It’s nearly the middle of the semester. You may be preparing mid-term exams for your undergrads, studying for exams of your own, or just plugging through your dissertation. Regardless, this is often when many students feel sluggish and lose motivation. Making it even harder, one of the keys to success in graduate school is being a self-starter. So how do you stay productive when you’ve lost all motivation?
1. Divide up your projects.
We like to call this the “swiss cheese” method. It’s daunting to look at a massive project you have coming up and find yourself asking, “Where do I start?” The best way to overcome this is to break the project down, preferably into bite-size steps that can be completed in short chunks of time. You may even want to set up rewards for yourself at each milestone. This enables you to track your progress, methodically schedule your breaks, and focus on one issue at a time. You may even find you have more time in your day than you first imagined.
2. Schedule out your work.
I did this throughout my undergraduate degree. I would receive my syllabus and break down every reading or writing assignment into daily chunks. I did a little bit of work in every class, every day. This even allowed me to get ahead on my assignments, creating more time for the big projects demanding my attention. We even suggest taking this a step further. Create a calendar of your full degree plan with critical dates recorded on it. Use it to record your big picture milestones. From there, keep a monthly calendar for your current semester and use it to schedule out all of your activities (class, meetings with your advisor, lunch plans, etc.). You can budget your time more effectively if you can see it all right in front of you.
3. Keep a to-do list.
Whether it’s with your pen and a moleskin notebook or the latest productivity tool on your Mac, find one tool that works best and keep track of your tasks. Keep a record of the things you need to do and check off your progress along the way. Include all of your research objectives and classwork. At the same time, don’t forget to include the personal things that eat away at your schedule – grocery shopping, car repairs, your haircut, etc. Review your to-do list daily and keep up with it. Even the best productivity tools are only helpful if you use them.
4. Schedule some breaks.
If you keep driving yourself harder and harder, you’ll eventually burn out. Aside from failing to meet your deadlines, this can lead to greater anxiety or even depression! Make sure you get to bed at a decent hour and schedule times throughout your week to work out, spend time with friends, and do things you enjoy. Staying well-rested and exercising regularly benefits both your physical and emotional health.
Discuss: What other tips have you found to overcoming procrastination in your life?