Productivity Hacks for Busy Students and Professionals

Let’s be honest, sometimes life gets overwhelming and motivation starts to fizzle. Often times, when motivation starts to decrease, so does productivity. This can be detrimental to someone enrolled in graduate school or attempting to balance a busy life. Have no fear! Here are some small changes you can make to improve your productivity without falling behind on your responsibilities.

Get Into the Right Mindset

Use the Morning as “Me Time”

Whatever you see first thing in the morning sets the tone for how the rest of your day will go. According to Forbes, one of the biggest productivity killers is checking your calendar and email first thing in the morning. Doing this tends to allow those things to dictate your day instead of you. In fact, checking social media in general in the morning has been noted to damper people’s moods. Use the morning to focus on yourself and give yourself the necessary tools to have a productive day. Sit down and eat a good meal, read the newspaper, or work out. A productive day starts with a peaceful morning.

Change How You Talk to Yourself

Nothing is more stressful than looking at a full calendar and feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Try taking small steps to make your thought process more positive. Instead of thinking “I have 3 meetings today and a deadline I need to meet tomorrow,” think “I have 3 hours of my day full and a project I still need to complete. How can I plan out my time to ensure that I accomplish all 4 things today?” In addition to more positive thinking, switch out the word “have” to “get” to remind yourself to be grateful. Instead of saying “I have to write a proposal,” say “I get to write a proposal.”

Create Realistic To-Do Lists

Planning out an extensive to-do list can be just as stressful as it is helpful. Try these two productivity hacks to learn how to better manage tasks.

The 1-3-5 Rule

Use the 1-3-5 rule to be more productive with your studies or work. Instead of having a to-do list with 10 things to do every day, organize it based on the workload. On any day, assume that you can accomplish 1 big thing, 3 medium things, and 5 little things. You get to choose what gets done during the day and can change what each task is accordingly. However, there should never be more than 1 big thing, 3 medium things, and 5 little things. Replace tasks, don’t add them.


This next productivity hack may seem like a given, but sometimes it can be overlooked. Instead of creating a task list based on what needs to get done, create it based on how important each task is. When you finish the first, most important task, you’ll feel relieved and the remaining tasks won’t feel as daunting. This hack also perfectly integrates with the 1-3-5 rule!

Master Time Management

Properly delegating your time is one of the most important and helpful productivity hacks you can learn.

Use Your Resources

One of my favorite productivity hacks is using an online calendar to track my time. Apps like Google calendar can integrate with smartphones to remind you when you have something to do. They’re also very user-friendly, taking the load off your shoulders. With tools such as tags, color coding, and reminders, you won’t miss another deadline again.  

Stop Multitasking

Many people think that multitasking helps you accomplish more, but it actually does the opposite. In reality, “multitasking” is really serial tasking, which is the shift from one task to another in short amounts of time. When you try to multitask, you end up making more mistakes. You also don’t retain as much information and take longer to complete various tasks. Instead, complete one task at a time. If it becomes draining, take a mental break.

Take Mental Breaks

Mental breaks are one of the most underrated productivity hacks. Taking an effective break at work helps increase motivation and positive thinking. Ineffective breaks may include refilling your coffee, checking your phone, or any other activity combined into the “break.” An effective break should detach you from work and give you a space to clear your mind. Consider taking a walk, meditating, or eating lunch alone to give your mind a break.

Apply and Evaluate

These productivity hacks can help you do more in less time. Try implementing one or two a day to see how well they work. Grit going!

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