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Takeaways:

1. Spend more time before starting you work figuring out what you need to do in order to get your work done more efficiently.

2. Accept that not everything has to be perfect and try to avoid getting bogged down with a specific part of the assignment.

Homework is one part of studying that never seems to go away. Dealing with homework and getting it all done in an efficient and effective way on a regular basis can be hard to do. Sometimes it feels like you are always drowning in work and never seem to finish it all. However, by using a few simple techniques you can find ways to not only get all of your work done but also decrease the amount of time you spend doing it. Approach your work in a smarter and more calculated way and get it done faster.

1. The first step to getting work done is to make a list of exactly what needs to be done. While this may sound simple and like something you already do, there is more to it than just writing down the general assignments. It is important to know exactly what it is you need to do, not just the general assignment. Don’t just think of a paper as 8 pages you need to write but think about how important the paper is in the class, i.e. how much weight does it have in your overall grade. Similarly, if the work is just general homework such as a response to a reading, identify exactly how much effort and thought is required and wanted by the professor. There is no reason to work extra hard or write far more than you need to for a response when it’s not necessary and, in fact, doing so can be counterproductive. Identifying what is truly important and what is not can take more time than just writing a simple to do list but will save you time later when you start your work. In his blog post on SchoolDestroyer.com, Ryan talks about how true efficiency in doing homework is actually counterintuitive.

“Instead of just sitting down and working at your homework, you have to spend more time NOT doing your homework and less DOING it.

In order to maximize your efficiency when doing homework, you should instead follow these steps.

“Maximum efficiency means a couple things:

  1. You know exactly what homework you need to do

  2. You have it all prioritized and know what order to do it in

  3. You have plenty of energy and your brain is ready for learning

  4. Distractions are gone and you have a great work environment”

(“Hacking Your Homework Time (Or How to Decrease HW Time by 50%)” by Ryan on Schooldestroyer.com)

2. Once you know exactly what it is that you need to get done, you need to budget how much time each item on your list will take. Being able to accurately determine how long an assignment should take you will help you stay on track and avoid getting bogged down and taking too much time on something when it really isn’t necessary. For example, I know that it takes me about half an hour to write one page on the computer. From there I can estimate how long it should take me to finish a paper and if it seems like one page is taking too long then I am probably spending more time on it than it’s worth. Time your self and try to complete work within the time goals that you have set. You may not always be able to accurately estimate how long something will take you and, therefore, might not make the time limits. However, having some kind of time constraint for completing the assignment can motivate and encourage you to stay on track. You can even do this in even shorter increments with math problems for example and time yourself to complete each one in just a few minutes. An article from Studyskills.com on tips to get homework done talks about timing yourself.

“Use an electronic timer. Before you begin an assignment, determine how much time it should take to complete the assignment. Add five minutes and set the timer. Challenge yourself to finish it before the timer goes off. This is great way to develop homework motivation (a.k.a. self-discipline) because it becomes a game to play against yourself.”

(“Homework: Staying Focused to Get It Done Faster” by Susan Kruger on Studyskills.com)

3. As part of identifying exactly what you need to do to complete an assignment, it is important to weigh getting the work done with doing it perfectly. You can’t complete every assignment perfectly and each and every thing that you do can’t be some amazing work of genius. It is important to identify what quality of work is necessary for any given assignment and complete it with that in mind. If the assignment is an online blog that the whole class participates in by writing a quick comment about the reading for class that is graded by completion, then there is no reason to write an in-depth response. Similarly, when you are trying to get work done efficiently it is often better to focus on completing it more than doing incredible work, then you can go back after and revise it if needed. One of the single best techniques that I have used to write more quickly, and arguably better, is telling myself that whatever I’m writing doesn’t have to be perfect and I’m just going to revise the whole thing anyways. This trick has helped me get less caught up in picking the perfect word for each and every sentence and instead focus on getting the paper done. That being said I don’t usually need to do that much revision even when I use this technique. So while I am writing the paper faster, I am also writing a better paper. In a great blog post with a bunch of tips on getting homework done, the author Katherine talks about how important it is to get something done rather than making something perfect.

