Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, December 18, 2017

How to stay productive with finals looming

Writing lists, waking up early and finding a study spot can help you focus

How to stay productive with finals looming

As the semester is winding down, days are getting shorter and we’re all exhausted from three months of work.

Aside from writing the typical to-do lists and reading the syllabus to check what you should be doing, some small adjustments can allow you to be more productive every day and to get everything done before finals begin on Dec. 11.

What makes a good list

Trimming down your to-do list may feel counterproductive, but a lengthy list can quickly become overwhelming and distracting.

Slate published an article in 2014 linking shorter days to more productive employees. By assigning fewer tasks and giving employees shorter work days, OpenView Venture, the subject of the study and an investment company for the software sector, was able to achieve higher quality products at a faster pace. Basically, a list you know you can accomplish is effective in motivating you to the end. Around three sizable tasks per day is a good rule of thumb.

Beyond this, the director of academic support for ASAC, Juliann Winn, recommends perfecting your list making. This can be done in three steps: a mind dump, organizing and expanding on bigger tasks.

“Writing down everything we feel like we need to do is a good first step,” Winn said. “It’s very therapeutic just to get it out of your head and onto paper. But, I encourage students to take it a step further.”

This next step is key: breaking down the steps into smaller pieces. For papers this could mean outlining and research before actually writing the paper. Blanket tasks are something she discourages.

At this point in the semester, she even recommends breaking down all remaining assignments for each class to give you a complete picture of the next three weeks.

And don’t forget to celebrate the satisfaction of checking off items.

Get up a half-hour earlier

The main goal here is not to allow your sleep schedule to slide around with the change in sunrise and sunset. It’s very tempting to sleep in longer, but that just forces you to stay up later to finish your work.

Waking up at the crack of dawn does not inherently make you productive, according to a study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital. A consistent sleep schedule will make you to feel more rested and able to complete work.

Winn said that we are rarely more productive in the evenings unless we’re fighting a midnight or 8 a.m. deadline. This means we should be focusing on doing our work during the day.

“Between nine and five, if I’m not in class, I need to be still working on class,” she said. “I always encourage students to not go back to their rooms. Keep everything with you and study in academic buildings.”

Those breaks between classes can be put to use -- as can a few minutes during your morning coffee -- to avoid the 11:30 p.m. panic.

Find your happy place

That is, find your productivity happy place. Having a specific place to do your work allows you to enter a productive mindset whenever you go there. This can be your desk or the library. The key factors in this are just minimizing distractions. Even a coffee shop in DuPont can be a great place to do work, if you can put in some earbuds and get some work done without the distractions of friends.

Peer pressure is very real in situations like this according to Winn. The library is usually a place for tons of productivity because everyone else around you is working just as hard (in theory). Just don’t sit by your friends who love to chat.

Winn suggests taking this a step further by finding an accountability partner for certain classes and assignments. The two of you schedule time each day or each week to dedicate to a particular assignment and keep each other on task. Sometimes even being with another person working on the same task can be helpful.

mhowie@theeagleonline.co


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