One of the biggest differences between high school and college is the level of independence you enjoy. As a college student you no longer have teachers looking over your shoulder making sure you’re doing your work.
And while it’s great to have this added freedom, it’s also important to realize that you’re now solely responsible for completing your assignments and meeting deadlines. To accomplish this, it helps to be disciplined and smart about how you use your time.
This is especially true for students enrolled in online courses, many of whom are juggling their studies with their careers and spending time with their families. Time is a limited resource, so it’s important to have a plan for how you can work efficiently and accomplish the most in the time you do have.
At Maryville, we work to help our students get the most of their time and education by offering access to resources, student support, and assistance from application through graduation. But if you’re looking to maximize your productivity as you earn your degree, check out these tips and tricks.
1. Listen to your internal clock.
Do you live by the Ben Franklin philosophy of “Early to bed and early to rise”? Or are you a night owl who tends to do your best work while most people are sleeping?
Everyone has his or her own internal body rhythms. These are the times when you’re most alert and thinking most clearly. Figure out when that time of day is for you and try to reserve that space for doing schoolwork that requires the most critical thinking.
There have been numerous studies on this subject. In a Psychology Today article titled, “Here Is the Time of Day When You Are Most Productive,” author Wendy L. Patrick discusses this topic. She notes that “Research indicates short-term memory tasks are performed better earlier in the day.” She also refers to a different study that says, “Older adults tended to achieve peak performance on memory and cognitive inhibition tasks in the morning, in contrast to younger adults, who tended to achieve peak performance in the afternoon.”
While this can be helpful, it all boils down to understanding when you’re able to do your best thinking and work most efficiently. You know yourself better than anyone else does, so consider this and plan accordingly.
2. Create a timeline.
Sometimes surprises can be fun, like when your friends throw you a birthday party. But when it comes to staying on top of your coursework, surprises are generally something you want to avoid. We’ve probably all had that sinking feeling of realizing we have a term paper due in three days that we haven’t started.
One way to prevent this from happening is by creating a timeline before you even begin taking the class. Start by noting all the key dates on the course schedule, such as exams and days when papers are due. Work backward from there.
Being aware of the due dates is only half the battle. It’s just as important to mark on your calendar all the key days along the process, such as when you need to start studying for a test, begin doing research, or have the first draft of your paper written. Be realistic about how much time you need to complete each step, and then factor in a little extra time to account for unforeseen circumstances.
Taking a few minutes upfront to plan out your schedule for the semester can give you a roadmap that can put you on a path to success.
At Maryville, we offer a number of online resources to help students better organize their time and their ideas. These include an orientation webinar, which addresses ways to begin working in your online course, as well as a writing studio, which covers topics like generating ideas and planning a draft. And our friendly, knowledgeable student support staff is always available to answer your questions and offer assistance.
3. Stay focused.
In the age of social media and mobile devices, it can be tempting to look at your phone every 30 seconds or so. Of course, time spent checking Facebook or scrolling through your friends’ Instagram photos is time that you’re not studying. Before you know it, a project that should take an hour to complete turns into three hours.
Time is limited, so it’s important that you create a distraction-free environment while you’re studying. Put your phone on airplane mode — or better yet, put it in a different room. Likewise, turn off the TV and resist the urge to surf the internet while you’re sitting at your computer.
If this is difficult or infeasible, you can also create incentives for yourself — divide up your studying into segments, and reward yourself with a quick break after you’ve finished each mini-assignment.
As a Maryville student, you’ll have access to an online life coach and our attentive student support staff and advisors, who can offer additional tips on how to study efficiently. And if you find that you might benefit from further support, your student support specialist can help connect you with other academic resources, such as tutoring and study skills.
4. A healthy body makes for a sharper mind.
One of the best ways to keep yourself mentally sharp is by taking care of your body. Getting regular exercise and eating healthy will not only help you to feel better, but also can lead to increased productivity.
According to a study by the Brookings Institution, “Physical exercise stimulates the development of new mitochondria within your cells, meaning that your body will be able to produce more ATP [an energy storage molecule] over time. That gives you more energy to exert yourself physically, but it also means more energy for your brain, boosting your mental output.”
Research shows that it doesn’t even matter how hard you work out — people who exercised at low intensity reported the same benefits as those who exercised at moderate intensity — as long as you put in the effort to do something.
Likewise, changing your diet can have a positive effect on how you think. In an article titled “What You Eat Affects Your Productivity,” the Harvard Business Review states it simply: “Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance.”
The article cites a study that concludes that people tend to be happier, more engaged, and more creative when they consume up to seven portions of fruits and vegetables a day. It recommends grazing throughout the day rather than eating large meals, because “spikes and drops in blood sugar are both bad for productivity and bad for the brain.”
5. Get ahead even when you’re not taking classes.
Being productive means more than working efficiently. It’s also about making the most of your time when class isn’t in session.
This is a great opportunity to make new contacts and grow your professional network. Try to find a mentor in your field of study who can counsel you on ways to get ahead in your career, or see if you can spend a day shadowing someone in the field to get a better understanding of how the profession works.
You can also use this time to establish a relationship with your professors. One of the most valuable resources when you are earning your degree is access to the faculty. With their years of knowledge and experience, there’s a great deal you can learn from them that goes beyond what’s covered in the syllabus.
At Maryville University, our online students have regular access to our dedicated faculty. They want you to succeed, so make an effort to connect with them – whether it’s via email or chat.
If you’re about to begin a new program or a new semester, introducing yourself to your professors can even be a great way to get a head start. Reach out to them before classes begin to get their insights on where you should focus, what they perceive as key takeaways for the course, and any other advice that may help you achieve success.
Maryville University also assigns a student support advisor to every online student. Your advisor can act as another resource to help you answer any questions you have about the upcoming semester and help you work through any challenges you may face.
It starts with one brave decision.
If you want to earn your college degree, there’s no time like now. And with online options like those we offer at Maryville, you have the flexibility to learn on your schedule and at your own pace. That means you can prioritize your education without sacrificing in other areas of your life — your job, family, or hobbies.
No one ever said earning a college degree would be easy. That’s why receiving your diploma can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. But by planning ahead and using your time wisely, you’ll be better positioning yourself for success both in the classroom and beyond.
Check out our online degree programs to learn more about how your college degree can help prepare you to reach your goals.