We all have days when we can’t summon the energy to even attempt being productive; even if we know we HAVE to get a reading done for a tutorial the next day or that if you don’t start an essay now, you’ll be doing it right up until the deadline. In times like these, we need a motivation boost, especially if the amount of work is starting to make you feel overwhelmed. While it is good to take breaks, especially if we are showing signs of burn out (which you can learn about further in Mauragh’s brilliant article, sometimes it can also be helpful to tackle the situation to help lift our mood and ensure we don’t end up stuck in a stressful cycle of researching through the night and fuelling our days with overpriced caffeine and napping in lectures (or even just snoozing through them and not showing up at all)!
Before I pass on some advice on what I find helpful, it is important to note that if you are feeling tired all the time, to the point where it is affecting your ability to study or even to just enjoy things in general, that you should make a doctor’s appointment and have a chat with a medical professional. During my first year, I thought I just wasn’t used to the party life as the baby of the group, only just getting to go out for the first time. I mentioned while at the doctors for something else that I was feeling quite bad, really tired all the time, not really expecting anything to be too wrong, however after a blood test I was shocked to find out I had glandular fever! I was pushing myself to keep going, telling myself I was just lazy, when in reality I was so ill I shouldn’t have been out of bed! In fact, I was making myself sicker by refusing to rest and let myself get better. There are so many other reasons that you might be feeling “unmotivated”, that are actually health-related, either mentally or physically, so please try and be kind to yourself and head along to the GP if you are worried.
With that little disclaimer out of the way, here are my top tips to motivate you to start studying NOW:
When you find yourself staring at your laptop, not actually doing any work, you need to find a way to refresh your mind to allow yourself to think clearly. In order to be more productive, you need to stop forcing yourself to try and write and go and do something that will allow you to work better when you return. Getting up and doing something quick and simple that still has a purpose can help to wake you up again. Some ideas to try to help “hit refresh” in your brain are:
- Go make a cup of tea or coffee – not only does this give you something with a direct purpose to go and do and then return, but it can also help calm you down or wake you up depending on your choice of drink.
- Go outside – if you have been sitting inside your flat, uni or the library all day some fresh air might be the cure to get your thought process moving again. I’d suggest trying to set yourself a specific task to encourage you to leave but also to bring you back to your work within a reasonable amount of time (If your essay is due that night, I’m not suggesting a three-hour trek!). For example, you can nip to the shop for the milk that you keep forgetting to buy but desperately need for that cup of tea or coffee from the previous suggestion. Maybe it’s a convenient time to go return the book you borrowed from your friend (as long as you aren’t going to chat forever and procrastinate). If you have been working away in your flat for a long time, moving to a more “studious” area might help you focus your mind, so walk to the library or any other space on campus that you find helpful; that way you get fresh air and a new space to help you focus! If you decide to stay in your flat or are in a study-zone where it is acceptable to do so, opening a window can really help to make you feel less confined, making it easier to work.
- Tidy your workspace – whether you realise it or not, being in a messy or unorganised environment can really affect your mood. While tidying can be a way to procrastinate, if it is a specific organisation to help reach your goal it is surprisingly productive. Make room on your desk to have your notes out, put anything away that isn’t necessary and in general just make it look all neat and tidy to make you feel nice and organised. I have personally found turning on all my fairy lights and having my wax melt warmer on (sadly no candles are allowed in my flat, so I’ve had to find a loop-hole), to create a relaxing, pleasant environment to study in puts me in such a positive mood that I am usually motivated to get cracking with whatever is on my to-do list straight away. If you aren’t in your flat, a similar effect can be created by laying out your notes and stationary nicely, making sure you don’t have piles and piles of books messily lying around or thousands of tabs open making it hard to follow one stream of thought and getting rid of any snack wrappers or coffee cups when you are done with them, sounds stupidly simple but it really helps.
Next up is what to do when your work-load has you feeling completely overwhelmed. We all have times when we become unbelievably stressed and convince ourselves that we aren’t capable of what we are trying to do. Here are some suggestions on how to calm yourself down and get yourself through the struggle of having too much work to get through:
- Write a list – writing out everything you need to get done can help to put your mind at ease as it makes it easier to break it all down into more manageable chunks instead of causing you to panic by thinking about everything you need to get done as a whole singular chore, making it seem like an impossible task. Writing it all out often helps you realise there isn’t as much to do as it might feel like there is. This also allows you to cross things off your list once you have completed them or draw some kind of symbol to signify progress has been made which helps to motivate you and make everything feel a lot more manageable as you work your way through the list.
