A picture of Texas State University’s Old Main building with the title edited into the top left corner, “10 Tips for a Productive Semester.”

10 Tips for a Productive Semester

By Ally Bolender
Web Content Contributor

Before you know it, you’ll be walking down the quad lugging around a backpack full of textbooks. We can all agree syllabus week is the best, but once the professors start laying down the homework assignments, it becomes too easy to slip into a procrastinating, binge-watching, late morning and an all-around lazy semester.

I used to be a student who gave (on a good day) 50%. But after a few years in college and countless trials and errors, I’ve found that the best way to make your semester count is to simply start changing the little things that hold you back. After a while, you’ll find yourself excited to learn new material, essays become a breeze, early mornings feel more productive and you’ll feel like you’re a little bit more in control of your life.

1. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but write down your assignments already!

Have you ever been told something really important and thought, “I’ll definitely remember that,” but instead, it completely disappears from your mind? It happens to the best of us. Just avoid this by writing things down! I can’t tell you how many times owning a planner has saved me. Not into carrying around another book? Take advantage of your Apple or Google calendar, or even the notes app on your phone. You’ll thank yourself later.

An image of what a week looks like in my planner. Multiple things written out in different colors.
I couldn’t survive without my planner. Photo by Ally Bolender.

2. A tidy space equals a productive space.

It’s hard to feel motivated when your room is a mess. And if it is already clean, there shouldn’t be any excuse not to start on your work. I’ve found that having a tidy environment makes getting work done easier and more satisfying — and it may motivate you to get things done.

A few easy ways to keep your space tidy is to make your bed once you get up (that way it won’t be so easy to hop back in), clean off table-tops by stacking instead of scattering papers and regularly throw away trash or old papers. Once you realize how much stuff around you is actually just clutter, your work environment becomes a lot easier to work in.

3. Stop looking for motivation and use self-discipline.

Some students have a bad habit of waiting for a wave of motivation to start an assignment, but unfortunately that wave doesn’t always come. Practicing self-discipline isn’t the most fun thing to do, but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to achieve your goals. Try limiting the time you spend being lazy by using Netflix or naps as a treat for after you get your stuff done. As simple as it sounds, sometimes the only way to get on your grind is to quite literally force yourself.

4. Put your to-do lists front-and-center.

I mean this both figuratively and literally. To-do lists are a great way to organize and set-up your day, and the act of crossing off each to-do gets addicting after a while. Planning your day with lists will set you up for success and you (hopefully) won’t spend all try trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing.

Making a to-do list is easy, but actually completing the list is the hard part. That’s why I literally sleep with my lists and planner on my nightstand, front-and-center. It’s the last thing I see when I close my eyes and the first thing I see when I open them. It really puts me in a productive mood and I get excited to cross everything off, sometimes just so I feel like I deserve to binge-watch.

5. Find what inspires you in each of your classes.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in college, it’s that a course becomes 10 times more interesting once you find a way for it to bring inspiration to you. Whether it’s the professor, the connection of curriculum to real-life or your classmates, find a reason to get excited about your class.

From my experience, it’s a lot more difficult to bring yourself to skip a class that you find joy in. Sometimes there will be classes you just can’t relate to, and that’s sookay, but just try to enjoy learning from an expert on the topic.

6. I know you’ve heard it a million times, but… get to know your professors!

Being friends with your professors makes the class so much more fun. You have a mentor you can talk to about career advice, post-grad plans and anything about the field you may want to go into. It is also a lot easier to come to them about questions regarding the curriculum.

Professors seem intimidating at first, but remember, they were once confused, starry-eyed students like all of us. Take advantage of your professor’s office hours. They can offer a lot of great advice, guidance and a connection into your field.

7. If you’re a procrastinator, start your essays as early as you can – then procrastinate.

I know, it sounds strange, but if you are prone to wait until the last minute to start an essay, it helps to make an outline a few weeks in advance. Once you have an outline or an opening paragraph created, your brain essentially puts the assignment on the backburner. However, this burner is still on.

Over time you’ll find yourself coming up with new ideas and arguments include in your assignment. When this occurs, jot it down. Before you know it, you’ll have a detailed outline that already incorporates your great ideas. Procrastinate without even feeling bad about it!

If you want to hear more about how this “style” of procrastination works and how to effectively take advantage of it, check out this TED Talk featuring Adam Grant, “The surprising habits of original thinkers.”

8. Avoid technology first thing in the morning.

I know you’ve probably been told to do this a billion times, but don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it. I’ve been practicing this for about a year now — and it’s worth it. Who knew something so simple could shape your day so much? When you wake up, don’t touch your phone, TV, tablet, laptop or anything in-between.

Focus on YOU! Open the blinds, stretch, make some coffee and contemplate your plans for the day. If you’re the kind of person that checks important things on your phone when you get up, like emails and messages opposed to scrolling social media, just remind yourself those messages can wait 20 minutes. The Earth will still turn — even if you don’t respond to your manager first thing in the morning. You-time is so important, especially to set the tone for your day.

9. Surround yourself with motivation

Abstract background with colors of blue, pink, yellow, orange and purple. The white box in the middle is a quote by Ernest Hemingway, “Show the readers everything, tell them nothing.”
The background for my laptop. I created it to motivate me every time I open my laptop! Photo by Ally Bolender.

Let’s be honest, motivational art today has gotten a bit cheesy. Instead, find things that will inspire and motivate you and surround yourself with them. For example, I am a journalism major and a literary nerd, my favorite author being Hemingway. I designed this desktop background because I love the colors, Hemingway, this quote that perfectly describes his writing technique, and how the quote indirectly correlates to journalism. It motivates me everytime I open my laptop to start working on what I love and what I want to do in my future. In my room, I have prints of my favorite New Yorker covers hanging on the wall and a bookcase full of my favorite books.

A bookcase featuring multiple books and picture frames
My bookcase of my favorite reads motivates me to pick up a book and reminds me of what I love doing! Photo by Ally Bolender.

I surround myself with things I love and things that I am passionate about, and it always reminds me of what I’m working for. Motivational environments aren’t just surrounding yourself with motivational sayings, but things that you personally appreciate and that will help remind you to do your best.

10. Give yourself more time in the morning

I get it — in college, it’s too easy to stay up late and sleep in. Some days I don’t even set my alarm until 10 minutes before my class. But most days, I like to give myself a good amount of time to relax before I need to start my day. Try waking up earlier and giving yourself some time to do what you want to do, not what you have to do.

Take a longer shower, read a book, spend more time on your hair or makeup, listen to a podcast… whatever it is that puts you in a good mood. Obviously if you’re not getting an appropriate amount of sleep for the night you may want to take the time to sleep in, but it’s a good idea to plan some days to have some time to chill before your day starts.

Having a productive and successful college time is all about trial and error. You have to find what works for you. These are just some tips that have drastically changed the way I live day-to-day and have made me a better student. Some of these things aren’t for everyone, so I encourage you to find your wave.

College feels like it’ll last forever, but unfortunately it won’t. The material you’re learning now is the foundation of your future career. Take advantage of the time you have here and make the best of it — you don’t want to regret it down the line. Besides all that, having a productive and healthy lifestyle makes your days feel longer and more successful and will make you (hopefully) feel happier. Try implementing little changes in your life and see how it affects your fall semester!

Featured image by Ally Bolender.

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