How to be productive when you get home from school
Picture this: you’ve got a big internal due soon. You’re in class, daydreaming about all the impressive study you’re going to do after school. You bounce home, alive with ambition, ready to seize the afternoon… and yet when you arrive, you realise that you’re actually a little sleepy. Maybe a quick lie down will do you good. And a snack. After that, you’ll definitely get started on your internal. No doubts about it. Not one.
Suddenly, it’s 11.36pm. You’re full of pasta and regret, and you’re no closer to finishing your internal than you were 8 hours ago.
Everyone struggles with productivity. A quick browse on Google and you’ll find about a thousand articles on “how to hack your productivity” and “how to get up at 4am everyday”, etc.
In reality, productivity doesn’t require a ridiculous Elon-Musk-Style morning routine. You don’t need a mind-altering drug, or an expensive bullet-journal to achieve your goals.
All you need is to understand the science of procrastination. By shaping your day around this science, productivity will become second-nature.
1. Make a space, choose a trigger.
Productivity happens when we give our undivided attention to the task at hand.
You’re much more likely to get “in the flow” when you feel a sense personal control over the situation, and a confidence in your ability to succeed.
It goes without saying that if your space is messy, inconsistent and full of distractions – your focus will be scattered too.
So how do we access this state-of-mind?
Start by creating a specific space for study.
- Find an area in your house that is quiet and clean. This will be your study space.
- Clear all distractions from the spot. Turn off your phone. Make sure your “study space” is available as soon as you get home from school – set it up the day before you intend to study if you can.
- Now here’s the important part: every time you sit down to study, choose something to serve as your “trigger” for focus. This could be a lamp – which when switched on – means that you’re “in the zone”. It could be listening to Jazz music, or it could be a lit candle. It could even just be a special pair of socks that make you feel cosy and capable.
- Whatever your thing is, make sure that as soon as you sit down to work, you “activate” your trigger. Then, when you run out of steam or finish your half-hour session, turn it off.
What this is doing is tricking your mind into associating the behaviour (study) with the cue (lamp/Jazz music/candle). This means your brain spends less time trying to fight the activity, because it knows that when that lamp is switched on, you’re in the zone.
It might take a while to really become an automatic behaviour, so really try to stick with this habit.
If you’re a beginner to after-school productivity, ease into it. Try studying for 25 minutes after school every day for a week – in your study space, with your trigger activated. Build your way up to bigger sessions, and soon the behaviour becomes almost automatic.
2. Start right away.
When you’re at school and in the thick of learning, it’s easy to get swept up by the motivation that you feel in the moment. Ideas are flowing, your mind is growing, Becky’s not at school for once. You’re feeling good.
This is where it’s easy to get an inflated ego. You convince yourself that you can summon this sort of motivation at any point throughout the day, just like turning on a tap. You’re a superhero, a super-motivated-hero, here to slay NCEA.
The truth is, willpower is an exhaustible resource. This means it’s not permanent or infinite – in fact, it usually runs out pretty quick. This often happens in the pesky gap between school and home.
So how do we find our motivation when we get home?
The trick is to start straight away. Minimising the gap between your motivated state of mind (school) and your lazy slump (home) will help you keep going off the momentum of your original mindset. Plus, it’ll mean you’ll finish with study much earlier in the day, meaning more time for your own interests and hobbies.
It might seem obvious, but studies have shown that simply starting a task is the biggest guarantee of productivity. The longer you delay it, the less likely you are to do it at all.
The longer we put something off, the bigger and more overwhelming the workload seems, and the more discomfort our mind feels at the thought of beginning. So we continue to delay things, and our motivation depletes with every minute.
When you get home from school tomorrow, don’t beeline for the fridge/couch/bed like you usually do.
- Instead, go straight to your study space.
- Activate your trigger, and make a pledge to do 25 minutes of focused study, no matter what. Once you’ve completed that “pocket” of study, turn off your trigger.
- After you’ve finished one session of study, no matter how much you got done, reward yourself with a snack, or a YouTube video. Positive reinforcement of the behaviour increases your willingness to do it again.
- Just starting a task can be the most difficult, but also the biggest guarantee you’ll get it done. Thinking about doing it will only make it harder to do.
3. Chunk your workload.
You know when you arrive at the library with every intention of doing 8 hours of work, and end up leaving after only ten minutes? Or worse, sitting there throughout the entire day, only to leave having written a couple sentences?
This sort of study is the equivalent of standing on the sides of an operating treadmill for two hours and calling it exercise.
A good way to counter procrastination and keep on top of your goals is to measure output, not hours. No one wants to go home from school and spend the next 240 minutes of their life studying more.
But if you study efficiently, with focus and diligence, you might not have to.
Break up what you need to do into little mini-tasks. For example, if your homework is to write a 1,000 word essay on the Trojan War, your task for when you get home might be to simply read over all of your notes on the subject. Forget about the rest of the essay for tonight. Pretend like the rest of the workload doesn’t exist. Work until the small task is done.
The task for the next day might be to come up with an argument for your essay, and the next day, an essay plan or skeleton.
Do you see how these small tasks seem much more achievable than spending 4 hours straight on Ancient Greek Mythology? Doesn’t Stranger Things seem a little bit less seductive when you know you can watch an episode – guilt free – after only a few more minutes of study?
When we focus on one small component of the task instead of the entire thing, we’re pretty much tricking our brain out of procrastinating.
The mind is designed to avoid discomfort at all costs – so when it thinks about all the writing, research and hard work that goes into completing an essay – it’ll conjure up some creative excuses for avoiding it.
But when we act like the task is much smaller, the mind won’t work as hard to avoid doing it.
Instead of trying to enforce unrealistic expectations upon yourself, with mythological hours of study that won’t actually happen, break up your workload into its smallest components – and tackle those one-by-one.
Celebrate individual victories, and eventually your motivation from simply making progress will push you to achieve even more.