Science Backed Tips to Boost Productivity for Students

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Getting into the study flow and staying productive isn’t so easy for many of us — especially the procrastinators in the crowd (here’s a fun & distracting video by Tim Urban on procrastination). This challenge is now even more visible in the current Corona lock down times when libraries, cafes and university campuses remain closed.

Hours of solo study at home, cut-off from my usual “focus places” and the community that helped me stay on track, meant that I saw an increase in the number of hours I spend “studying” and when felt like a decrease in the results I was getting! How could this be?!

So I turned to the internet and science for some help on how to get my study mojo back — and here is what I found:

There are two elements of our psychology which make studying with others one of the best ways to stay focused and on track: psychology of mimicry and the psychology of accountability.

The first, psychology of mimicry means that we find it easier to do something if we see someone else doing the same thing because we like to be part of a group. So when you see others study, like in a library or in a study group, you are motivated to study too!

The psychology of accountability on the other hand shows that we tend to behave differently when we feel we are being observed by others. In the case of studying — when we feel our friends or other students might see us procrastinating — we are less likely to pick up the phone or put on an episode of a favourite TV show. We are more likely to stay focused on our studies.

At the moment physical spaces where we can study in groups are hard to come by, but there are digital communities that allow you to study together. Check out our Discord server — with over 100K students in the community regularly tuning in to help each other stay focused.

A big part of staying focused — is doing the preparation up front so when your mind starts wondering at the end of a finished task, you can directly check what’s next on the to do list.

At the start of the study session, note down the goals you have for the session. Then, break down your tasks into time-boxed goals (see Pomodoro Technique below) at the start of each study block. Make sure to mark your tasks as done as you complete them — giving yourself a moment to acknowledge the progress you’re making. You’ll soon notice wanting to clear your To Do list.

Photo by Ralph Hutter on Unsplash

The Pomodoro Technique suggests that we break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.

Here’s how it works:

  • Set a task you want to accomplish (make it realistic)
  • Set a timer to 25 minutes
  • Work on the task until the timer runs out, then mark it with a tick
  • Take a short break (around 5 minutes)
  • Repeat the steps above
  • After four cycles, take a longer break (15–30 minutes)

The working time can be 25 minutes with a 5 minutes break, 50 minutes with a 10 minute break etc. It’s up to you — but don’t skimp on the break! Resting our mind is just as crucial for success.

Create a reward system, track your progress and celebrate the small wins. This might sound a little silly, but gamification is a powerful motivator which can be used outside of gaming to help you stay on track and have more fun while doing so.

And if you are studying together with others — think about how you can add leaderboards and other competitive elements to stay motivated together.

According to Professor Jonathan Schooler from UC Santa Barbara, “Daydreaming and boredom seem to be a source for incubation and creative discovery in the brain.” Sometimes productivity doesn’t come from just getting more things done in less time. There’s always more than one path to answering how to increase productivity, and giving ourselves the time to simply think can help us identify what these alternative solutions are.

CEO of Linkedin, Jeff Weiner, goes as far as intentionally blocking off time in his busy schedule to simply sit and think. He says that these free times are helpful for:

  • Uninterrupted focus
  • Thoroughly developing and questioning assumptions
  • Synthesizing all of the data, information, and knowledge that’s incessantly coming your way
  • Connecting dots
  • Iterating through multiple scenarios