13 Best Productivity Tips for Students – Ever!

Education books in library

“Mineela, I have to cancel my session because I have too much homework to do.”

“I am swamped and I have to study for the SATs.”

“I have so much to do, I don’t know how I am going to get it all done.”

If you really think about it, a kid’s life is filled with all kinds of academic demands. On top academic concerns, they are trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be, making and keeping friends, managing the adults in their lives, and making decisions about their future. There is a lot to do and very little time to do it.

My young clients are starting to do the proverbial freaking out about everything they need to do by the end of the school year. Papers, SATs, finals, projects…. I am getting tired just thinking about it.

Following are the best productivity tips I have seen work time and time again, leading to more productivity and, surprisingly, more fun and free time.

Take Care of Your Body

Get enough sleep, eat often and health, drink lots of water, and get some exercise. You need to take care of your body and fuel it with the best fuel so it has what it needs to function at its best. Take care of your body and it will take care of you. ‘Nuf said.

Move Your Body

Exercise for 20 minutes before you get down to work. Exercise will temporarily increase increase your focus. A minimum of 20 minutes of a sweat breaking workout will give you up to 2.5 hours of increased focus for what you need to do. It’s less for some and more for others.

Interact With the Material

You will retain more information if you are able to answer a question. Make some up and write them in the margins of your notes. Take your notes and turn them into questions your teacher might ask. Then answer them.

Pen Beats a Sword – Every Time!

Write as much as you can by hand. Here’s an article about why this helps immensely with retaining more information.

For the reasons on why handwriting trumps typing, click here.

Chunk it Down

Use a simple kitchen timer and chunk your work down into smaller pieces. Work in 20 minute intervals followed by five minutes of break. Setting the timer for 20 minutes will force you to work as fast as you can with increased focus and attention on what is in front of you. So the cycle should be 20 minutes concentrated effort with a five minute break.

20-5-20-5-20-5….

If you find yourself focused and working hard, let the timer go and stay on course. But, take a break as soon as you find your mind wandering and you are not using your time efficiently.

Maximum attention span for optimal focus and attention is 40 – 45 minutes. The time gets shorter if you are tired, hungry, upset, or sick. So, feel free to play with this number to find your sweet spot. Generally, 20 minutes seems to be optimal when under stress.

List It Out

Having a list, checking it twice and checking off the items you have completed can be very helpful. It can remind you of what you need to focus on, thereby avoiding all the other fun extraneous things you would like to do. (Like the chores you normally hate doing.) Checking things off can help you see you are making progress, fueling further progress.

Break Wisely

Use your five minute break wisely. Do not do anything during that time that will get you caught up in it. (Yes, I am referring to video games, Facebook, Instagram, or knitting.) Stick to activities that will take you only five minutes to do but do not take up head space – fold laundry, do some jumping jacks or other exercise, draw, color, pick up your room, do a chore, or play with the dog. The goal is to find something you do not have to think about, can do fairly easily but, you can also tear yourself away from it when your five minutes is up.

Plan Mini-Vacations From the Schoolwork

Plan something fun to do at least twice a week. See these as rewards and vacations from the work. This will give you something to look forward to. Plan them as rewards for a job well done and a break well deserved.

Sip That Glucose

Your brain uses 25% of the glucose (a sugar) you ingest to fuel itself. It is the only fuel that your brain uses to run so, this is the reason you crave sweets when you are studying or using your brain for a long period of time. Glucose comes in a variety of forms and it’s up to you to choose the healthy stuff (like fruit and juice) and to ingest it in moderation. Because your brain needs a constant supply, it’s best to consume the sugary stuff in small doses over a longer period of time. The only rule is you do not chug or eat your piece of fruit all in one go. You eat in small bits over time – make that orange last as long as you can! If you’re drinking Gatorade (or some other drink), sip. Do not chug or take big gulps. Simply sip every once in a while.

(Be wise if you struggle with conditions where you need to limit your sugar.)

Use Caffeine Strategically

Note: This strategy is not for everyone; especially, if you struggle with anxiety.

The timing of caffeine ingestion makes a difference. The research is showing that if you have caffeine before you work, it will increase focus. If you drink it after, it increases retention of information. What you are trying to accomplish will determine when you have that cuppa Joe.

