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Three Ways to Inspire More Productive Work Habits

January 11, 2018
By GradProSkills

to-do list

The start of a new academic term is always a great time to reflect on some of your work habits. Last term you may have found useful techniques that helped you complete your assignments, but you may have also picked up some harmful routines that hindered your productivity. This blog post will give you ideas on how you can break some of your bad habits and take a step forward towards establishing meaningful goals

1. Identify your distractions

If you want to curb your bad habits, you first have to know what they are. Are you a social media enthusiast? Do you find yourself browsing retail websites on the computer when you’re supposed to be reading an article or writing an essay? Do you often pay more attention to the food in your lap, than the paper on your desk?

You may be guilty of doing some or all of these things, or perhaps you have other ways of inhibiting the completion of your tasks. The good news is that once you’re honest about your distractions, you can easily take care of them. For instance, Loryn Thompson, a contributor for Copyblogger, writes about muscle memory and combatting the automatic response to open up her phone and check her social media apps. One way Thompson overcame her habit was by removing the distracting social apps from her phone’s home screen and burying them in folders.

If your mouse tends to wander to web pages that take you away from your work whenever you’re on the computer, try disconnecting from the Internet. Darius Foroux, the voice of the “Here’s my Productivity System” podcast, recommends installing applications such as SelfControl (for Mac users) or FocusMe (for Windows users) to prevent access to distracting websites during periods of work.

Use an incentive. For every half-hour or so that you spend focusing on the tasks that you want to accomplish, reward yourself with something you like, such as: listening to your favorite song; some fresh air; a nutritional snack; or a point, and after accumulating a set number you can get yourself a gift. Furthermore, take a break to eat your meals. You’re actually doing more harm to your body and your mind by eating your meals while trying to finish your assignments. University of California professor, Kimberly Elsbach, recommends stepping away from your work desk every now and then to allow for the “rumination that’s needed for ideas to percolate and gestate” and provide “an ‘aha’ moment.”

2. Be realistic

You may have woken up in the morning telling yourself that you’re going to write 15 pages for your thesis, but realistically that may not be a plausible goal for you. Just like a dissertation is broken down into chapters, you need to break down daily goals into small, manageable tasks. One way to do this is to create S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound) goals.

  • Specific – be clear about what you want to do
  • Measureable – there must be a way to indicate your progress
  • Achievable – make sure the goals are within your capabilities
  • Results-focused – have an idea of the outcome you’re working towards
  • Time-bound – give yourself an allotted time-frame to complete it

Implement an organizational system by writing things down. It’s a lot harder to sift through what you want to accomplish during a day, week or month if you don’t have something tangible to refer back to. The traditional to-do list can help you keep track of your tasks. If you want something a bit more advanced then try bullet journaling, which allows you to set up a planner in a way that addresses your specific needs. You can create a hand-written calendar, record your daily goals, jot down ideas as you go through your day, even create a personal habit tracker.

3. Reflect and celebrate

If you’re unconvinced why you should try to develop better habits for yourself, then take some time to think about what the benefits may be. Where are you right now with your academic work and where would you like to be? What are some of the things that prevented you from maximizing your progress? In an article about goal-setting, Marcel Schwantes from Leadership from the Core states that it’s important to be passionate about your goals and to check in with yourself.

Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate big and small achievements. Stay positive and try to focus more on your victories than your losses. Carry that feeling of accomplishment with you when you set out to tackle the tasks you were unable to complete the following day.

For more tips on how to develop better habits and be successful with your studies, register for the GradProSkills workshop: GPLL10 - Graduate School Success: How to Make the Most of Your Educaton.

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