I was recently chatting to one of my oldest and dearest friends over Skype and as we exchanged the usual catch-up repertoire of ‘How are you?’ and ‘What have you been up to?’ she asked me:
‘How’s university going?’
To which I replied my standard response,
‘Good! Busy, but good’
To which she replied,
‘Do you realise I’ve known you for 22 years and you’ve been a student for 20 of them?’
I have been studying for what feels like, and has quite literally been, the entirety of my life. From primary school, to high; to a year of one undergraduate degree; to a swap into a second, more suitable undergraduate degree; to currently having just embarked on the exciting (and slightly daunting) path of a 2 years masters course.
In saying this, I have in no way ‘mastered’ the most productive way of being a successful student. I still really struggle with several aspects of student life; my main woes – and I’m certainly not alone in this struggle – are time management, procrastination, group work denial and the crippling anxiety that comes from pulling an all-nighter the night before an assignment is due. As I have become more aware of my specific study-related weaknesses, I have pushed myself to come up with productive solutions to counteract my seemingly stubborn nature to, quite plainly, not get shit done.
Below are six tips and tricks I have crafted throughout my student life. I hope they can help you, or that slightly stressed, slightly sleepy student you inevitably have in your life.
1. Prepare Properly
So you’ve got a whole day ahead of you, with no-one else home, it’s just you, your textbooks and a bag of m&m’s. NOTE: DO NOT WASTE THIS TIME. Yes, it might be tempting to wake up at 10am, scroll through Instagram and sleepily rise out of bed at 11.30am for an English muffin and a cup of tea, but trust me… if you haven’t started your homework by midday, you won’t start at all.
FIRST TIP: Get up and get ready as if you’re heading out for the day.
This means having a shower and putting on clothes that aren’t made predominantly of flannelette. You can try and study productively in pyjamas, and perhaps this works for you, but in my experience pyjama time means rest and relaxation time – and this mentality will just not suffice when trying to pump out assignments. Dress as if you’re getting ready for work and you may just realise that your productivity levels are significantly higher than normal.
2. Make yourself accountable
Even if you have never worked a 9-5 job, start getting to know what it might feel like. If your university timetable requires you to be in class from 3pm-5pm, why not use the time before the class to do readings, check your uni email and make a start on future assignments?
SECOND TIP: Treat your uni days as work days.
Get to uni at 9am (okay, maybe 10am) but no later! Pretend Uni is your 9-5 job; make yourself accountable to be there on time and be ready to work. You can smash it out during the day and once your class is finished at 5pm, you get to go home and switch off; knowing you’ve made substantial efforts during the day means you don’t have to feel guilty about spending the night on the couch with your cat.
3. Destroy distraction
There is ahhh-bsolutely no way I am studying productively with my Facebook chat open, my Instagram account logged in and the TV on in the background. Although it’s tempting to check-in with your social media friends every 5 minutes, it is extremely disruptive to your thought pattern and the flow of your reading and writing.
THIRD TIP: Put your phone in a separate room to yourself.
Just do it. Leave your fun phone times for your study breaks!
4. Keep the flow
Study breaks – how long should they be? and how long after you started studying should they occur? This is entirely up to you and is different for every student. I usually like to incorporate enough time to eat something, go to the loo and do a quick Instagram check before returning to study – so I roughly allocate approximately 30 minutes to one study break, every 1.5 hours. I used to reward myself with a quick 20 minute episode of Sex and the City as my study break, this is NOT a good idea. One episode always leads to two and before you know it, you’re binge-watching an entire season.
FOURTH TIP: Stay productive within your study breaks
This relates to your study breaks and your non-study periods (night time, the weekend etc) – try and stay productive with things other than homework. Do something, don’t waste your time away from study by sleeping too late or drinking too much. Bake a cake, draw a picture, write a blog post, call your Mum – getting other things ticked off your ‘life list’ will keep you on track and keep your motivation going, even during your down times.
5. Ease up
Make time for fun and friends, don’t get caught in the trap of living solely for your student life. Although keeping on top of university is rewarding and important, you must remember that the rest of your life still matters. Work hard on your relationships and keep up to date with your friends and family.
FIFTH TIP: Don’t be too hard on yourself
Give yourself a break once in a while, organise a coffee date, telephone your grandma and let your friends know that they’re important and loved by you, even if your other jealous and possessive friend ‘Uni degree’ is pulling you away from time to time.
6. Coffee. Coffee is always a good idea.
Drink it strong and drink it often.
Good luck to all my fellow students during this current, stressful study period! I will now stop procrastinating and get back into my assignments (although writing a blog post does come under the umbrella of ‘productive’).