Now that the new term has officially begun, you may be looking for new ways to stay organised this year. Like most students, I tend to lose all sense of organisation towards the end of term as the workload turns into a mental overload. While many people make resolutions to improve their physical health and fitness every January, for me it’s a time when my brain needs the most looking after. A new term is the perfect opportunity to press the reset button on all of the bad mental habits you may have developed over the past few months, and, in my case, that mostly means improving my concentration.
After the stress of having multiple essays on the go over Christmas, I found myself suffering a complete burn out at the start of 2018. As a person that takes pride in being known as ‘the organised one’, I realised that rather than giving up and hibernating for a while, I needed to take back control of my life and get back into a routine that left me feeling productive and happy at the end of each day. Tumblr is a great source of inspiration and the #studyspo and #studyblr tags make me so envious of those people who have beautifully highlighted notes and tidy desks, to the extent that it motivates me to replicate that sense of accomplishment in my own ways.
I’ve been following studyblrs for a few years now and the same tips and tricks come up a lot. Alongside having an academic planner or diary to keep track of your schedule, there are some great apps and extensions for your internet browser that can help improve your productivity. The key is to manage your time carefully, plan out your tasks for the day in advance, and then complete those tasks as efficiently as possible. Here are my top five favourite apps and web extensions that I personally find most helpful to a university student:
1. Forest (app)
The premise of this app is so simple and yet so cool at the same time. The concept is based on ‘The Pomodoro Technique’, a popular time management technique in which you work for twenty-five minutes at a time with a five-minute break between each slot. It encourages you to concentrate for a set period of time while having the encouragement of an opportunity to relax afterwards.
In the ‘Forest’ app, a digital tree gets planted for every time slot you complete – you get to see the tree grow as the timer counts down, and if you leave the app your tree dies. You get coins for each tree that is successfully planted, an amount that you can build up in exchange for a real tree to be planted somewhere in the real world.
The app stops you from procrastinating by scrolling through social media or watching videos, it lets you block out your time into manageable slots throughout the day, and also gives you the added novelty of being able to see how productive you’ve been each day depending on the size of your forest!
2. Microsoft OneNote Web Clipper (web extension)
If you don’t already use OneNote to keep track of your notes in one place across all of your devices, then you should definitely consider it. Your laptop suddenly goes flat? Log in to a computer at university and they’ll all be there. Sick of having to save everything to a memory stick? You no longer have the hassle with OneNote’s automatic synchronization. It’s free, it’s easy, and you get to organize your notes into as many sections and notebooks as you want.
I only recently discovered the 'OneNote Web Clipper', but it’s proving pretty handy as I embark upon my dissertation this term. The extension allows you to save any web pages, articles or documents you come across into a section in one of your notebooks, meaning that hunting at the last minute for that secondary citation you forgot to write down will never happen again! You can save the whole page as a screenshot or clip just a part of it, as well as saving the hyperlink so you can easily go back to it. It’s the perfect way to encourage you to organise your research, keeping it all in separate categories so that you know where everything is.
3. Wunderlist (app)
For me, to-do lists are the best thing in the world and I’d feel completely lost without them. At the start of each day (unless it’s the weekend, obviously) I note down my schedule and to-do list in a beautiful planner from Ohh Deer. However, it’s a bit too big to carry around with all of my other books every day, so I like to make a note of the tasks I need to do in my phone so that I don’t forget as soon as I sleepily sit down in the library. You could easily do this in the notes section of your phone, but why not add another lovely app to your home screen instead?
Like OneNote, 'Wunderlist' is great because it’s free and you can sync your account across multiple devices. You can add deadlines to each task you add to your to-do list, as well as getting reminders and notifications until they’re completed. On top of that, you can be even more organized by separating your lists into different categories. I personally find this great because my to-do list for the day won’t just be related to my uni work, I remind myself of things I need to do at home – even if it’s just hoovering up my room or what meal I’m planning on cooking – so this way I can differentiate between the different parts of my day.
4. Momentum (web extension)
A lot of people will have their laptop open in front of them on their desk even if they’re not using it whilst they’re working. I am one of those people. It’s an annoying habit, but one that can be put to good use with the right web extension.
‘Momentum’ gives you a different beautiful background every day alongside an inspirational quote. In the centre of the screen, the time is always on display, and you can choose to have a to-do list widget on the right-hand side of the screen so that it’s constantly in front of you. Surprisingly, Momentum’s most useful feature is the daily focus, which asks you to list what your intention or motive is for that day – a blank line will appear at the beginning of each day in the centre of the screen, allowing you to contemplate and identify what you really want to achieve. If you’d rather not think too hard about that, you can choose the ‘Autofocus’ function instead, which takes the top task from your to-do list and makes it your focus until you’ve checked it off, before listing the next task for you. This can be really useful in helping you prioritize your tasks carefully based on what order they should be done in and which ones are more important than others.
5. Cold Turkey (web extension)
There have been so many times when I’ve gotten bored with my work and found myself scrolling through the new home-ware items on the Urban Outfitters website for absolutely ages. It’s now an instinct for me to open up that tab when I want to procrastinate, even though I know they probably haven’t added any new stuff in the two hours since I last went on the page. Opening a new tab is a dangerous game because 90% of the time I’m not going to end up opening it to the page containing the academic journal or article I’m supposed to be reading.
‘Cold Turkey’ lets you block certain websites temporarily so that you’re less likely to procrastinate. You can block a site for a certain amount of time, or you can even block yourself from using the internet at all – I’ve never tried the latter because I’m probably going to have to search for something while I’m working. When you block a page but try to access it, you’ll be met with a nice inspirational quote to make you feel guilty about the fact that you’re not working.
Alternatively, ‘Cold Turkey’ can work the other way by letting you lock yourself out of your computer for a set amount of time. This might seem counter-productive, but it can help you see how addicted you are to your computer if you’re trying to use it when you’re meant to be relaxing and taking time out from your screen.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, but productivity is ultimately all about balance. Once you achieve that balance, you come to realize that rest and relaxation is equally as important as all the work you need to do.