Eight ways to be productive and motivated at university

University will be one of the best experiences of your life. You’ll make new friends, learn new skills, get to know experts in your subject and have so many opportunities to take advantage of. To get the most out of the experience, it is important to stay motivated and be productive with your time – but we know that can be easier said than done!

Read our eight top tips on how to be productive and motivated at university so that you not only get the most out of your experience, but you also excel and prepare yourself for your dream graduate job. 

1. Plan your days  

It might sound simple, but planning your time each week will help you to achieve your goalsTry adding things you want to do each day to your phone calendar as ‘events’ so that you have reminders of how you want to spend your time. Or, you can write things out in a planner or diary.  

Student Olivia likes to write down her tasks in her planner: “What I like to do is section it into two categories – work and life. I make my work tasks specific so that I know exactly what I am working on when I come to do itThen my life section is anything not work-related - so if I want to go for a walk, meet friends, watch Netflix, read a book or make time for a hobby, I write that in too. I find writing out my schedule motivates me and it is so satisfying to tick things off! 

2. Have a routine  

You need a routine that works best for you. Try to get up and go to bed at similar times to give yourself that structure and routine so you can make the most of your weekly plan and organise your time effectively. Talking about her routine, student Olivia says, “Study when is best for you. For me, my mornings are my most productive time, but that could be completely different for you. What I personally do is set an hour timer on my phone and work as much as I can in that hour, and then take a short break.” 

3. Know your deadlines 

As soon as you get your assignment deadlines, add them to your calendar and make a plan of how you will meet that deadline.  

Assignments can be a variety of group project work, short or long essays – each one will be slightly different and will require different preparations, so it is important that you allow yourself enough time ahead of each deadline to get the work done. This leads us to our next top tip… 

4. Break down tasks   

It always helps to break down the task that you need to complete into smaller and more realistic ones. For example, ahead of an assignment deadline, you might want to dedicate one day to research, one day to writing the introduction and another day to writing the first part, and so on. One of our students, Paula, shares her advice: 

What helps me to be productive is to divide tasks into smaller ones. Instead of setting one big task, I divide it into different days and times to make it more manageable and achievable. Also, it is important to set realistic goals – there’s no point setting unrealistic goals if you know you are not going to achieve it and you will be overwhelmed and frustrated.” 

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5. Take a break and reward yourself   

Make sure you have a schedule that factors in regular breaks and reward yourself for what you have achieved – no matter how big or small. Student Althea says:

“When you study it is really hard to feel rewarded, so you have to reward yourself. What I do is set some objectives each day. I spend 35-45 minutes studying and have two playlists that I listen to, with no instruments just soothing music to avoid distractions. I set a timer and when it is up I reward myself and take a break for 10-15 minutes, but no longer. Then I do it over and over until I achieve my objectives for the day, and when they have that’s when I reward myself again by finishing and watching a movie or eating some treats!”  

6. Limit your social media activity  

Social media and what’s on your phone can take up a lot of head space - how many times do you subconsciously start scrolling without realising, especially while trying to study? Setting app limits on your phone, or dedicating only certain times of the day to checking social media could be valuable in giving you more time to study and focus on yourself. 

Also, checking your phone and social media can be a huge distraction when trying to work, so it might help to leave your phone or tablet in another room or in your bag while studying. 

7. Eat the right foods  

Knowing how to make quick and easy snacks and meals is key to feeling well and motivated. When hunger strikes, it is so easy to grab some crisps or chocolate but that isn’t giving your body the fuel it needs to feel good – and also probably isn’t making you feel any less hungry!  

Having quick and accessible go-to meals and snacks is a must for feeling good and having the right energy to go out and get things done. Also, make sure you have a water bottle with you at all times and aim to drink 2-3 litres per day to stay focused and motivated.  

8. Stay active  

It can be easy to wake up, watch a bit of TV and then try to work straight away. But actually factoring in a short walk, jog, yoga, HIIT workout, gym session or something to get your body moving – no matter how big or small can really make a difference to your day. Althea says, “When you wake up spend 20 minutes doing exercise. You could do yoga, Pilates, go for a walk – if you’re feeling adventurous go for a run or cycle. Of course, there are many trainers on YouTube too. Eat something, hydrate and you’re set!”  

As with work, factor in the time to do it when best suits you – maybe a late-night gym session suits you or a long walk when you first wake up. Whatever it is, do what works best for you. 

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