By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
The following post contains 24 productivity tips for students. They all apply to students in high school and college, but many can also increase the productivity of students in middle school.
Students spend nearly seven hours a day in classes. After that, they often have a few more hours of homework and studying to do before going to bed and doing it all over again in the morning. Throw in after-school activities and dinner, and it’s no wonder students are overwhelmed.
Productivity is not about doing things faster so that you can do more things. That’s more of a recipe for disaster than for productivity. I’ve created the following productivity tips so students can feel less overwhelmed as they complete all that’s required of them.
My goal isn’t for students to do more in less time. Instead, the tips below should help students focus on the right things, spend a reasonable amount of time doing them, and then move on.
Productivity tips for students
I’ve organized 24 student productivity tips into five categories. You can skip to each category using the table of contents below, but I suggest you read them all.
- Productivity tips for work and study habits
- Productivity tips for time
- Productivity tips for focus
- Productivity tips for mindset
- Miscellaneous productivity tips for students
Productivity tips for work and study habits
The right work and study habits can increase student productivity so much. The tips below address common productivity roadblocks by streamlining plans, spaces, and habits.
1. Plan student admin blocks
Student administration tasks can zap productivity and time. Administration tasks include recurring activities such as writing and responding to emails, organizing materials, connecting with teachers, etc. Instead of doing these tasks at random times throughout the day or week, plan a solid uninterrupted 20-30 minutes every few days to complete them all. Here’s more about how to manage student administration.
2. Do one thing at a time (don’t multitask)
Increase your productivity by doing one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth, it’s nonsense to attempt, and it makes simple tasks take much longer than they need to. Complete one homework assignment before moving onto the next. Also, let’s stop thinking you can watch a movie at the same time you’re doing your homework… that’s nonsense for productivity.
3. Plan to do things – don’t be random
Productive students plan to be productive. They know what their afternoons looks like and they schedule homework time like an actual event. Leaving things to occur randomly is not a productivity strategy.
4. Set up your environment
Our external environment has a greater impact on our inner environment (mental state) than we realize. If you workspace is cluttered or contains stimulating objects not related to your schoolwork, your productivity is going to tank. Here are my three guides to setting up your workspace according to your learning styles.
5. Study the right way
Stop wasting your time on anything other than active recall study methods. If you’re simply reviewing your notes or re-reading text, you’re not studying properly (which means you’re not actually learning the material) AND you’re wasting time.
Productivity tips for time
The following productivity tips for students offer ways to manage your time more efficiently.
6. Start long-term assignments earlier than you want to
Productive students start long-term assignments like essays and projects way sooner than they want to. By starting long-term assignments as early as possible (the day they’re assigned, preferably), you avoid procrastination. As you know, procrastination is a productivity killer.
7. Work on long-term projects every day
This tip goes with the one right above it. If you start long-term projects early, the idea is that you can then chip away at them a bit each day. Productive students schedule their days to include time to work on long-term projects.
8. Start studying earlier than you want to
Most people don’t LOVE to study. And most people put off studying until the last minute (because it’s unenjoyable). But productive students don’t let feelings get in the way, and they begin preparing for tests well in advance. I suggest you begin studying at least 5 days out. Here’s my 5-day study schedule that shows you exactly how.
9. Work in intervals
Long, epic work or study sessions are highly unproductive. They’re tricky though, because after a long session you feel exhausted, which fools you into thinking you were productive. A better way to work and study is by using deliberate intervals and rest sessions. You could use the classic Pomodoro Method (work for 25 minutes; rest for 5 minutes) or an alternative like 45 minutes work; 15 minutes rest. Tip: Use a timer.
10. Take advantage of studies and time pockets
If you’re lucky enough to have a free period or study during the school day, use it to chip away at your work. Here’s how to maximize your free period. Yeah, I know your friends are in there and friends are cooler than your homework. But come on, now. If you want to increase your productivity, you have to do productive things. If you don’t have a study, find odd pockets of time throughout the day (waiting for the bus?) to get work done.
11. Use time block planning on hard days
Time block planning is hard and I don’t recommend doing it every single day, but holy mackerel, it works!! When you know you have a busy, hard day coming up, or you have a ton of work to do over the weekend, use the time block planning strategy to get the most out of every moment you have.
12. Prepare for your busy days
Your weekly schedule probably repeats from week to week. In other words, your Mondays are probably the same each week, same with Tuesdays, and so on. Know your weekly schedule in advance, and know which day is usually the busiest – then plan around that. Are Wednesday afternoons absolutely bananas? Then make sure you’re highly productive on Tuesdays.
Productivity tips for focus
You can’t be productive if you’re not focused. The most productive students work hard to protect their focus when they sit down to do homework or study. The following strategies will help you protect your focus so that you can get in and get out. You might dislike the strategies and think they’re annoying, but I’m here to give you real advice, not skittles.
