1. Write down your goals
When you write down your goals it becomes easier to know where your priorities lie. You can then, with greater ease, stay focused when seductive time stealers such as TV, friends or a sunny day try to lure you away.
What marks do you want? What do you wish to achieve with the qualification you’re striving for? Stay focused on the benefits and payoff, and your hours of concentration will feel purposeful.
2. Chunk out your study time, and work a plan
When you look at the whole project it often feels too big, too overwhelming. Instead, break it into small pieces and you can easily get a grip on just how much work you need to invest each day.
Ask yourself: ‘When is the assignment or exam due? How many weeks have I got?’
Work backwards from the final date, cutting some slack for days off, or times when you’re too busy to work. Also leave a realistic chunk of time for review or editing (if it’s an assignment) at the end. If you start early enough, you’ll be delighted how surprisingly little time is needed per day. In one quick stroke your thinking changes from ‘This is too much’ to ‘I can do this!’
3. Use a mind map to gather the parts
My second book, ‘About Time – 120 Tips for Those with No Time’ was written in three weeks. I’d been out of the country for a month prior, we were packing to move home to New Zealand from Sydney at the end of that month, the Olympics were on (and I attended some events), I had lots of work, mates to say goodbye to, a house to pack up, and more. As well, nearly 40,000 words rolled off my flying fingers with ease, because of a one-page mind map (and a deadline with major benefits to me if I reached it).
Before a single word went into the computer, I chunked out the key parts of the book – decided on twelve sections, and ten tips in each section. Then, reviewing all my material, I brainstormed what each tip would be, noting a few reminder words for each on the mind map.
Working backwards from the deadline, and allocating an extra week for review and editing, it was easy to see that I needed to write nearly six tips per day. If I missed one day due to other commitments, that just meant I had to write twelve the next day (which didn’t seem such an attractive option!).
If you’re writing an assignment, your target might be a set number of words that you must reach before you get up from your computer. Or for study, it could be a section in a book, or a section of notes to review.
4. Use prompts to keep you on track
I’m quite visual, so I also ruled up a chart showing 120 little squares, and the goal date for completion. Each day I ticked off the number I’d done. Something so simple is amazingly motivating, especially if you like to ‘see’ progress.
If you’re triggered by sound, you could ring a bell each time you reach a milestone.
If you’re tactile, you may have a dish on your desk or in your room with as many marbles or pretty pebbles as there are components in your task. Each day, as you complete your allocation, transfer the corresponding number of marbles into another dish.
5. Find a quiet space where you won’t be distracted – Not in front of the TV!
Music of your choice is fine, but TV is too distracting. I find music with no words works better when I’m concentrating.
6. Do the big job first
When I was writing that book, the six tips were the first task of the day, (before I looked at the emails or did anything else) unless it was a day when I had to be out of the house early. (I’m a very early riser – it’s the best part of the day for me, an incredibly creative time.) Once the allocation was met, pressure was off. Everything else seemed easy by comparison. You’ll find yourself energized and feeling invincible – and the sense of achievement carries through to everything else you do for the day.
Many folk try and get the little things handled before they start on their big tasks. The outcome? The important tasks pile up, and they get bogged down in minutiae and perfectionism. Instead, handle the things that really matter first. You’ll be amazed at how the small activities fit in and around the important activities. Do the study first, and then you’ve got the rest of the day (or evening if you like to study after school or work) to do everything else.
7. Develop a ‘Do it NOW’ attitude
Instead of thinking about what you’d like to do, get started. Create momentum, make the first move, and the rest will follow.
Try the following quote on your bathroom wall: ‘If I do today what others won’t, I’ll have tomorrow what others can’t.’ My kids quote it back to me now – they lived with it for so many years that it’s become their philosophy too.
8. Learn to say ‘no’
If you can politely say ‘no’ when asked to invest time into activities that don’t match your goals, you consistently achieve more. Listen to your intuition – it will guide you
9. Do it better
Always look for ways to shorten and improve your process. Hold a permanent question in your mind: ‘how can I improve?’ The danger is that we fall into a comfort zone, and don’t want to change. Welcome the opportunity to improve.
10. Eliminate clutter
Messy desk, house, bedroom, office, garage, car – it doesn’t matter what it is. When things are lying around your subconscious mind has to work harder to ignore the ‘mind traffic’ distractions; you become slower and less effective.
Do yourself a favour – clear up your work space before you start (but don’t let that be a procrastination device!), and then keep it going – put away as you go. The feeling of freedom is its own reward.