How to Stay Organized and Productive During Finals Week - A Survival Guide

It’s time for the world’s worst announcement: Finals week is here, you guys! This time more than most, it’s super easy to feel unorganized, which leads to lots of unnecessary stress, and stress is something we already have more than enough of. Therefore, I’ve compiled a few tips to stay productive and organized during finals week. As a grad student with a couple of years of college already behind me (thank god), these are the techniques that have helped me deal with procrastination and distraction and make the workload more manageable. Let’s get through this together!

  1. 1. Avoid procrastination with the ten-minute technique

    Whenever I’m procrastinating and struggle to find an entry point into my work or simply muster up the motivation to start doing it, I like to use the ten-minute technique. The way it works is simple and implied in the name: I tell myself I’ll work on whatever I need to do for ten minutes. Setting a short timespan can make a huge and unappealing workload seem a lot less daunting - you can do almost anything for only ten minutes! And 99 percent of the time, when those ten minutes are over you’ll want to keep working because now you’re immersed in the task at hand. By breaking down your workload into manageable chunks of time, you trick the part of yourself that seeks short-term gratification and potentially avoid hours wasted guiltily watching Youtube while knowing you should really be studying right now.

  2. 2. Open a new window in your browser for everything study-related

    As someone who always has at least 20 tabs open in their browser at any given moment, I find myself getting very easily distracted when I have to look something up online for my studies. There’s always that temptation to just quickly click on that open Youtube tab and finish watching that one video, or to just take a glance at that really interesting article I had open ….. and suddenly it’s 2 hours later and I’m on Wikipedia reading an article about the origins of elevator music. If that sounds at all relatable, then this tip might be one of the easiest and simultaneously one of the most effective study hacks: Open a new browser window for all of your study-related online activities. Starting from a blank slate without any potentially distracting open links really helps put the focus on work - it’s truly a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

  3. 3. Highlight, highlight, highlight

    This might sound kind of dumb, but be serious: Do you always have your highlighter ready when you’re reading texts for your classes? If that’s a no, or an ‘only sometimes’, then get on that right now! How many times have I had to re-read entire texts, wishing I had just marked the important passages the first time? The answer is too many times. No more! By highlighting the important info in any text you read, you’ll be a lot more effective going over your notes later and might even spare yourself the work of having to write a study guide for your exams. Plus, highlighting is truly one of life’s simple pleasures.


  4. 4. Annotate your readings

    Usually, when we read a text we never just read it, we also critically engage with the text and think about what we’re reading at the same time. Sometimes those thoughts are literally just “what the hell?”, but oftentimes they’re pretty intelligent and can be a starting point when later looking for study questions and topics for discussion. Quickly jotting down your thoughts next to the specific passages in your readings will make sure you won’t forget them and can provide a starting point when the time comes to look for topics for your final essay or presentation.


  5. 5. Prioritize

    During finals (and, let’s be honest, the rest of the semester as well) it quickly feels as if there are a million things to do, all of them due at around the same time, as if there’s a mountain of work just piling up in front of you. The first instinct is usually to start with whichever task seems the easiest, or whichever assignment you got most recently. However, that technique might potentially mean setting yourself up for lots of unnecessary stress because if you start with all of the easy stuff, suddenly the week is almost over and you still got two or three really hard or time-consuming assignments on your hands. To avoid having to cram in some last-minute all-nighters, it’s a good idea to rank all of the assignments and studying you have to do by priority. That might mean either starting with whatever is most important, most time-consuming or simply with what’s due the soonest. Either way, make a list and then work through it chronologically.

  6. 6. Create a schedule

    As someone who is very disorganized and scatterbrained by nature, my way of keeping track of and staying on top of everything is to schedule it in my calendar. I use the pre-installed calendar app on my phone where I set specific time frames and alarms for pretty much everything from school assignments to work projects, workouts, travel, birthdays and any other commitments. That might sound intense but I find it really sets my mind at ease to always know exactly what I’ve got going on any given day and when everything is due. Making a detailed daily schedule also takes a lot of the stressful guesswork out of work-heavy periods of time such as finals week because you don’t have to remember all of your assignments or wonder about when you’ll be able to squeeze in that one specific thing - it’s all right there in your planner! Personally, I find using the calendar app most convenient because I know I always have my phone with me anyway, but Google calendars or just an old-fashioned paper planner work just as well.

  7. 7. Take care of yourself

    Even though in an ideal world it should be our number one priority always,  taking care of our basic needs such as sleep or regular exercise is often the first thing we place on the backburner during stressful times. However, if you’re not taking care of yourself physically, the quality of your mental output will also suffer. Therefore, I believe things like sleeping at least 7 hours on most days, sticking to a regular workout routine and making sure to get at least half an hour of sunlight every day should be as high up on our list of priorities as any study-related stuff. It might seem tricky, but if you’re honest there is usually half an hour in any given day that you could spare to go for a quick run or a walk outside, and you’ll come back with a clearer head. Studies actually prove that working out consolidates learned knowledge, so by taking care of your body you are setting yourself up for success.