13. Put the phone away
I know you know this one. It just boggles my mind how strongly students fight the reality that phones destroy focus. Don’t even put the phone upside down – that’s not enough because the phone itself IS the visual trigger. You need to put the darn thing in another room.
14. Turn text messages off your ipad or computer
If you’re working on an ipad or Mac computer, you might have your text messages turned on. That means even if you put your phone in another room, you’re basically still on the phone. Turn the messages off while you’re working.
15. Avoid working with lyrical music
I know people have strong opinions about studying or working with music. But let’s put aside personal preferences and look at the science. Cognitively demanding work (reading, writing, studying) uses the language centers of our brain. When we listen to lyrical music while studying, those same language centers get pulled into a different direction. This is AWFUL for productivity and focus. If you like music, listen to something without words.
16. Shut the tabs down
You should only keep tabs open for websites you need to do your assignments. Leaving tabs open to all the “fun” stuff while you’re working is self-sabotage.
Productivity tips for mindset
You can have all the fancy Pomodoro timers and productivity hacks in the world, but if you don’t have the right mindset, you’re not going to get far. What we believe about ourselves, how far we think we can go, what we think are own limitations are … these thoughts all have the power to make or break our productivity.
17. Don’t wait for motivation
Motivation is overrated. It’s neat and cool when we have it, but we absolutely must not rely on motivation to get things done. We will never be motivated all the time, and that’s reality. So instead of waiting to be motivated before we get productive, start getting productive and motivation will follow.
18. Pay attention to your zone-outs…and call yourself out
We are all going to lose focus now and again, especially if what we’re doing is boring, irrelevant or difficult. Productive students don’t NOT zone out… they definitely DO zone out, but they catch themselves when it happens. Increase your student productivity by noticing when your attention fades, and then do what you have to do to get back into the zone.
19. Know that doing hard things is hard
Hard things are hard to do, and we need to stop expecting them to not be hard. This advice isn’t easy to implement, but the sooner we accept that doing hard things will tempt us to procrastinate or avoid tasks altogether, the sooner we can move on to doing the task. Ten minutes spent complaining about how hard something is, is 10 minutes you could have spent figuring out how to do it.
20. Watch out for busy work traps
Have you ever gone to bed feeling like you did 1000 things but also that you didn’t accomplish anything? That’s usually the feeling you get when you spend a lot of time on unimportant, or “busy-work” tasks. We are drawn to these busy-work tasks because they often bring up less resistance than the harder, more important tasks. The trap is that these tasks make you feel momentarily productive, but at the end of the day you could have made better choices.
For example, you have the option to begin studying for your biology test, or you could clean out and organize your school binder. Cleaning out your binder makes you feel good at the moment (and it’s a good thing to do) – but a truly productive student would choose to study for the biology test. The reason? Studying for the test has a bigger, more significant long-term productive payoff.
Miscellaneous productivity tips for students
The following productivity tips for students don’t fit into any of the above categories but are still important. In fact, I’d argue that #21 is the most important item in the entire list.
21. Do fewer things
If you’ve implemented all these productivity tips and still feel like you can’t keep up, do fewer things. Yes, activities are essential for social connections, skill building and college applications, but there is absolutely such a thing as doing too much, and I see it all the time. If you follow this calendar strategy here and still don’t have enough time in the day, reevaluate your commitments.
22. Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself isn’t just a productivity tip for students – it’s one for all of us. Nobody can be productive if they’re hungry, cold, hot, tired, stressed, or thirsty. You must take care of your basic physical needs before anything else. Sure, sometimes we have to rally and get up earlier than we want, or grab a poor excuse for a lunch as we rush from one class to another, but this should not be the norm. Take care of yourself. You’re loved.
23. Get dressed
If you wear pajamas to your next study session, you’re signaling to your body that you’re preparing for bed. I’m all for comfortable clothing, but on a day when you need to amp up your productivity, get dressed in real-people clothes. There’s a saying that we should “dress for the job we want.” Want to be a productive student? Dress like a student who is serious about getting things done.
24. Use routines
I’m a huge fan of routines – particularly an evening routine and a shutdown routine. Routines help us streamline decisions and have some structure to our time: two factors related to productivity. Here’s how to set up one of the best routines for students – the Sunday Routine.
High school students: I suggest having a homework routine that looks pretty much the same each day. For example, 6:30-8:30 each evening you do homework at the kitchen counter.
College students: you have more varying daily schedules. You could create routines on a weekly scale, such as Mondays you study from 11:00 AM-2:00 PM, Tuesdays from 4:00-7:30 PM, etc.
Final note about productivity tips for students
I like to say that you are both the scientist and the experiment. You may have personal preferences or unique learning needs that impact what you need to be productive. I am providing the framework and a lot of the science-based productivity strategies, but I encourage you to experiment within that framework until you find that sweet spot.
At the end of the day, the greatest productivity tip of all is to do the work. I know that’s hard to hear and even harder to do, but there is no productivity without action.