How to Stay Productive as a Student


 As a college guidance/admissions counselor - my career for the last six years - I am very familiar with the productivity struggles of students. For most of my career, I was also a student - I earned my B.S. degree while working full time. So if you're a student with scheduling struggles, I got your back.

Since a lot of my readers are students (whether high school or college) I wasn’t surprised to receive a LOT of requests for this post! As a college guidance/admissions counselor – my career for the last six years – I am very familiar with the productivity struggles of students. For most of my career, I was also a student – I earned my B.S. degree while working full time. So if you’re a student with scheduling struggles, I got your back.

The following principles are tried and true. But before you see any change in your student life, you first must recognize a need for change. Do you really want to get up earlier, work out more, and stop stressing about homework deadlines? I can help you do that! But for these principles to work, you’ll have to go to bed earlier, say no to some student events, and start paying closer attention to that syllabus. The cost of productivity is worth the return, but you have to be ready to say “no” to a few things in order to see results.

Without further ado, let’s jump right in:

Make Your Own Morning

Not everyone works well in the morning, and that’s okay. Unfortunately, our society is structured around mornings. It is to your advantage to be a morning person (and it’s possible to become one – my husband is a great example of this), but if you absolutely hate it, you can make your own “morning” later in the day.

Before I share how, though, let’s talk about why you might hate morning:

  • You’re tired and don’t want to get out of bed.
  • You don’t want to wake up your roomies.
  • You don’t look forward to the day or class ahead of you.
  • You think your morning has to look like everyone else’s and you’re resistant to that idea.

In reality, you don’t actually hate morning. You simply haven’t made morning enjoyable and worth getting out of bed for, and there are a few ways to fix that:

  • Go to bed earlier, get decent sleep (you should be getting seven hours), and make your room/self warm enough to get out of bed.
  • Lay down rugs, make a caddy with all your bathroom supplies in one spot, use a sleep app to wake up so you don’t bother your roommates.
  • Schedule something you love every day, particularly in the morning.
  • Make YOUR morning cater to YOUR passions, interests, and needs.

I do recommend becoming a morning person, or at least creating habits that make it easier. In the meantime, create a morning later in your day – perhaps afternoon or evening. You can have a different “morning” every day, an essential flexibility for students with inconsistent schedules. What happens in a later “morning”? Everything you would do in the AM you do at that time: shower, dry your hair, schedule your week, pack meals, devotions, and work out all happen within a specific set of hours instead of right after you get up.

You get to make this time cater to your needs. The point is that you’re still getting everything done, making healthy habits, getting smart and looking pretty at a time of day when you are completely awake.

Plan Ahead and Write It Down

Planning is not just your mom’s thing – it should be yours! And if your mom wasn’t a planner, take a moment to think about the people affected by that kind of lifestyle. Chances are there were many times things were forgotten, appointments missed, and stress multiplied for the entire family due to one person’s lack of discipline. The way you live your life affects more than just you. It affects your roommate, your professors, your classmates, and your group study companions.

As a guidance counselor, I’m very concerned by students who don’t plan. They will enter the workforce – not to mention their future marriages and parenthood – at a severe disadvantage. Part of being wise Christian women is disciplining ourselves to look to the future. “Plan for the worst, hope for the best!” My top planning tips for students are:

  • At the beginning of each semester, write down all the assignments on your syllabus into your planner, several days before they are due. I talked about this in my live video on FB last Friday.
  • Break down assignments into tasks (choose topic, choose bibliography, outline paper, write first draft) and write these on specific days. Make a task list for each homework session.
  • Write each class time, practice, lecture, or group study meeting into a planner, calendar, or your phone. Don’t assume you will remember! When someone asks if a date will work, write it down immediately.
  • Take notes in class, preferably on paper.

Do the Hard Thing First

That big project due in December? It’s coming up faster than you think. Professors give semester-long projects anticipating that you’ll maximize on that time. While procrastination is the running joke of the college campus, it’s actually not that funny, as this article from Psychology Today points out:

Procrastination also creates stress to enable accomplishment. In the words of one dedicated student procrastinator: “The problem with doing work early is that it takes longer because there’s no pressure to get it done. But wait until the last minute and I rush right through it because I have to.” “How do you feel after the crisis?” I asked. “Blown out,” he replied. “But that’s just the price I pay. I work best under pressure.” (By which he meant that without self-induced pressure from stress he couldn’t get work done.)

The “price” he pays, however, if this becomes his constant operating style, can be the progression of emotional and physical costs of stress itemized in the preceding blog entry: fatigue, discomfort, burnout, even breakdown.

As a natural procrastinator, I sympathize with this struggle. But it’s not an excuse! Procrastination, if allowed to become a life habit, will follow you throughout your life. The only way to kill it – as leadership writer Michael Hyatt says – is to slay your dragons.

Do the hard thing first.

Rather than do small, inconsequential tasks to continue putting off the big one, do the big one! This is much easier if you break the big, nasty task down into “bite size” pieces. Once you start, you gain momentum and gain the satisfaction of less stress.

Lose the Entitlement Mentality

While this might not seem related to productivity, it is. Your education is not your “right”. It’s a privilege, and an incredible one at that. Whether you, your parents, or the government is paying your tuition, cutting class costs you anywhere from $50-100 an hour. When you realize what a gift your education is, you’re motivated to make the most of it.

Productivity springs from a sense of responsibility. Take responsibility for your education. Appreciate it. Pay attention to the professors who share their knowledge with you, and take your homework seriously. College is fun, but it also has a purpose – don’t forget why you’re there!

Let Each Day Form a Pattern of Productivity

For most students, no two days look the same. Because of this, you’ll be tempted to stop striving for productivity. Remember that your day is not going to look like the 25-year-old career woman’s 9-5, and it’s not going to look like a stay-at-home mom’s day either. Instead of forcing your life into somebody else’s mold, let each day serve its own purpose.

This will require daily planning or, as I always recommend, planning the night before. Each night look at the next day’s schedule. Start by assessing your priorities – do you want to work out, eat healthy meals, and have devotions? Schedule these first!

Now look at your commitments for that day. When is class? When is work? When is that student leadership meeting?  As I stated in the first point, make your own morning if you must, but also work toward becoming a morning person. You’ll probably need to be when you join the workforce.

A few more helpful tips:

  • Getting up early is much easier when you know you only do it M-F. Use the weekend as your break, but don’t give yourself undeserved “breaks” during the week. Focus your energies on getting everything done during the week if possible (homework at least) so your weekends are open for friends. Or, if your work schedule takes up your weekends, create a “weekend” somewhere else in your schedule.
  • If there is a person who continually comes into your room to talk late, or a group that can’t get their beans together on a study project, talk to them! Explain that you’re trying to make a plan for your week/month and you need some boundaries/tangible progress.
  • Ask for accountability. Find someone on your hall who also wants to improve her study habits and productivity. Invite her to follow this series 😉
  • Nail down your priorities. If you don’t know what you want to achieve in a day, you won’t set appropriate to-do’s.

Finally, don’t neglect your time with God! When you schedule your day well, you end up with much more focused time with Him! This in turn will improve your vision for the future, your stress level, your emotional wellbeing, and your relationships. He is the best solution to all your struggles. By structuring your day in a way that honors Him, all of your life falls into line. And even when your day doesn’t go as planned, you’ll have the grace to walk through it with confidence.


How to Stay Productive With an Inconsistent Schedule

How to Study the Bible When It’s Boring


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