Academia is gearing up for its final blow: exam season. And as it approaches, so too comes with it heaps of assignments, essays of the 20 page variety, and entire textbooks to read. We have lots of work to do, which means, the time between now and summer will be very poorly spent. That’s because we university students, in general, are extremely proficient procrastinators. Visit any library these days and you’ll be greeted by a familiar sight: students wasting time. Based on observation alone, the typical “study day” for the average student follows the same general pattern:
Arrive ? Unpack bag ? Go on Facebook for half an hour ? Open textbook to the right page ? Read 2 pages/do 1 problem ? Check Blackberry ? Read 2 pages ? Go to the bathroom ? Check email ? Check Facebook ? etc, etc.
It’s astounding how long we say we spend “studying” when, if we’re honest with ourselves, the majority of that time is spent just plain fooling around. Of course, I can’t speak for the entire population of students – surely, some are exceptionally productive – but my impression (from countless hours logged a la bibliotheque) is that procrastination is rampant on university campuses. Rampant, I say!
Why is this so? In my experience, it’s because I tend to dread my work. It’s so much more fun and rewarding to participate in instant gratification tasks: checking social media portals, for one, is a favourite. Thinking about a daunting, time-consuming project that threatens to take over your life for the next few days is depressing. So we end up putting it off until we can’t possibly do so any longer. Until it’s due tomorrow. And then, just like that, our sleep has been sacrificed to make up for our time management errors.
How to avoid this curse?!
- Make your work seem less daunting.
- Don’t take it so seriously!
- Force yourself to pretend like this is the very best time to tackle a project.
- Set a time limit for a specific task and get into a flow.
- Don’t have any expectations about how much you should get done in that time period.
My very favourite productivity tool is The Pomodoro Technique.
It encompasses all of the above + more. Based on old kitchen timers, it suggests alternating between 25 minute positive power productive periods (my term), and 5 minute relax recharge rests (also my term).
It. Works. So. Well.
Seriously. I was very skeptical when I first learned about it – I didn’t think 5 minutes would be a long enough break to keep me working hard, and I didn’t think I could get very much done in 25 minutes. Oh, how wrong I was. Turns out, 25 minutes of flow is exactly enough time to write the first draft of my weekly column or blog post, finish an assignment, read a chunk of textbook, or review a lecture. And 5 minutes is perfect for checking Facebook, Twitter, Email & phone, taking a quick walk, or stuffing my mouth with food. Obviously, 5 minutes does tend to get less satisfying after 3 pomodoros – my attention starts to wane and I get tired. That’s an hour and a half of solid, productive work – it’s tiring! So I find that stretching out to ten minute breaks as time goes on works better for me.
The ideal way to employ this technique would be to use an old kitchen timer that can be set to 25 minutes – ideal because it’d keep you off the internet entirely! If you don’t have one hanging around though, try focusboosterapp, an online program (with a desktop application version) that is specifically designed to employ the Pomodoro technique. It automatically does the 25/5 minute program, complete with colour-coding to let you know how close you are to a break. I tend to keep it up on my screen whenever I’m studying, even if I’m not using my computer for work. Just glancing up at the bar lets me know how much longer I have to focus, and reminds me that I’m meant to be working!
I personally feel that doing 2-3 hours of solid, uninterrupted, distraction-free work is much more efficient than spending 8 hours in the library and getting the same amount of work done (or, in many cases, much less!). If you try out this technique, I think you’ll soon start to agree. It actually makes you productive – automatic boost in self-efficacy and self-esteem! Instead of having to make yourself feel better or more prepared for an exam by bragging to friends about spending the entire day in the library, you’ll already feel prepared, with much less of a fuss. Working efficiently is exponentially better than working endlessly.
So, what do you think? Would you use this self-discipline tool? Are you a procrastinator? Do you need help in that department? Or are you very good at time management? If so, what are your tricks? As always, let me know in the comments below, email me, or tweet me!
Try the Pomodoro technique right here, right now! Use it for a few days, then come back and let me know what you think!
Yours in productivity,