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13 Back to School Tips to Work Smarter, Not Harder in College

13 Back to School Tips to Work Smarter, Not Harder in College

School is a little different this year as we face ongoing challenges of distance learning, juggling emotions and learning to navigate 2020’s new normal. But, having structure, good studying skills and striving to work smart, not hard will allow you to accomplish goals one step at a time. We’ve compiled a list of back to school tips that will help you stay focused and on track with your deadlines. 

What does it mean to work smarter, not harder?

Working smarter, not harder generally means eliminating extra steps or hurdles and using your time wisely to get things done quickly. This may mean prioritizing needs in your weekly planner, completing smaller tasks first or building upon your strengths and weaknesses. 

One example of working smarter, not harder is to plan out your to-do list at night so that you start fresh in the morning.

How to work smarter not harder 

Person with planner, laptop, and book at a coffee table

If you’re unsure how to apply this to your daily school life, we have some suggestions and studying tips for you. Remember, do what works best for you and find your stride. One thing doesn’t work for everyone so be mindful of what you can handle in a day. 

1. Set clear goals and intentions.

Knowing exactly what your short-term goals are for the day helps you prioritize your time. Do you have a specific deadline you have to meet? Or is someone waiting on feedback? Setting very specific tasks and why they are important will help you gain control of what needs to be done in a given day. Having a daily planner helps to organize your thoughts and intentions. 

2. Identify your Most Important Task (MIT)

The most important task may not be one that is most urgent, but it’s one that will help you achieve your goal faster and will create the most significant results. These MITs should be done at the beginning of the day and limited to no more than three. It could be as simple as picking up your class books, filling out your calendar for the week, or emailing your teachers about certain assignments.

3. Set a comfortable work environment

Where you study and learn is extremely important. There are many things that can reduce distractions around you such as closing the door, having fresh air, proper lighting, staying away from the fridge (the struggle is real!) or simply decluttering your space and making room for necessary school supplies.

4. Make a “Not-To-Do” List

We’ve all experienced long to-do lists and it’s satisfying to cross them off once a task is complete. Having a “not-to-do” list is just as important. For example:

  • Don’t check email every ten minutes
  • Don’t pick up your phone while you’re on a deadline
  • Don’t spend more than ten minutes on making a decision
  • Don’t do all-nighters
  • Don’t think about upcoming deadlines, just focus on today’s

Creating boundaries and rules for yourself will allow you to be present and avoid the distractions. 

5. Use a timer

If you’re on a deadline, you’ll need to keep clear track of time especially if you’re having trouble focusing. Start with time blocking each task and timing yourself once you begin and end each project. Not only does this help you see how much time is needed for future projects, but running against a clock will push you to reach the finish line and you’ll find yourself multi-tasking much less. 

6. Set shorter deadlines

When you give yourself a whole day to finish up something, you may wait until the last minute to complete it and find yourself overwhelmed at the end of the day. Do you have something due by 5PM? Try finishing by 3PM and allow yourself to review it correctly before turning it in. While active procrastination isn’t necessarily a bad thing, longer deadlines may lead to passive procrastination and delay your assignments. 

7. Use productivity tools

Person typing on laptop with planner and coffee

Have you researched free productivity tools? If not, it’s something to look into right away. Get help with:

Finding the right tools for you can eliminate hurdles and save time on a daily basis. 

8. Schedule DND time/block calendar

This may be one of our favorite study tips for college because it works so well with our Passion Planner Daily. A to-do list tells you what you need to do, but time blocking helps you plan when you’ll do them. It’s understandable that you cannot plan every single minute of your day and it’s not easy to figure out how long something will take but, blocking off time for each task will at least set a guideline for what’s ahead. Make sure you also set times for breaks to avoid burnout

9. Pause when needed

In between timers, classes and group chats, take some time to simply pause and reassess your day. Getting in a short workout, coffee break or even a sweet text to a loved one will refuel you with good energy to tackle the rest of your tasks.

10. Get to know teachers and other students

If you haven’t taken the time to have a conversation with your teacher or other classmates, do so! Part of how to do well in school is active communication. That includes exchanging notes, tips, building trust, feedback and assignment check-ins.

With today’s video technology, it’s easy to connect. Just hop on a Zoom meeting, or have a chat conversation with multiple people. If you prefer physical interaction, a socially-distanced picnic can also make the vibe cozier. Just remember, networking is such a critical skill that can potentially even land you a job in the future. 

11. Take notes by hand

Close-up of a person writing in a Passion Planner

Taking notes by hand vs. typing on a computer can increase your focus, especially because you’re not distracted by emails coming in or opened internet tabs. Taking notes is also good for short and long term memory, creativity, increased attention span, organization and the ability to better comprehend information. Try it out and see if this is something that will work for you. 

12. Theme your time

Working on a specific type of task can get thrown off by having to run errands or switching to a different school subject altogether.  If you theme your days or weeks, otherwise known as task batching, you’ll be able to assign a specific group of things and get those out of the way.  Here are some theme ideas to get you started:

  • Errands: Pick up books, get physical before school starts, prep food for the week
  • Writing: Finish science paper, complete personal essay, write your blog post
  • Research: Find books on productivity, look for free online courses, find study groups in your area
  • Connecting: Email your teachers, chat your classmates about an assignment, give feedback on a project

Don’t forget to plan a day of fun and focus on doing the things that make you smile!

13. Get plenty of sleep (and eat well!)

This may seem obvious, but when one is overwhelmed with work it’s easy to fall into a bad habit. Getting plenty of sleep, nourishing yourself with the right foods and getting the body moving, will allow for more energy, better concentration and overall good health. 

Take a Deep Breath

As you can see, there are many ways to set yourself up for a great school year. Try your best to focus on the things that matter and set realistic goals for yourself when learning. Allow for some trial and error with some of these studying tips and give yourself credit for trying new approaches. Don’t forget to add some motivational stickers to your planners and notes, to keep those positive thoughts and encouragement going.


Author Bio

Julissa Arangure is a photographer at Passion Planner with a love for crafting, writing and SEO. She goes all around San Diego and Tijuana looking for the best tacos and hopes to one day live in a house filled with rescue dogs.

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