From smartphone apps that eliminate distractions to choosing the right place to study, here are five ways to work efficiently – leaving plenty of time to have fun.
▶ Technology is not the enemy: smartphones and social networks may be helping to erode our attention spans, but there are plenty of apps to help rebuild it, too. Try Anti-Social for blocking access to Facebook and Twitter, or Isolator, which hides everything on your desktop except whatever you’re working on. If you own sufficient gadgets to allow it, consider limiting your activities by device: only check Facebook on your phone, and only work on your laptop, for example.
▶ Strengthen your attention muscle gradually: use a timer to concentrate solely on work for very short bursts – just four or five minutes, if that’s all you can manage – then take a timed 10-minute break to do whatever you like. Gradually increase the length of the work bursts. But don’t forget to keep taking breaks: the better you get at focusing, the more important it becomes to step away from the screen.
▶ Try using an “unschedule”: anti-procrastination coach Neil Fiore suggests making a weekly schedule showing everything except private study: your lectures, meals, sleep etc. Make sure to add plenty of “fun” items, too. Once you see how little time you have left for solo study, it will be easier to focus. And because you’ve scheduled some fun, you won’t fall into the mindset that life is just work, work, work.
▶ Make a “next actions” plan the night before: you’re far more likely to mess around online if you haven’t decided in advance what you’re going to work on. Think in terms of tangible next actions. “Work on anthropology essay” is too vague. “Doable” next actions, in contrast, might include tracking down specific sources, or outlining specific sections of a project.
▶ Choose the right place to study: it sounds obvious, but a distant corner of the library is a better place for focused work than a shared living room. Building a mental association between a physical place and studying will make it easier to slip into a state of focus. Following a regular routine will help, too: if you always start work right after breakfast, you never have to waste time or energy deciding when to begin.