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Nine Simple Steps to Boost Your Productivity

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By Oliver Hurcum

It’s the end of another long day spent working hard in the library, and yet somehow it feels like nothing really got done. That presentation still needs to be planned, you’ve still not finished the reading for next week’s seminar, and you know there’s a mountain of dirty dishes and unwashed laundry waiting for you back at home. Yes, summer is definitely over.

Keeping on top of your studies can be tricky, but don’t despair. Here are nine simple ways to escape the rut and boost your productivity.

1. Use a sleep cycle alarm clock

When we sleep, we go through approximately 90-minute cycles consisting of light sleep, deep sleep and a dream state known as REM-sleep. Waking up suddenly to a loud ringing from the middle of a deep sleep can be a jarring and disorientating experience, tempting us to hit the snooze button, and completely ruining the whole morning.

A sleep cycle alarm, which you can download for free , identifies your sleep state by tracking your movements in bed and only wakes you up during light sleep, which leaves you feeling rested and ready to start the day.

2. Make your bed every morning

In his book Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe The World, the four-star retired US commander William McRaven argues that making your bed first thing in the morning is the key to a more productive day.

It is, as he points out, the first task we face and doing it right sets us up to succeed. What’s more, should we by chance have a miserable day, McRaven reassures us that “you will come home to a bed that is made... And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

3. Eat brain-boosting superfoods

According to the World Health Organization, the right foods can increase your productivity by as much as 20%. Antioxidant rich foods, such as berries, are particularly good for improving your memory. A diet rich in avocados and wholegrains can cu t bad cholesterol, enhancing blood flow to the brain and improving brain function. Bananas are relatively calorific and therefore an excellent source of energy.

Dark leafy greens such as spinach are full of iron, which helps carry oxygen to the brain and improve cognitive control. Garlic contains strong antibacterial and antiviral compounds that help shake off stress-induced colds and infections.

4. Exercise regularly and sign up for gym classes

Regular exercise has been shown to result in improved concentration, faster learning, and enhanced creativity. A morning run is a straightforward and flexible way of keeping fit but the low cost of entry means that it can be difficult to remain committed. Instead, it may be worth investing time and a little money in joining a sports team or class to ensure you secure the bene fits of exercise for the long term.

5. Work somewhere with lots of natural light

Studies have shown that exposure to natural light improves your workplace performance as well as your overall quality of life. University libraries don’t tend to be great for this, so maybe consider moving to somewhere with more windows and fewer florescent lights.

6. Listen to music while you study

Studies also suggest that listening to music can help you concentrate. As neuroscientist Dean Burnett explains, the reason for this is that “we appear to have two attention systems: a conscious one that enables us to direct our focus towards things we know we want to concentrate on and an unconscious one that shifts attention towards anything our senses pick up”.

The problem is that our unconscious attention system doesn’t like being ignored. This means that whenever we sit down to engage our conscious attention system, our unconscious attention system looks for a way to distract us. Fortunately, listening to certain kinds of music can keep our unconscious attention system busy. It is, as Burnett puts it, much like giving a child a new toy to get them off your back.

What type of music? Many people argue video game soundtracks work best. As Burnett says, “this makes sense, when you consider the purpose of video game music: to help create an immersive environment and to facilitate but not distract from a task that requires constant attention and focus.”

7. Prioritize and focus on important tasks first

Spending too much time on low priority tasks is a sure -fire way of ending the day feeling like little has been achieved. Scrolling through and responding to emails, for example, can be a major time - killer.

Avoid being sucked into the wormhole by setting aside two times a day to check emails. You might also find it useful to use an important/urgent task matrix . This involves separating your tasks into four categories and working your way down through the groups.

8. Plan your day using the pomodoro technique

If you haven’t heard of it already, the pomodoro is a famous productivity hack. The process is simple: you work for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. Each 25-minute session is called a pomodoro. After four pomodoros, you take a 15-20-minute break.

The idea is that frequent breaks keep your mind fresh and focused, and that working to meet a timer can spur you on to get your current job done quickly. Large projects can be broken down into multiple pomodoros.

9. Download an app that will help you concentrate

A great app to use in conjunction with, or instead of, the pomodoro technique is Forest, which you can download for free. The app allows you to set the length of a work session, and when you press ‘plant’ a countdown timer will appear beneath a cartoon picture of a seedling.

If you can ignore your phone for the duration of the session the n the seedling will grow into a tree, which will be added to your own personal forest. If you open the phone to check on the progress of your tree, the app will tell you to get back to work. If you exit the app to check your messa ges or use other apps, the tree will die.

As your forest develops you can unlock new and evermore fantastical trees. Users have found that the visual representation of success, as well as competing with their friends for the best forests, really helps motivate them to stay focused.

Oliver Hurcum writes for Inspiring Interns, which specializes in sourcing candidates for internships and graduate jobs, including digital jobs.

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1 Comment

I have a long-term goal(up to a year) and short-term goals(up to a month). I like to plan tasks for the week. Sometimes I use the Pomodoro method to perform tasks. This approach is quite productive. To plan goals, projects, and tasks, I use iSmart.Life ( https://ismart.life ) app. It is a very simple and free web app.