Several months ago, my dear neice Kaylin was feeling overwhelmed with a lot of school assignments, tests, essays, papers, and book reports. I sent her the following which she said greatly helped her and others that she shared it with. If you are frustrated with school work (or tasks at work), I hope the following tips will give you help. These principles are useful at work, managing a home, and even Bible study.

(Hat tip to David Allen and Getting Things Done book for teaching me many of these lessons)
Organize your committments. Make a list of all of your committments–papers to write, test dates, and other assignments and sort the list  by due dates (earliest due at the top of the list). 
 
Define tasks for “projects.” For term papers or other assignments that require multiple actions (going to library to get research materials, making outline, turning in first draft…), list the specific actions that you will need to accomplish the project (for example: get 3 library books on History of Spain, read research materials, make reference cards, write first draft, etc. Assign due dates to each action and allow plenty of time to do each task and complete the final task before the project due date.
 
Prioritize. Go down the list of all actions (individual actions and actions that are part of a project) and number them in order by what is due first. This will help you understand what needs to be finished first, second, third, etc. This will also assure you that you are doing things in the right order so you won’t stress while doing one assignment worrying if you should be doing something else.
 

Fighting Distractions

Background Noise. Turn on some “non-word” music (ambient music, classical…) to listen to while you work. Music with lyrics will be distracting as your mind tries to process the words. It doesn’t have to listen to or interpret non-vocal music. You could also use a sound machine that generates peaceful sounds like ocean waves, crickets, or running water.
 
Restrict Interruptions. This means no texting or phone calls. Put your phone on silent and in a drawer where the temptation will be removed.  Also, unless you are doing Internet research do not have your browser open. If you are doing research, make sure Facebook is off (not in a hidden tab…OFF) and all chat is marked as unavailable. This will help you get in “the zone.” Interruptions throw off your “flow” and make work take longer. Also, having these available makes it easy to “just check that message, Facebook updates…” when you run into something that is not much fun or difficult–this is evil. Put a “do not disturb” message on your door.
 
 
 Focused Work. Set a timer for a specific period of time (~30-50 minutes) and do NOTHING but task #1. Try to complete the task within the time (but don’t stress if you don’t–make it a game). Do not stop the work–no message checking, cleaning your room, NOTHING!!–until the timer goes off. If the only timer you have is on your phone, go to http://www.e.ggtimer.com and set the time you want to study. A kitchen timer would be best since you don’t have to leave the Internet up or have your phone (with text alerts) visible.
 
Break/Reward. When the timer goes off, set the timer again for 5-10 minutes (less if you have a lot of work to do. While standing and stretching text, check Facebook, or whatever. As soon as the timer goes off (IMMEDIATELY), shut the devices off and close Facebook. Do not “check one more message…”
 
Resume. Reset the timer and either finish the assignment you started or begin action #2. Continue this until you complete all of the actions that you need to complete today. Some tasks will have to take place tomorrow but your priority list will give you the confidence that you know what needs to be done today and what can wait for another day.
 

Other tips and observations:

  • Don’t work to perfection–especially at first. For example, if you have a writing assignment, just get the ideas on paper as they flow and go back and correct grammar, and reword things later. This is important for two reasons. First, if something bad happens and your time is messed up you still have something to turn in instead of no assignment. Two, it relieves the stress when you are able to crank out a lot of the work, knowing you have something to turn in and can review the work to make it higher quality.
  • “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.” Don’t spend so much time on formatting, appearance, etc. that you have little time to do other assignments. Do the best you can and when (if) you have time, go back and make it prettier, more profound, etc.
  • Be careful with sugary foods and energy drinks as they can give you a quick high but you will feel more tired (and hungry) when you quickly crash. Drink lots of water and snack on nuts, fruits, and other foods that will give you sustained energy.
  • Pray to God for strength and thank Him for the opportunity to be in school and ask for His help since you want to use your education to His glory.
  • For lengthly reading assignments, learn to scan well and note important parts. Most of books are fillers with nuggets of info. 
  • For test prep: Try to make as many mental images to help you remember lists and associate terms and ideas. The more outrageous the image the better. Have a buddy quiz you and quiz them.
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