How to: Maximise Productivity at University

With second term in full swing, deadlines are rolling in thick and fast. As the workload we face increases, it’s so easy to find yourself feeling overwhelmed by upcoming tasks, in particularly those we are yet to complete, let alone begin. While (unfortunately) there is no way of avoiding the inevitable, we can make adjustments or make an effort to practice behaviours that will help us to keep level-headed and efficient in the hectic times ahead. As a third-year student, there are certainly times where I feel like I’m spinning far more plates than I have hands. That being said, this year’s increase in both pace and pressure has prompted me to develop a few fail-safe techniques that allow me to feel in control and work as efficiently as possible, even when it feels like I’m moving at a million miles an hour!

Treat your degree like a 9-5

When I was in sixth form studying for my A-Levels, I vividly recall a teacher suggesting this method as an approach to studying. Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to create a routine that gives my day structure, even when I might not have any scheduled classes.

I consistently aim to arrive at university between 8:45 and 9:30, which often allows me to tick items off my to do list prior to even attending my scheduled lectures. Dedicating this time to studying opens up more of my evenings and weekends for socialising, working on hobbies and relaxation. Setting aside time to study outside of lectures is vital as contact time decreases and the quantity of independent-study-expected soars. I quite often open my timetable to find only one or two scheduled hours for my course on a given day, however I don’t take this as being indicative of the amount of work I should aim to complete.


Another method I like to employ is writing lists. On a Sunday evening I sit down and write out a long list of scheduled sessions and the work to be done that week. I find writing down even small tasks is useful as when my list appears to be more extensive, it evokes a greater sense of urgency to get going! In addition, including smaller, easily achievable tasks allows me to feel as though I am progressing through my tasks more quickly. I’ve found this to be of particular use when working on my dissertation - for this, my smaller tasks might focus in on a certain chapter or section of analysis that is to be completed.

On the other hand, I also include totally-separate, smaller tasks like ‘sign ‘x’ form’ or ‘post Mum’s card’. Using this method stops us feeling as though we aren’t progressing when working on larger tasks. If I was to simply write ‘Dissertation’ on my list each morning, I wouldn’t be able to check that item off in the sense that it has been completed for a few weeks! Breaking larger goals down into smaller ones offers more opportunities to be pleased with your progress and it is likely that feeling as though we are progressing will offer us motivation to continue!

In addition to weekly lists, I also use create daily lists when I sit down to begin working. Taking a selection of items from the larger list and presenting them in this way prevents me from overwhelming myself. Plus, this method most certainly appeals to the stationary fanatics amongst us, I mean if you’re writing enough lists…it only makes sense to have a designated list notebook…right? *opens Paperchase's website*

Allow yourself breaks 

Whilst dedicating large chunks of time to studying might offer some structure for our days, it is also vitally important that we factor in time for breaks. I sometimes find that if I work for too long, I come to find that I’m not properly concentrating. It can be really frustrating to look back at a piece of work and realise It isn’t of the quality you would’ve liked it to be on the basis of you simply being too mentally exhausted to fully concentrate. When working in the library on campus, I find it relatively easy to find a way to take a 10 minute break. Head to a college bar for a game of pool, go for a quick walk around your favourite part of campus, meet a friend for a coffee – all of these are simple activities that offer us a break from our screens and an opportunity to recharge before heading back to work!

Get real about what distracts you 

By the time we reach university, we all have a pretty good idea of how we study best and in what in environment we can work most efficiently - especially after those gruelling A-Levels, and what seemed-impossible-at-the-time GCSE's we took at 16! However what is also important is that we consider what things are most likely to distract us.

Maybe sitting in the library next to your best friend isn’t always the key to productivity and is ‘working on it in Fylde Bar’ really a realistic option?

Do you work best in silence or with some moderate noise? I personally find it challenging to work in total silence, however that being said I find discussion zones of the library simply too loud.

Of course, the most typical distraction of all is our mobile phones. During the past few weeks I’ve been putting all of my social media apps into one folder and moving that folder off my main screen to reduce the temptation to sit and scroll. Similarly, the new ‘screen time’ function on iPhone allows us to set time restrictions on certain apps to ensure we’re not wasting too much time procrastinating on our devices!

Set weekly goals 

Another nice way to keep motivated and productive is setting weekly goals. This is something that you could perhaps do at the beginning of the week when writing to-do lists.

Weekly goals don’t even have to apply exclusively to academic work, they could also help us achieve more lifestyle-oriented goals, perhaps ‘exercise for 30 minutes 5 times this week’ or ‘check up on a friend each day’. Setting goals that allow you to reward yourself offers an ideal route to relieving some of the never-ending pressure university can apply on us.

I know as a Linguistics student I find the pressure is so constant that sometimes it feels as though I have no time to celebrate the completion of one task before being assigned another! Setting personal goals that YOU want to achieve aside from those imposed upon you by your deadlines is a great way to motivate yourself, and add some positivity and celebration to potentially stressful times.