How To Be More Productive in College

October 2, 2012 — 2 Comments


This past Friday, I had the opportunity to talk at the weekly meeting of Shift, an on campus ministry at UCF. The event was called College Planning 101, and I think overall it went really well. While they were all brainstorming to gather everyone’s concerns onto the board, I noticed they could easily be split into a triperspectival pattern. Tempting though it was to explain how triperspectivalism works, I just used it as way to focus our conversation.

In essence, everything that had people worried could fall into 3 categories:

  • Issues with the actual material itself (normative)
  • Issues related to time management (situational)
  • Issues related to personal learning style (existential)

Though I do tutor, as far as college majors go, if it’s not in the humanities or psychology (which is kind of like the humanities of the science department), I might not be much help. That’s probably just as well since most of the issues related to actual material are better tackled once you’ve first reckoned with learning style and how you manage time.

With that in mind, I had everyone take a mind styles test right off the bat, and then split everyone up based on their scores. There were a handful of CS and AS scores, but the majority of people there scored AR. The R of course standing for “random” and in this assessment, it means that the person prefers to not necessarily do things sequentially (which is the S) and may tend toward having time management issues.

Once we talked through issues related to each mind style, we were ready to talk about time management and planning. Being a sequential myself, and being married to another one, planning comes fairly easily for me. However, it’s not without a method and it still takes work to actually get things done. In general though, here’s the steps you’ll need to make it happen for yourself.

A Capture Device/Inbox

This can be anything from a physical box on a desk (if you have a desk) to a small notebook you carry around. If you have a smart phone though, I’d recommend one of these apps:

Once you’ve gotten one of these, you need to build the habit of using it to take down anything that randomly comes up that needs to get done. You don’t necessarily have to schedule it immediately, but the point is to make note of it.

A Written or Digital Calendar

Next, you need a working calendar. I use 2Do: Tasks Done in Style for the most part because it syncs between my iPad and iPhone. Even with all the games of Settles of Catan, I think my productivity has increased since getting the iPad back over the summer. As you make your calendar, you need to fill it with the following things in order:

  • Your actual school schedule (since this should be fixed)
  • Your other weekly fixed commitments (church, and anything else you do the same time every week)
  • Your work schedule (which if you’re lucky is also fixed, if not, you’ll need to go week-to-week)
  • All of the due dates from all of your syllabi (so know exactly when everything needs to be finished)

Once you’ve done that, you’ve got a good idea of how much time you have on a weekly basis. You also have a clearer picture of when that time is, and that is important for the next step. You also have looked at your entire school workload as unit by collating all of your due dates into one place. You may want to look at everything that needs to be done and decide what needs to be spread out over time and what needs to be done on “project days.” Before you get to that though, you need to sit down and figure out what available time on your calendar is going to be best used for studying. 4am-6am is probably open every single day, but I imagine you don’t want to make that your go-to study time.

An Understanding of Your Best Working Environment

Instead, you need to think about where, when, and how you study best:

  • Mornings, afternoons, or evenings?
  • In the isolation of a library carrel, or in the middle of a busy Starbucks?
  • Are you a long distance runner (all day study sessions), or a sprinter (compact bursts of 1-2 hours)?

For me, it comes down to mornings, at Starbucks, in long uninterrupted sessions. So, when I schedule time to get stuff done on my calendar, I utitlize that time. Since I teach T/Th/F, M/W mornings are a key time to get focused work done. Luckily since I’m not in school, I don’t have too much focused work to get done. But I do still get a lot of reading done every morning by harnassing this time even on days I teach (which is why I’m at Starbucks by 615am when I don’t teach until 820am).

Once you figure out the where, when, and how, go back to your calendar and schedule it in. For the most part, especially early in the semester, I would treat this schedule in study time as the law of the Medes and Persians which cannot be broken. Until you get to mid-terms and do well, its better to err on the side of studying too much.

An Assessment Process

After mid-terms, assess how your system is working. If you’re finding you don’t have enough time to study, then you have scheduling issues. If you find that the time you do sit down study you’re unfocused and/or unmotivated, then you may be trying to study at the wrong place or time. You may be a combination of a long distance runner and sprinter and do well shifting gears between subjects. While you thought you were a sprinter and just needed short spurts to get things done, you might be better off blocking off a chunk of time in your optimal work environment and then switching back and forth between subjects until you knock everything out.

In the end, a lot of it just comes down to intentionality ahead of time. Taking an afternoon early in the semester to just sit down and schedule will pay off huge dividends towards exam time. For some people, planning is natural. But, for many people it isn’t, and since college is run by planners, you need to stretch yourself and plan if you’re going to survive.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

2 responses to How To Be More Productive in College

  1. A few other to-do list sites that are handy. I use the first one at work (ICT tech) and it’s essential for my productivity and keeping track of things!

  2. Those look pretty interesting. I’ve seen remember the milk before used in conjunction with Evernote, but decided not to pursue it. I’m going to have to look into todoist though, thanks for the tip!

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