to 40%.”
8. SWITCH UP YOUR STUDY ENVIRONMENT
In an increasingly online and remote academic world, creating the best workspace for your core study time is essential. However, it’s a good idea to occasionally switch up your environment with a fresh atmosphere. Whether you move your study space from your designated office or desk to the kitchen table, or you pack up and go to the library or local coffee shop, add in some variety to your study space.
9. FIND YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE HOURS
Some people are “morning people,” while others do their best work in the afternoons, evenings, or late at night. Whatever works into your schedule and spurs productivity is when you should work. Find your most productive study hours and stick with them.
10. THE TWO-MINUTE RULE
The premise of the two-minute rule, developed by productivity consultant and author David Allen, is that if any task takes less than two minutes, do it immediately to get it out of the way. The strategy can be scaled to fit various tasks and activities as well, such as instead of reading before bed each night, you commit to reading one page each night.
11. TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
Taking regular study breaks is healthy for you. There’s no reason to try to power through when your concentration and energy are waning. Commit to taking a purposeful break that lasts anywhere from five minutes to an hour to walk or take a nap, do some leisurely reading, listen to relaxing music, or play a video game.
Once the break is over, you’ll have refreshed your brain and boosted your energy, focus, and productivity.
12. SET YOURSELF DEADLINES
Much like creating a to-do list and managing your calendar, deadlines are tools you can use to stay on track for success. Even if deadlines are self-imposed, they help to ensure you complete your tasks and achieve your goals in a reasonable time frame.
13. PLAN AHEAD
Using your planner, calendar, or digital app, make a list of your weekly, monthly, or college semester-specific tasks, deadlines, activities, and engagements. It might take an hour or two to figure out your more far-reaching goals, but making a plan for weekly assignments might take 10-15 minutes and will offer you peace of mind.
Write up tasks as simple as reminding yourself to iron and set out clothes the day before classes or as vital as writing an outline for an essay that is due soon. This tip can help you succeed in life long after graduation.
14. GET PLENTY OF SLEEP
Avoid putting yourself in the position to complete tasks or projects late at night or pull all-night study sessions. Adults function best on seven to eight hours of sleep each night, so commit to accomplishing your daily tasks and getting to bed at a reasonable hour every night.
15. FIND APPS TO HELP
Whether you use an Android or Apple smartphone, you’ll find a stunning array of productivity apps to help you succeed. Some productivity apps provide virtual prompts and modest rewards when you stay off your phone and complete a task.
Top college student productivity apps include:
- Any calendar app
16. DO THE HARDEST TASKS FIRST
While this might seem at odds with the Two-Minute Rule hack, it’s actually not. Once you complete those quick and easy tasks, hit the hardest ones. If there’s something you dread doing, it’s possible that you’ll procrastinate completing it until the last minute, creating unnecessary stress in your life. In such situations, tackle the toughest to-to first.
Experts agree that completing your hardest projects and tasks first is the key to doing more and doing everything efficiently.
17. WAKE UP EARLIER
You might not love the idea of waking up earlier each day, but the benefits might tempt you to try it. If you get up early, you have more time to work on your day’s activities, events, and tasks. It also gives you more time to chart your plans and either stick to them or make small adjustments as needed.
18. USE THE EISENHOWER MATRIX
The Eisenhower Matrix is another approach to prioritizing tasks according to urgency and importance while also deprioritizing anything less urgent or important. The technique was designed by the 34th US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had to make tough decisions from moment to moment. He also had to focus on his regularly scheduled tasks, so this led him to invent what has become world-famous as the Eisenhower Matrix or Eisenhower Principle.
19. STAY ORGANIZED
Organization isn’t a life skill that is often taught in any concerted way. While some teachers and parents might instill organizational values in students over the years, the responsibility usually lies on the shoulders of students. Fortunately, it’s not too late to develop good organizational skills to enjoy more success and less stress during college and beyond.
Here are a few ways you can develop good organization skills:
- Set up and use a digital calendar
- Use a digital or paper-based planner
- Transfer your handwritten notes to a digital format
- Organize everything by classes, projects, presentations, etc.
- Plan ahead to identify busy weeks that might result in deadline gridlocks
- Keep your desk workspace and computer files tidy
20. JOIN A STUDY GROUP
Either joining or forming a study group can help avoid a sense of isolation when studying in a remote environment. Even if your study group is in an online forum, it still helps to exchange ideas with others in your program and enjoy some social interaction.
Here are some additional reasons to join a study group:
- Understand the subject better
- Get deeper and better insights into a specific topic
- Earn better grades
- Gain experience with team dynamics
- Combat procrastination by engaging in mutual accountability
21. DON’T SKIP CLASS
It’s not uncommon for college students to occasionally skip a class, but it’s a slippery slope. You’re better off avoiding this behavior unless you are legitimately ill or have another urgent responsibility that comes up, because you can easily fall behind. What if you skip several days for the fun of it, then something serious comes up that prevents you from going to class? Things can go downhill quickly.
Besides, you or your parents have paid a lot of money for your education, and the class atmosphere is where your professors or instructors provide a lot of excellent information you might not find in your textbooks.
Further, it’s simply a bad habit to get into. Your professors might keep attendance, and you don’t want to make a bad impression. If you are struggling with a subject or receive a poor grade, you want to show that you’ve been committed enough to show up and do the work, so they will help you correct the situation.
22. LEARN BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT
With solid time management skills, you can accomplish daily responsibilities quickly, confidently, and effectively. Much of what we’ve discussed here, including apps and different techniques, can help you learn better time management.
- Goal setting
- Stress management
- Eliminating distractions