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17 Back to School Lifehacks to Start Your Semester

17 Back to School Lifehacks to Start Your Semester

    I remember a few years ago when I was gearing up to start the fall semester of my undergraduate’s degree. I was just getting into productivity, how to spend my time more wisely while working and educating, and how to get the most out of school. I didn’t get the luxury of “simply being a student”; I was a more than part time worker and full time student.

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    It was rough to say the least. That is, until I found some solid recommendations for making school and getting things done easier. So, instead of making you scrounge around for the same resources, here is a handy list to get you started.

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    Here are the 17 best lifehacks for your college semester:

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    1. The Productivity Made Simple series. The Getting Things Done system was one of the most helpful ways to stay on top of my school and work life. This series will help you get started with GTD in a simple way so you can stay productive too.
    2. Police Your Productivity with RescueTime. One thing that inevitably happens when trying to do school work is that you will tend to get side tracked. Look something up on Google, and boom, you are reading something about the Kardashians. Take your time back with RescueTime.
    3. Advice for Students: How to Talk to Professors. The first of many of Dustin Wax’s excellent articles. Talking to your professors is extremely important if you want to get a good education. Here is how you do it.
    4. Why You (Probably) Shouldn’t Take out Loans for College. Being in debt up to your ears sucks. Although getting money for college in the form of loans is pretty easy now-a-days, you may want to reconsider if you have the options.
    5. Back to School: How to Graduate from College with a High GPA. Okay, GPA isn’t everything, but it’s definitely something. Whatever you think you know, employers mostly care about it. So, rather than role your eyes, learn how to get the highest GPA you can.
    6. 5 Tips for Effective Digital Note Taking. We are now more connected than ever, so taking digital notes during class is the best way to go if you want to be able to search and reference them easier later.
    7. Freshman 15: Coping with the First Year of College. For all you freshman out there, take this article to heart. And, what better guy to explain what to expect in your first year and how to deal with it than Mr. Wax.
    8. Back to School: Keep an Academic Reading Journal. We all know the benefits of journaling every day, but it doesn’t have to just be about your hopes and dreams. You can also keep an academic reading journal to reference through your entire college career. Now that is smart.
    9. Tools for taking notes in school. Let me interject here. If you need some ideas for note taking during college, may we suggest these fine tools:
    10. The Ultimate Student Resource List. Even though it’s a little older, this list still holds true today. There are a lot of good resources here to set you up for a good school year.
    11. How to Study. A nice list of all of the different ways you can study for school. Remember that studying the one way will work for some but not for others. It’s important to know that you have options.
    12. Advice for Students: Start Planning Now for Life After College. I wish I would have taken this to heart and did it a little sooner than the last few months of school. A great way to make sure that you have a job after school is to start working on your after school plans while you are in school.
    13. Advice for Students: Taking Notes That Work. Some people take notes for the taking notes sake. Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure that when you are taking notes that they are relevant and functional. There is nothing worse than reviewing for a test with a bunch of crappy notes that don’t make any sense.
    14. 10 Skills to Succeed at Almost Anything. Yeah, that includes college.
    15. Advice for Students: 10 Steps Toward Better Writing. I found while going to school (as well as while in the real world), writing well was one of the most important skills I could have. So many students were bad at it, so being good at it helps you stand out.
    16. 6 Things That Every Workforce Entrant Should Know. If this is your last school year coming up before you enter the real world, congrats! Oh, by the way, there are a couple of things you should know before you venture into the workforce.
    17. How to Revamp Your Study Habits for Better Grades. Cramming for quizzes and tests is no way to get through school. Follow Clint’s advice to change the way you study to become more efficient and effective.

    Do you have any good lifehacks for college goers? If so, drop them down in the comments.

    (Photo credit: Education book on table via Shutterstock)

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    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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