- Bullet point your essays – I am not a fan of writing essay plans, but when I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed making a quick bullet-pointed list on a sticky note really helps me to focus on the task at hand. Simply writing a vague order of things I want to mention helps me feel like I have a path to the conclusion and that I can write with the understanding of where the essay is heading. For example, if I were to write a philosophy essay on Hume’s Missing Shade of Blue (guess what my enhanced study class was last semester) I would shove something like this on a sticky note:
QUESTION: WHAT IS DEMONSTRATED BY HUME’S MISSING SHADE OF BLUE EXAMPLE? Intro (Missing Shade = Hume’s own Counter Argument – not all ideas come from impressions?), Empiricism, Ideas and Impressions, Complex Ideas, The Copy Principle, The Missing Shade, Counter Arguments: Singular Case? Scientific Method? Augmenting/Diminishing in Imagination? Could a blind person imagine the shade of blue? So, is an idea truly a copy? CONCLUSION: yes, some ideas are not directly from impressions, some are complex and are altered in the mind.
While this strange little list will make a lot more sense to anyone who knows a wee bit about philosophy, hopefully, the general idea of the bullet pointing makes sense. This then allows you to do the same as with the list of work and tick off the subjects you have covered as you go, as well as empty the whole plan out of your head onto paper to allow you to focus on each paragraph and where its leading to.
3. Colour Coding! – while I may be mocked by my friends in lectures for my pencil case full of a million coloured pens, I’ve found that colour coding is something that works really well for me. Even if using colours to link up ideas or make certain terms stand out isn’t how you learn, by making your notes aesthetically pleasing it helps motivate you not only to read them but also to actually keep up with writing them. When catching up on a lecture by listening to a recording, it is easy to get distracted – however, if you set your mind to note taking, I’ve found that it’s easier to remain motivated to catch up and pay attention. Sometimes, if I am feeling like all of my work is piling up, I treat note taking almost as if its one of those anti-stress colouring books. It’s calming to write things out neatly and have them organised well for future studying. While it could be viewed as procrastinating or taking too long to write things out, I would argue that taking the time to make what you are writing useful to you for finals and actually letting the information you are noting down sink into your brain so that you remember and understand it, is worth that tiny bit of extra time. If I am starting to stress about studying and feel like there is too much left to learn before an exam, using colourful lists and mind maps to summarise information and link it to other relevant points really helps me make connections in my brain, understand the material, feel calmer about the situation and most importantly the act of getting out those coloured pens is super motivating.
Finally, the very real struggle of the title of this article; how to find motivation when all you want to do is stay in bed all day. It might be the thought of a dreaded 9 am, it might be the idea of dragging yourself to the library or perhaps just a free day that you know you should spend wisely, but you just don’t want to get out of your duvet cocoon. Here’s how to pull yourself out of bed, either to be a real-life student and go learn stuff, or to seize the day and use that spare time productively (keeping in mind that sometimes the most productive thing is to take a day off and recharge… only force yourself out of bed if you are feeling lazy, not if you are burnt out or ill).
- Plan an outfit and/or makeup look that you are really excited to wear. – It doesn’t have to be fancy, it might be your cosiest sweater or your comfiest trousers, maybe that super cute skirt in the back of your wardrobe that you haven’t worn for a while? Maybe it’s an occasion to debut that really cool new shirt you just got? You might want to try out a new eyeshadow look or put on that lipstick you never have an excuse to wear. Whatever it is, use it as motivation to get up and get dressed. By getting yourself out of your PJs and ready for the day ahead, it will automatically motivate you to go out and get what you need/want to do done. Staying in your pajamas just gives you an excuse to stay in bed and can make you feel sleepier and less inspired than you would be otherwise.
- Get excited about breakfast – Think how much better you’d feel if you could only convince yourself to get up and get something to eat! Prepare something yummy to eat for the morning, or have ingredients ready for some quick, delicious motivation. Throw some yoghurt in a bowl and decorate it with some oats and your favourite fruit, make yourself a sweet breakfast smoothie, buy some more of your favourite cereal, add honey to anything and everything! Turn your dreams of chocolate spread into reality and skip off to the kitchen to start your day in the tastiest way possible.
- Treat yourself! – Another idea to try and prise yourself out of bed is to think up a way to treat yourself that will make you want to get up. I always tell myself things like: “If I get up now and get there early enough, I can treat myself to a coffee” or “If I get myself to the library then I can go get myself some lunch/breakfast from [insert café here] on the way”. If you are trying to be productive, tell yourself about how good it’ll feel when you get whatever it is out of the way, what you’ll be able to do if you get it done; “If I finish this essay I can go to the next Her Campus social ” or “If I can catch up on these notes now then this afternoon I can go hang out with [insert friends’ names here].” While buying food/coffee and paying for booze and possibly entry for a night out isn’t the best for your bank account – as long as it remains a treat and not a habit then it is a very strong motivator to get your work done!
Hopefully, this advice is at least a tiny bit helpful in motivating you to get started on whatever it is you’ve been putting off by reading HC articles instead of working! If it is of any comfort, know that I am a massive hypocrite and that me trying to write an article on how to find motivation and then accidentally procrastinating all day means that this is the most ironic thing I will ever attempt to write.
Best of luck with your studies, now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take my own advice and start the research I said I was going to start yesterday…
(images from Google Images)