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How to work smarter, not harder

With so much to do – whether that’s juggling multiple deadlines with the beginning of revising for exams, as well as looking into potential career-related opportunities in the summer – it can be difficult to think where you’re going to find the time to get everything done.

But in reality it doesn’t need to be that way. With some extra planning, goal-setting and learning to say “no” to things that will distract you, hope is in sight! The key is essentially good time management and everyone (including you) has the ability to become the master of their time.

So how can you do this? By simply following our 6 tips on how to work smarter, not harder…

  1. Plan your days

One way to help you manage your time is to plan your days. Some people like to do so the night before, but others prefer to plan their entire week in advance. By planning your week in advance, this can help you to work out what you need to do on each day and help you to look at the bigger picture.

It’s a great feeling to wake up knowing everything you need to do and it helps you to stick to the plan as best as possible. And if some last minute things appear, by having that weekly overview it can help you work out what tasks need to be moved around.

  1. Set your own time limits

One of the essential parts of good time management is knowing exactly what needs to be done and by when. Giving yourself specific time limits will encourage you to be more productive and help lessen the stress of last-minute work.

Be realistic about the time it will take for you to complete the task. But do also bear in mind; some tasks can fill your allocated time available to complete them. To max out your productivity, set yourself a deadline and see if you can halve it – think of it almost as a self-competition!

Make sure you also note when your assignment deadlines are – whether that’s on your phone, in a diary or as a reminder in your calendar. Knowing when your deadlines are can help you prioritise and ensure there are no last minute stresses!

  1. Prioritise and stop the procrastination

Yes, we know the new series of Game of Thrones may be far more interesting than completing your reading list or editing your latest assignment – but it’s time to prioritise and get things done.

You could categorise what you want to achieve into the following:

  • Urgent and important
  • Not urgent but important
  • Urgent but not important
  • Neither urgent nor important

Activities which are ‘neither urgent nor important’ can actually be ignored until you’ve finished your ‘to do’ list. Be honest with yourself about what is truly important and treat that latest series of your favourite TV show as a treat for once you get everything else done. And you never know, you may even enjoy it more so that way.

  1. Learn when to say ‘no’ and keep any distractions at bay

Simply put, if you suspect something is going to waste your time – say no to it. Scrolling aimlessly through Facebook or watching cat videos on loop can wait. While it’s great to take breaks when working, be mindful that the short breaks don’t end up eating hours of your day. So when you begin a task, block out all distractions (especially internet-based ones) and keep to a timeframe i.e. 45 minutes of solid working with a 15 minute coffee break. You could always try the Pomodoro technique as a way of structuring your study sessions.

  1. Don’t waste your time on making it perfect (at first)

While it’s important to be satisfied and proud with what you produce, striving to make it perfect on your first attempt will waste loads of time.

If you’re writing an essay or assignment, getting the bulk of your words down and then editing is a much better approach than deliberating about the use of each word/punctuation mark as you go along. Instead work on it by getting a draft down which will improve more than the content when you come to edit – having more to play with will also help you improve the structure and flow of your work.

  1. Don’t force yourself

One major way to work smarter, not harder is understand it is far better to spend part of your day doing focused, high-quality work rather than spending all your day slogging away at a computer, producing work of poor quality. Don’t force yourself to work on the same task all day – unless you absolutely need to.

Go for a walk. Eat a good, healthy dinner. Call your best friend. Play your favourite sport. By taking regular breaks, mixing things up a bit and having time to refresh in between tasks, will help you to feel positive, energised and ready to work smarter.

Feel like you need a bit more support? Take a look at some of the My Learning Essentials workshops. You’ll find all their upcoming workshops including Managing Procrastination, Making the most of your time and Challenging unhelpful thinking habits.

And don’t forget – Exam Extra has launched, meaning that there’s plenty of extra support for you during a very busy exam period.