How to stay productive at home and in university.

Ani Talwar·5 January 2022·7 min read
How to stay productive at home and in university.

With the world situation constantly changing, and with it the restrictions on what we can do and where we can go, it gets hard to stay organised with something as ‘trifle’ as an essay when there are country wide measures changing day by day. Productivity can fall short in times where you’re more concerned with safety and keeping up with the ever changing rules, but it doesn’t have to.

Here are some of my tips to stay productive, both when you can’t go out, and when all of a sudden you’ve got several places to be.

Have a designated work area

In my experience, I work better when I have a set area to work in. Whether this is my desk at the foot of my bed, or the kitchen table I’ve decided to take over, it’s a place that is separate from where I’d relax so whenever I sit down there, I’m already in the mindset that I’m somewhere where I need to get work done, which makes it easier to get started.

Be flexible with your goals

Setting out a to do list is a great way to keep track of exactly what you need to get done, but for me sometimes looking at a strict timed list of things to do makes it feel like there’s a whole lot to get done, which makes it harder to start. I find that having a more flexible list of things to do such as ‘write two paragraphs of an essay due this term,’ is easier to achieve because it means I get some essay written, but I can chose which subject I’m going to write for that day- it’s still getting the work done, but I’ve given myself the choice too.

The Active Campaign also recommends making a ‘distraction list,’ when you work. This is essentially the inverse of a to do list where as you are working, you note down any distracting thoughts you have along the way, so you can come back to them later on when you are done.

As a side note, another thing I’ve noticed is that with a blank post it, or a digital to do list, you can make them as long as you want, which means you can end up scheduling more things to do in a day than anyone could do. I find having a set number of checkboxes for your to do list (eg 5 or 6 tasks per day) prevents me making it unrealistically full, and that including my actual lectures as part of my to do means I can’t put more on my list to do than I have hours available to me. It also gives me the satisfaction of ticking something off once I’ve been to a lesson or two.

Try The Pomodoro technique

Now this I haven’t yet tested out, but if you’re a fan of Instagram Aesthetic Reels (you know those ones with the lovely looking notes and enviable stationary) you may have come across it. The Pomodoro technique as explained by Develop Good Habits is where you set a timer for 25 minutes and work for that time with no distractions or other tasks, before taking a five minute break. Repeat this four times and then you can take a half an hour break.

Know when you’re going to work

If you have work you know you need to get done, and you know you’re out on campus the next day, make it easier for yourself by doing the prep beforehand. These are simple things like popping your phone/tablet/laptop on charge the night before, getting your bag/clothes ready, or preparing some snacks.

This means in the morning before those unavoidable 9am lectures you have more time to chill out with your breakfast or tea or whatever you prefer before heading out, allowing you a calm and already prepared start to the day. And when you breeze into your first lecture already prepared for the rest of the day, writing a few paragraphs for work here and there is easy stuff.

Make yourself comfortable

Also known as predict your distractions.

Whether I’m on campus at university or at home, I find the things that will distract me most often are matters of comfort: usually that I’m cold, hungry, or want (yet more) mugs of tea. When I’m going to the library to work, I make sure I’ve got one or two little things to feel comfortable so I can get lost in my work, whether this is my thermos of tea, a snack to munch on as I go or a comfy jumper so I can sit in my own bubble and really focus.

Sleep! It’s very easy in the midst of deadlines and lab work to forget to do the ‘simple’ things like sleep, but as Quicken explains, sleep deprivation can reduce your ability to concentrate, and making sure you’re well rested is important. This website recommends using a bit of exercise each day to prevent stress, and also tire you out for a good nights sleep.

When you’ve stopped…STOP

Whilst researching additional tips, I came across one point on zenhabits that I found I related to quite a bit. The website highlighted amongst other productive tips, that as well as making time to work and stay focussed, you also need time to kick back. Once you’ve set your time to work for the day, make sure you do your best to stay working during that time, and then once it’s over…make sure you stop! If you have a good idea or an email or something else, note it down so you don’t forget, and then come back to it the next time you’re working.

Use the Eisenhower Matrix for bigger tasks

Now I’ve not tried this one out, but Active Campaign recommends something called the Eisenhower Matrix, which sounded really complicated, but is a simple way to prioritise your work.

All you do is draw a table with two rows and two columns. The headings for the columns should be ‘urgent’ and ‘not urgent,’ and the headings for the columns should be ‘important’ and ‘not important,’ which you then can write in whatever you want to get done, be it today, over the week, or over the next year. In this way you can visually see what you have to achieve, and the order you should do it in.

So there are a few of my best tips (and a few I haven’t tried yet) to staying productive. So whether we end up doing lectures online again, or rushing to campus before 9am, hopefully you’ll be able to make the most of every moment, so you can relish the evening chill after.