Keep in mind too much coffee and/or too late at night will lead to trouble. Stick with eight ounces at regular strength – that is a very small cup. Espresso does not count! I never recommend energy drinks or strong coffee because you will crash and it will most likely keep you up into the night. Remember what I said earlier about you needing your sleep? Keep reading and I’ll give you another good reason to get a good’s night sleep.

Manage the Ambiance

Often, we can be distracted not only by the sounds of everyday life but, also by the chatter in our own heads. Ambient noise provides a nice cover from these noises. But, not everyone benefits from ambient noise. Some work better in complete silence. You need to figure what works for you.

For those who find ambient noise helpful, the kind of noise that works might be different for each of you. Some options: the hum of the coffee shop (some of my best work happens at a coffee shop), music in the background (avoid music with lyrics and loud enough that you can hear it but, not so loud that it will demand your attention), working in a library, sitting in the hallway at school, or white noise (lots of free apps out there to work with). Experiment with what works best for you.

Sleep Makes Memorization Stick

There is a particular strategy I recommend when there is a lot to memorize. Retention of memorized materials is much better if review happens just before sleep. Brush your teeth, say ”goodnight” to everyone, change into your pajamas, and get into bed with your flash cards. Spend some time memorizing to your heart’s content, put the cards away, turn off the light, and go to sleep.

Do not collect $100; do not pass GO. Go straight to sleep.

In addition to repetition, deep and restful sleep moves information from short term memory into long term. Do this for a few nights and sometimes to refresh. This is a strategy that works really well with memorization of facts, formulae, and vocabulary.

Working Harder Defeats the Purpose

I saved the best for last….

Did you know that when you work harder to stay focused, the worse your focus actually gets. Courtesy of Dr. Amen (the brain scan/science guru), brain scans actually show that the brain becomes less efficient the harder you tell it to pay attention.

Instead, take a quick break.

Now you know what to do. Get out there and get it done!

Good luck to all my student clients. You got this!

What Do You Really, Really Want?

my resolution - napkin conceptI’ll tell you want I want; what I really, really want!

Wait! Why are the Spice Girls coming to mind?

Before I forget, Happy New Year everyone!

The New Year is an important marker in many people’s lives. It marks the end as well as, and more importantly in my mind, the beginning of exciting possibilities. The vision of the future is bright and we have plans (damn it!) of all the wonderful things we want to accomplish and see in our lives. Because we are creatures of ritual, many of us have been spending days, if not weeks, writing and fine-tuning our New Year’s Resolutions.

Honestly, I hate New Year’s resolutions. I have spent many years making resolutions; starting strong, succeeding in accomplishing some and others that have fizzled out. My experiences with resolutions have been one of frustration (regardless of whether I accomplished my goals or not), futility and just downright disappointment. In particular, the fizzle out factor was high when I was not emotionally connected to my goals. No passion; no success.

Eventually, I realized, I was doing the whole resolution thing wrong! I was actually setting goals and not making resolutions.

Yup. There’s a difference.

I could give you a formal definition of the words “resolution” and “goal” but, I would sound unnecessarily serious-like. For all intents and purposes, a resolution is a decision to do something, be it more different, less, or new. It is about deciding the direction we would like to go. It is an intention. A goal, on the other hand, is the activity which (once completed) will help us realize and manifest our intention.

I love the subtle nuances of language!

In other words, a resolution is a mental state as opposed to the result of an activity. It is, ultimately, what drives not only our goals, but every choice we make. It is what motivates us. I truly truly believe that once we know what motivates us, energizes us, helps us to feel connected to our authentic selves, and helps us to feel consistent with our values, everything else falls into place.

So, I did things a little differently this year. I focused on what motivates and drives what I do – my feelings. I drilled down under my goals to the core of what I want to feel and got to the foundation from which to do everything else. At the end of the process, I realized I had honed in on how I want to feel this year at the core of who I am. I truly believe that the same holds for everyone – each individual is driven by how they want to feel.

I eat because I want to feel satiated and comfortable.
I spend time with my family and friends because I want to feel connected.
I became an entrepreneur because I want to feel creative and generative.
I share resources and information with others because I want to feel generous and expansive.
I strive for my financial goals because I want to feel secure.

