Resources such as the Writing Resource Center (WRC) and the Student Success Center (SSC) offer students strategies to pass courses without going through unnecessary stress. However, different strokes work for different folks and most people encounter distractions, one of which is social media. Notions of how unproductive social media is are everywhere, but perhaps studies say otherwise. Director of Writing and the WRC Jennifer Wells and Assistant Director of Student Success Programs Kaylie Stokes have come up with the top ten ways to work smarter, not harder.
Make tasty tasks
Most students have long, bulleted to-do lists that aim to accomplish task, however, they usually come with broad phrases that can be overwhelming. The main goal of this tip is to replace these broad phrases with something more specific, or ‘tasty.’
“So rather than ‘write paper,’ it may be something like ‘spend 20 minutes brainstorming topics,’” Stokes said.
Don’t rely on willpower
“If you know you are prone to wasting time online, use a blocker like Stay Focused or Flora or Forest to block the sites you know you get distracted by looking at, or go somewhere without wifi,” Wells said in an email interview. “Using an app like Flora on your phone can help minimize the temptation to respond to messages while you are studying.”
Some people find social media apps like Instagram or Facebook to be distracting. One way to block these distractions is to switch from automatic to manual login. This can help students ask themselves ‘do I really want to do this?’
“Your willpower is not strong enough, sorry,” Stokes said.
Test your knowledge
“Re-reading is not really a great method of studying,” Stokes said.
When it comes to studying for an exam, re-learning through flash cards, being quizzed by a friend, going over past exam questions and teaching others are all effective methods to prepare for an exam.
Sometimes students can get stuck when navigating course materials, but rather than spending hours trying to figure something out, seeking guidance is always an option.
“One thing that’s important to remember is that you have TA’s and professors who are there to help you understand,” Stokes said. “They might be able to help you get that ‘ah-ha’ moment in 20 or 30 minutes instead of you spending four hours pulling your hair out.”
Don’t study when an exam is three or two days away.
“There’s this thing called ‘the curb of forgetting,’” Stokes said. “So you leave class knowing, like, 100 percent from the lecture, and basically, if you don’t review anything within three days you only remember like 10 percent. But if you review for as little as 15 minutes a day what you previously learned, your memory stays up at like 80-90 percent.”
Use study tools consistently
It’s important to make a study guide throughout the semester while information feels more relevant. Students could make 10 flashcards, review material with a friend, teach a friend or plan solo study time each week, but as long as it’s consistent the better your memory or understanding of the material will be.
Join a study group
“Studying is not something we have to study in isolation,” Stokes said.
Studying with other people can work as a study tool and are effective even with one other person.
“Choose your study buddies wisely,” Wells said. “Sometimes it is better to study with people you don’t know as well so everyone stays on task.”
“Social media in general probably disrupts studying, but there’s a lot of benefits to technology that can help with our studying,” Stokes said.
There are a variety of apps that help with school productivity: Habitica will gamify tasks, pomodoro apps such as KanbanFlow will track time, Stay Focused, Flora and Forest will minimize distractions on devices, Trello, EverNote and Airtable help organize tasks, Chipper and Google Calendar serve as planners and Wunderlist is a place to make digital to-do lists. Also, WasteNoTime is a free browser extension that blocks certain websites and offers reports of time spent online.
“Habitica [uses] an avatar and your to do list [to] earn you gold coins, and you can use those coins to ‘buy’ things for your avatar,” Wells said. “You can also track time, so say you are going to spend 25 minutes reading for a class, then count how many 25 minutes blocks you accomplish. When you track work getting done you can see you are making progress and it is much easier to stay motivated when you are making progress.”
Take re-energizing breaks
“A lot of times as breaks we chose things that are depressive activities,” Stokes said.
For instance, scrolling through apps or watching a video, which are usually done while sitting or even laying down, during a break typically won’t be re-energizing.
“That’s going to be really hard to get out of when it’s time to go back to work because our bodies are like ‘oh, but this is so nice I just wanna stay here,’” Stokes said. “So you can use those activities as a reward when you’re done and not asking yourself to go back to work.”
Something that students can think about as a re-energizing break is to go for a walk, eat a snack, call someone or play a card game.
“Best way [to motivate yourself] is to just start,” Stokes said.
Getting started can take as little as two minutes, which proves effective in the long run to finish an assignment.
“This [two-minute rule] comes from author James Clear, but the idea comes from physics: objects in motion tend to stay in motion,” Wells said. “Getting started studying can be hard, so just tell yourself you are going to do something for only 2 minutes, maybe that’s all you do, but at least it was something, but more often than not, once you get going, it is easier to stay going.”
Figuring out what motivates you can increase productivity.
“Are you motivated by rewards? Then set small goals and rewards that come with accomplishing them. Are you motivated by list making and tracking? Then use that. If you are only motivated by negative consequences, check out stikk.com,” Wells said.
So does social media disrupt studying?
Social media has been found to negatively affect mental health and quality of sleep due to its addictiveness, which can disrupt studying as a result. Depression and lack of sleep can make it harder to concentrate on tasks, which can lead to procrastination. Using social media as a form of procrastination, however, can happen to anyone and Stokes believes that it shouldn’t cause students to feel ashamed.
“They’ve done a lot of studies and the more self-compassion you can have in the moment, after you’ve procrastinated, the more likely you are to be able to actually move on from it, [plus] you’re less likely to procrastinate the next time,” Stokes said.
Also, digging deep into what may be the culprit of procrastination can give a student power to reach out for help.
“Procrastination isn’t about being lazy, it’s about emotion regulation and dealing with these icky feelings we have about whatever it is that we’re supposed to be doing.”
The Students Success Center currently has 10 student coaches that are available to assist anyone, even students doing well in courses. It is a professional, collaborative setting and Stokes is ready to help.
“Be aware that [procrastination] is not a moral failing, and that there’s something you can do about it with help, support and accountability.”
To schedule an appointment at the SSC students can go to the same website that makes appointments at the WRC: ncf.mywconline.com