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  • Annabel Liu and Haroon Qureshi

3 Tips on How to be Productive: A Guide For Students

Remember that upcoming assignment that’s due? Or that test you have to study for? Yeah, we all have those times when we have many tasks to complete but seem to get so little done. A few minutes spent on YouTube turns into an hour, then suddenly you’re binge-watching a new show on Netflix before you know it! (if you took this as a personal attack, this might be sign #1). So how can we change that? How can we become smarter in enhancing our productivity?

Dopamine is your worst enemy, but it can also be your best friend

Don’t check your phone when working. I know this is hard — the notifications are just too tempting sometimes. But every time you check your phone, your brain releases dopamine, and getting addicted to your phone is the last thing you want when trying to finish an assignment due the next day. In fact, you lose an average of 23 minutes each time you’re distracted. So instead, use that 23 minutes to take a break in-between work where you reward yourself for your hard work. Check your phone during this time, or even better, grab a snack, stretch or get some fresh air.

Tip: Put your phone on mute or silent, airplane mode, turn it off completely, or keep it in a place out of reach when working. Whatever works best for you.

While dopamine can lead to distractions, it also has its positive effects if you find the right cause. Consider the following:

  1. Go on your phone = tending to notifications and constant stimulation = dopamine

  2. Writing one paragraph = feeling accomplished and productive = dopamine

Both have a similar effect on the brain, but the second clearly allows for more productivity. So instead of doing distracting things that leads to an addiction to the distraction, do something productive (better yet, something you enjoy doing) that will lead to a positive effect on the brain.

Plan Ahead

As students, we all have many responsibilities, and using a calendar or planner can keep all your important dates and deadlines in one place for easy access. Organization is a key factor that helps you visualize and prioritize your upcoming schedule and ensure you don’t miss anything.

In addition to this, you may find making a to-do list helpful as well. Now this may sound like the typical tip that all motivational study websites tell you to do, but in reality, its effectiveness depends completely on the person. Some people find it easier to have all their tasks for the day laid out in front of them, while others may find it pressuring and overwhelming. If the tasks are too overwhelming, try breaking them down into small, achievable ones, which might also give you the fulfillment of ticking each box off. Ultimately, find what method best suits you and stick to that.

Tip: Find a “focus period” when you’re most productive. For example, I personally cannot be motivated to work after just getting home from school, so I typically take a break and grab something to eat first. Don’t force yourself to find motivation during a time that just doesn’t work for you and instead gather your motivation to be productive during your “focus period.”

Do what is a priority to maximize the productivity

According to Pareto’s Principle, approximately 80% of your tasks will give you 20% of productive results, while 20% of your tasks will give you 80% of productive results. Comparing these two, it is obvious you want to focus on what allows you to achieve the most.

Learn to prioritize your work and stop wasting the majority of your time doing tasks that are not productive. You may find yourself doing less tasks, but those tasks are all a priority. So you spend only 20% of your time to achieve 80% of productivity. Really, it’s a win-win situation.

Tip: People often associate procrastination with negative connotations, but procrastination can be positive when it is partnered with the quality of prioritizing by understanding some non-priority tasks can wait. Remember that no one doesn’t procrastinate, so stop thinking that productivity is measured based on how much you get done or how long you spend working, rather get into the mentality of knowing productivity is the quality of what you get done effectively by managing your time well.


Truth be told, there is no perfect way to enhance productivity. If you read this entire article thinking it was nonsense and the tips are actually setbacks, then most likely ignore them and move on with your day. But maybe there were a few tips that you found helpful or want to try. So experiment with it. Add different ingredients into your cup of tea until it becomes just right. Then, hopefully you can start to feel less stressed and more relaxed while sipping your cup of tea.

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