Several months ago, my dear niece 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 school work (or tasks at work) frustrate you, 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 commitments. Make a list of all of your commitments–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 assignments that require multiple steps to complete (going to library to get research materials, making outline, turning in first draft…), list the specific actions that you will need to finish 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 allowing plenty of time to do each task and complete the last task before the project due date.
Prioritize. Review the list of all steps (individual tasks and project steps) and list them by due date starting with the earliest due.. This will help you understand what you must finish 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 that you should be doing something else.
Background Noise. Turn on instrumental music (ambient music, classical, DJ/Dance…) to listen to while you work. Music with lyrics will be distracting as your mind tries to process the words while doing critical thinking. Your brain doesn’t have to listen to or interpret non-vocal music. Vocal music is fine when doing non-analytical processing (crafts, building projects) but there is a cognitive cost of listening to lyrics while trying to process words in a textbook or writing. 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 to remove the temptation. Also, unless you are doing Internet research do not have your browser open. If you are doing research, make sure social media networks are off (not in a hidden tab…OFF) and chat is unavailable. This will help you get in “the zone.” Interruptions throw off your “flow” and work takes longer to complete. Also, having these available makes it easy to “just check that message, 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 (~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 to see how much you can do in the allotted time). 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 social media, or whatever. As soon as the timer goes off (IMMEDIATELY), shut the devices off and close social media. 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 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 must be done today and what can wait for another day. This also gives you peace when you finish today’s task list you can enjoy time with friends or doing something you enjoy knowing that you have planned time to complete your remaining assignments on time.
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 that leaves you with little time you still have something to turn in instead of no assignment. Two, it relieves the stress when you have a lot of assignments, knowing you have something to turn in and can return to the assignment later, if you have time, to improve the work quality.
- “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” 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 lengthy reading assignments, learn to scan well and note important parts. Most of books are fillers with nuggets of info. Some speed reading techniques will help you harvest the important information without being caught up in unnecessary 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. Learn memory techniques.
Now available! A PDF copy with the basic guidelines to post by your study area to remind you of the study principles. Download here.