Aim for completion, not necessarily perfection. Give it your best effort, but realize you are going to be in better shape turning in an “average” quality assignment that is turned in complete and on-time than turning in a “near perfect” assignment that is late.”

(“Tips for Getting That Homework DONE!” by Katherine E. on Chegg Blog)

4. Even after you know exactly what you need to do and have all of your work prioritized, it can still be hard to maintain your focus and avoid getting distracted, especially if you are somebody who is prone to distractions or even if you are just having trouble focusing. We all have trouble focusing at different times for a variety of reasons but the most important thing to do is to force yourself to go back to your work. Try and work in an environment that will provide you with the least distractions possible. For me, this usually means somewhere with very few people because people watching is one of my all-time favorite activities. I usually do work at home in my apartment, because it allows me to avoid the distraction of being around other people in the library and cuts out the extra time (and distraction) of going somewhere else to study. That being said studying at home or in your room doesn’t work for everybody. Regardless of where you study, accept occasional distractions or zoning out as unavoidable when doing work. Allow them to happen and don’t stress out about them too much. In a post by Makerere College School, they mention a few ways to help minimize distractions.

“Don’t waste your time and energy getting too annoyed with yourself if you get distracted – just re-focus your attention, once you get engaged with what you are doing you will be fine.

If you realize your attention is wandering over and over, work out why you are getting stuck with your work – you could write it down as a question.”

(“How to Get Your Homework Done Fast” by Makerere College School on their Media Collections)

5. Homework is often hardest to get done because of when we decide to do it…at night. Most people say that they are most productive at night and while that may or may not be scientifically true, it does lead to most people doing their work at night when there is a higher chance of being tired or sleepy. However, getting tired and/or wanting to fall asleep while doing work can happen at any point during the day and can make it hard to complete an assignment. I experienced the most trouble with this particular phenomenon when doing my reading for my Political Philosophy of Plato class a few semesters ago. While Plato is brilliant and has a lot of interesting things to say, reading 100 pages of one of his dialogues is more than enough to put you to sleep. Normally when we feel tired or sleepy and are doing work, we try to get all of the work done before sleeping. However, taking a power nap before or in the middle of work can get rid of that sleepiness and help you finish your work more effectively. I found an article on the Ririan Project that talks about all of the different types of short naps and their benefits. Check them out and find the perfect length nap to get your work done!

How long is a good nap?

  • THE NANO-NAP: 10 to 20 seconds. Sleep studies haven’t yet concluded whether there are benefits to these brief intervals, like when you nod off on someone’s shoulder on the train.

  • THE MICRO-NAP: two to five minutes. Shown to be surprisingly effective at shedding sleepiness.

  • THE MINI-NAP: five to 20 minutes. Increases alertness, stamina, motor learning, and motor performance.

  • THE ORIGINAL POWER NAP: 20 minutes. Includes the benefits of the micro and the mini, but additionally improves muscle memory and clears the brain of useless built-up information, which helps with long-term memory (remembering facts, events, and names).

  • THE LAZY MAN’S NAP: 50 to 90 minutes. Includes slow-wave plus REM sleep; good for improving perceptual processing; also when the system is flooded with human growth hormone, great for repairing bones and muscles.”

(“10 Benefits of Power Napping, and How to Do It” by Ririan Project on Ririanproject.com)

6. While the other tips are all aimed at helping you complete tasks once you know what they are and have them written down, this last idea is to help you organize and stay up-to-date with all of your homework at any given time. USAToday has a whole article on different iPhone apps that organize your homework and assignments and send you notifications and reminders about them. That old paper agenda that you get each year can instead become digital and you can access everything on your phone. The five apps that they mention include everything from helping teachers keep track of their students grades to helping students consolidate and share their notes from each class. I think getting notifications of assignment on your phone like you can with the first app iStudiez Pro could help you stay organized and remember all of your assignments. These apps really just make your regular to do list more portable, but given how much time we all spend on our phones these days, one of these apps might help out a lot.

Try using these techniques next time you feel overwhelmed with work and see if they help you get your homework done faster and maybe even better. Tell me your own experiences with managing homework and things you do to finish your to-do list.

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