By Mihret Amdu Yirgeta, April 6 2021—
This past year has been hard on all of us and it has made being productive incredibly difficult. Doing online classes and essentially creating our own schedules can be a serious problem. We cannot be falling behind on schoolwork and other obligations because we are procrastinating or “just not feeling it today.” Now if you are anything like me, getting up in the morning and doing work without external pressure is not the easiest thing in the world. I often deal with thoughts like, “I should just ignore everything and watch Netflix today. Who’s going to stop me?” To stop myself from becoming a sloth, I had to develop some habits to help me get into a productive mindset. So, without further ado, here are my tips and tricks to starting a productive day.
Have a consistent wake-up time
This one is incredibly important. Having a consistent wake-up time helps with two things:
First, waking up at the same time every day trains your brain to think “alright, I now need to get ready to work.” Waking up at different times does not give us that sense of structure in our day to develop good habits. Plus, on your off days, sleeping in signals your brain to relax.
Second, it helps with maintaining a proper sleep schedule. If you know what time you are going to wake up every morning, then you will know what time to sleep every night to have a good night’s rest — the recommended amount is 7–9 hours every night. Additionally, knowing what time you wake up and what time you go to sleep means you know exactly how many hours you have in the day to do everything you need to do. Good scheduling practices all around!
Make your bed
I read this somewhere and I was very skeptical at first, but it works. Making your bed first thing in the morning is quick and easy and you’d start your day off with an accomplishment. This is rewarding and signals your brain that you can accomplish many more tasks during the day. Plus, you’ll be saving ‘future you’ some work later on.
Make time for a workout
I know, I know, this is advice given by everyone who writes any kind of advice. But there is a reason it is recommended so often. Exercise gives you energy — it releases endorphins that make you feel happy and is a brilliant way to cope with stress. You do not have to do it for a long time either. I do either a 10-minute yoga routine or a 10-minute stretching routine — or I will do a 15-minute dance workout if I’m feeling particularly energetic. Doing some sort of a workout in the morning helps you feel more awake and reduces stress, which is a contributor to procrastination. Plus, that is one more accomplishment under your belt for the day.
Have a healthy breakfast
This is a habit my mom drilled into me. Did you know your brain uses about 20 per cent of your daily caloric intake? Your brain cannot function without sustenance, so why are you trying to make it do so? Additionally, breakfast gives you the energy to work. I find it difficult to get things done without much energy, but that could just be me. Eat something before you start working, preferably a healthy and balanced meal. Try and avoid sugary meals since your body breaks down sugar pretty quickly, causing you to crash early. Foods with starch, protein and some fibre are ideal. Google has tons of ideas for great healthy breakfast options.
Prepare a to-do list for the day’s work
Sitting down in the morning and putting together a to-do list primes your brain to start working. Having measurable goals for the day makes it more likely for you to finish a task. It is also so satisfying to cross out a task on a list — it is a tangible record of what you have achieved that day. There are tons of apps out there to help you make your list, both for mobile and desktop. I use Google Tasks and Google Calendar on my laptop to keep track of my due dates and my tasks for the day, but there are more options out there. If you are more old-school, get a planner with a calendar, do a bullet journal or just have a simple piece of paper or a small whiteboard for your tasks for the day. The satisfaction of crossing out a completed task by hand is unparalleled.
A word of caution here — make sure the tasks you put on your list are reasonable and can be done within a few hours. “I will finish the introduction to my paper today,” is a much more reasonable goal than “I will finish my entire paper today.” Unreasonable goals will only overwhelm you, stop you from getting work done and discourage you from further tasks.
Have a designated workspace
This one is not a habit exactly but it’s just as useful. Your brain gets conditioned pretty easily. If you work or use your laptop in bed a lot, your brain associates your bed with mental activity instead of sleep. Similarly, having a designated workspace means your brain associates that spot with getting work done. It makes it much easier to get started and stay focused.
In the end, most of having a productive day is in priming your brain to be productive for the day. These tips might not work for everyone and that’s alright. Everybody is different and requires different things to prime their brains. If these tips do not work for you, go and experiment with different habits until you find ones that do work and add them to your routine. Lastly, productivity is not meant to be kept up without rest — you will burn out that way. Make sure to have off days and some kind of relaxing activity at the end of the day.