Underneath it all, it is fundamentally about how I want to feel. Drilling down under my goals, I found treasure!

The beauty of this perspective is that core intentions, once you figure them out, never change – they are foundational. However, the ways in which an intention gets expressed is limitless. It’s also a great way for those with ADHD to set their goals because we are so driven by our feelings and our energy levels. The less energy we have, the more prone we are to distraction and procrastination. And, don’t get me started on what might happen if we’re not feeling so great physically and/or emotionally; it’s game over!

Brilliant, right? I thought so too. Then I went to my research assistant – Google.

I discovered Danielle LaPorte’s book “Desire Map”. I would like to say I hate the woman because she retroactively stole my great idea but, she is a Canadian. Seriously, how can you hate a Canadian?

I have not read “Desire Map” as of yet, but it will be arriving on my doorstep courtesy of Amazon any day now. I’ll keep you updated and maybe do a review.
In the meantime, head over to her website and check out the first chapter of her book. (And, no, I am not an affiliate member for Danielle and am not receiving compensation in any way.) Scroll down and almost to the bottom and click on the left hand corner of the large image for the book where it says “Sneak Peak”. You will then have access to the first full chapter. Frankly, this seems like enough to get you started in a serious way. The last few pages list feeling words if you need help with generating them.

The process of working through your resolutions in this way has several benefits:

1. It forces you to language what deeply satisfies you. Often, we experience a feeling or sense of something which cannot be articulated because we have no language for it.

2. It brings clarity about what matters to you and what you value.

3. Once you know and can clearly articulate what is deeply satisfying to you, you can make more conscious and intentional choices about what activities will get you there.

4. Difficult, cumbersome, tedious, overwhelming but, necessary tasks take on a different shape and become energizing as opposed to draining. For example, financial planning is now a pleasure for me because it has moved from being something I hate to do to something which I do because it results in the experience of several of my core feelings. If you know something will benefit you on a deeper level than just getting it done, you have more energy to stick with it and get it done.

5. It allows you to course correct; changing, tweaking or even abandoning a goal if you realize it will not get you what you want to feel. Without the guilt or the feeling that you have failed in your bid to be an adult!

6. It encourages and invites you to ask different questions. Is what I want to accomplish going to bring me these feelings? What can I do today to feel one or more of my core desired feelings? What do I want to feel more of today? What can I do about those activities that take me away from my core desired feelings?

So, what did I come up with as my core desired feelings?

Core Desired Feeling

1. Generous abundance

2. Authentic connection

3. Passionate femininity

4. Purposeful focus

5. Graceful strength

6. Daring creativity

(Note: I described my desired core feelings with two words because I’m just a stickler for specificity when it comes to language.)

These feel good to me. They resonate with who I am as an individual. Collectively, this is the mental state I would like to sustain. These feelings are what drive me and my choices in positive and productive ways. They are energizing!

I am probably not alone in the experience of it being much easier to accomplish a highly defined and quantified goal when I feel good. I find goals alone pedantic, hard task-masters and rigid. As such, I experience them as soul sucking and exhausting. In my opinion, these are not the feelings that drive both a successful and satisfying life. Success comes when we accomplish things. However, success and satisfaction are not mutual propositions. Those instances where I have felt both success and satisfaction have been because they connected at a deeper level.

In terms of the original definitions of resolution and goal at the beginning of this post, my core desired mental and emotional states are my resolution. My intention is to feel in these particular ways. My goals are those things which, once accomplished, will result in the manifestation of my intentions; intentions then become a reality. (I could go into a long discussion of how, in this perspective, the intention and the goal, or destination, are the same while you define the path by which you would like to get there. But, I won’t ‘cause this post is already too long.)

Now that I have set a foundation, I feel free to write my goals for the year – or anytime for that matter.

On the first day of 2014, my status on my private Facebook page, read “Today feels shiny, new and exciting…full and pregnant with possibilities!”

(I do have a Facebook business page, by the way. Hint. Hint.)

Again, Happy New Year, everyone! May this year bring and be filled with treasure in all areas of your life!